We asked Avis Cardella, reformed shopping addict and author of Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict, to weigh in.
Q: What did your shopping addiction look like?
A: I was shopping compulsively for about 15 years. I had debt and I had problems in my relationships and I avoided talking about my shopping. I loved clothing and shoes and accessories and cosmetics – in that regard I was a very typical female shopper. But it went from being a happy pastime to being a crutch. I wasn’t even enjoying the things I was buying; I would just throw them in the back of my closet.
Q: Did you reach a bottom?
A: Eventually, I needed to go shopping every day in order to get that feel-good, high-of-the-buy moment. I spent my last $20 on a pair of pants that were $19.99 – foregoing food.
Q: Were there points at which buying the stuff did make you happier?
A: Before I started shopping compulsively, I enjoyed shopping and fashion in a healthy way. I liked building a wardrobe and learning about designers, and I appreciated the things that I bought. But there was a turning point where I wasn’t appreciating or even wearing a lot of these things.
Q: Why do so many women believe that accumulating things will make them happy?
A: We’re constantly sent these messages that things – particularly status symbols that represent “the good life” – should be chased after in order to be a happier, more successful person. Somewhere inside all of us, I think we know that’s not true, but I hardly know anyone who’s not in some way sucked into it. I also had a lot of personal reasons to shop. After my mother’s death, I started shopping to feel comforted. I used to buy to feel some closure or fulfillment or even to get my mother back; there were all of these impossible dreams tied to my shopping.
Q: What do your shopping habits look like now?
A: They’re quite different now. I shop maybe three or four times a month. When I do shop, I have a completely different relationship to it and a different respect for what I buy. Instead of purchasing to fill a void or avoid emotions, I’m shopping because of the intrinsic value of the goods I need. The happiness has come back to my purchasing, but that’s all dependent on me understanding that things don’t provide happiness. Today when I buy a coat or a pair of shoes, I appreciate it a lot more and I’m able to understand the limits of the things I buy.
Q: You live in Paris now; are French buying habits different than North American habits?
A: Life here is very different. The shops are still closed on Sundays. You can’t just get easy credit here, which makes it more difficult to get into personal debt. The trend has been that French women build a wardrobe of classic pieces. But I’m starting to notice the fast fashion where you buy things that are basically disposable. That kind of shopping can be very dangerous. You don’t really appreciate what you’ve bought; you just wear it for a season and then you’re stuck on this wheel of consumption.
Q: What has replaced shopping as your source of satisfaction?
A: Shopping took up an enormous amount of time. When I lived in New York and was trying to stop shopping, I would go for long walks through Central Park to put me in a Zen mood. Now, I concentrate on my work, I’m married, I’m more in touch with nature and I do more physical activities. I’m more comfortable with myself now, and the shopping has just fallen by the wayside and lost its importance.