How I cured my shopping addiction

Recovering shopaholic Debbie Roes confesses about what it is like to have a full closet and an empty life

How do you like to spend your free time? Chances are, most of you could rattle off quite a few answers to this question. That was not the case for me for many years. I had just one primary hobby… shopping! I spent most of my free time and virtually all of my disposable income [and sometimes more!] buying clothing, shoes and accessories. I prided myself on being a ’champion shopper’ and could scope out the best deals in both the brick-and-mortar shops and online.

I shopped when I was happy, I shopped when I was sad, I shopped when I was anxious, and I shopped when I was mad. I shopped regardless of my mood and irrespective of whether or not I actually needed anything. Shopping was my default activity and I had the requisite packed closet and empty bank account to show for it. For many years, I also had the excessive credit card debt that often follows from compulsive shopping behaviour. In addition, I frequently engaged in secretive and duplicitous behaviour to cover my tracks with my husband and other loved ones. I did a lot of things I’m not proud of in order to continue my shopaholic ways.

While I knew I had a problem for many years, I wasn’t ready to change. In truth, my shopping served as a distraction for other problems in my life that I just didn’t want to address. I shopped as a way to make myself feel better and to cover up the deep insecurity that’s plagued me since my childhood. I mistakenly thought that if I could just get the right clothes and look good enough, I would be loved and accepted by others and by myself.

Something needed to change

Fast forward to the end of 2012… Since I’d been tracking both what I bought and what I wore for the previous two years, I took some time to tally up my closet statistics. The results were not pretty. Not only did I have close to 300 garments in my closet, half of them were only worn once or not at all during 2012! I had also exceeded my clothing budget twice over and didn’t feel that I had much to show for it.  Clearly, something needed to change.

Thus, in January 2013, I started down the road toward shopping less, buying more mindfully and trading my full closet for a full life. I created a series of goals and rules to guide my journey, including a strict budget, purchase limits and an ambitious wardrobe pare-down goal. In order to keep myself accountable and connect with fellow shopaholics also looking to mend their overshopping ways, I started my blog, ’Recovering Shopaholic.’  I had no idea how many people would read my words, but I committed to share my process—the good, the bad and the ugly.

On my blog, in addition to exploring a variety of issues related to compulsive shopping behaviour and psychology, wardrobe management and personal style, I also shared monthly accountability updates. In these posts, I recounted what I bought during a given month, which items left my closet, and how I did with my clothing budget and other shopping rules. Knowing I would have to ‘spill the beans’ to my readers stopped me from overshopping on many occasions, but I still struggled to adhere to my rules, especially in the beginning.

Project 333

What helped me the most with my recovery was taking on a few wardrobe challenges, including the minimalist fashion challenge, Project 333, which I embarked upon in April 2013. Project 333 specifies that one get dressed using only 33 items for a 3-month period.  ‘Purists’ of this challenge include shoes and accessories in their count, but I opted to only include clothing items my first time around. All of my other clothes were stored away in boxes or in other closets in my home. My formerly packed closet was replaced by one that was quite stark and empty by comparison, and the change was a bit of a shock for me at first.

Despite a lot of discomfort and anxiety, I successfully completed Project 333 at the end of June 2013 [I also did an abbreviated version of the challenge at the beginning of this year]. What I learned from dressing with less was nothing short of extraordinary. I discovered that I needed far fewer clothes than I previously believed and that I actually dressed better when I had a smaller number of garments to choose from! I also began to appreciate what I had a lot more and raised my standards for clothing quality. Taking a step back from the status quo of my packed closet and constant shopping trips led me both to question and evolve my personal style.

After Project 333 was over, I allowed myself access to the rest of my wardrobe again, but I only added items back to my closet after I wore them. If I wore something and wasn’t happy with it, I added it to my ever-increasing donate pile. By the end of 2013, I had reduced the size of my wardrobe by half! I also purchased less than half as many new items last year as I had in previous years. Not only that, the time that I spent shopping, browsing online and managing my wardrobe dramatically reduced.

Towards a full life

I still like to shop, but it’s no longer my sole hobby.  I’m gradually working to discover other interests and cultivate new passions. I still make buying mistakes, but far fewer than I made before embarking on my journey to overcome my compulsive shopping habit. What’s more, I’m much happier with my wardrobe these days, as well as the way I dress. I’m also a more well-rounded person rather than the one-dimensional shopaholic I used to be. My journey continues, but it’s safe to say that I am well on the way to trading my full closet for a full life!

This was first published in the June 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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