We all buy things we don’t need from time to time. Unless we’re incredibly disciplined we get tempted by the seasonal sales, or the second we desire something new, it’s just a few clicks away.
But what happens when buying gets out of control? When everything you ever desired surrounds you but you still want more?
It’s a trap that’s easy to fall into, but for some, the cycle of purchasing can turn into a shameful nightmare.
You may not realise you have a problem until people in your household start commenting on the number of deliveries. You may deny you have a problem at all, especially to escape feelings of shame.
Or you might realise you have a problem, but find yourself unable to stop.
Signs that purchasing has got out of control in your life might include comments from family members about the number of deliveries, consistently low finances, feelings of shame and guilt, or a feeling of spiralling out of control.
You know you should stop spending but you can’t.
The clutter in your home is growing but you can’t control it.
You’re not any happier than before, but you’re convinced that the next purchase will help.
Well-meaning people in your life may try all sorts of things to get you to stop, but it’s not going to happen unless you understand what’s triggering you to buy or order things in the first place.
I wish I could tell you that it’s going to be easy, but it’s not. Not once you look past the surface level of the factors that make you fork over your cash.
Let’s take a look at these levels.
Surface level (Grass)
Influencing from marketers, sale items, emails, peer pressure, images and messages of success and happiness.
The surface level includes the factors above which may seem obvious to yourself or others.
We’re all subject to advertisements on our screens and in the streets, we all love a good bargain, and it’s likely that at some point your friends convinced you to buy those new jeans, that new makeup set, or that awesome new videogame.
We’re also surrounded by false messages and images all the time that money + stuff = happiness + success.
Of course, happiness can never be achieved through endless material gains, but our world is set up to make you believe that.
Deeper level (Mud)
Comparison with others, the feeling of not having enough, shopping addiction, wanting to project a certain image, chasing everlasting happiness
These are the feelings that make us even more susceptible to the surface level factors above.
With constant access to the internet, it’s easier than ever to compare ourselves to the people around us. Before the internet, we had to walk down the street or look out at our neighbours shiny new car to start feeling jealous or inadequate.
Now, all we need to do is look on Instagram, Facebook or Youtube to see who’s sexier, richer, more popular, and living more exciting lives than us.
Some people want to project a certain image so that they will appeal to a certain group of people, or to look as if their life is more extravagant than it is.
All of it is to chase this need for everlasting happiness that all of us strive for.
Separate to all of those is shopping addiction, where people have found themselves caught up in a hellish cycle of buying that they can’t get out of, usually due to underlying emotional problems.
Deepest level (Fossil)
Boredom, depression, needing a buzz, unresolved issues in life, insecurity, identity issues, trying to fill a void or solve an issue with material stuff, need to feel in control if other things are in complete chaos, struggling in the past.
Underneath all desires for material possessions (which don’t include needs for survival) are the deep-seated reasons and feelings that drive us.
Deep down, you might buy things because you’re bored and can’t discover your passion.
People insecure with who they are might buy lots of things to try to figure it out or to fill the void. For example, someone who isn’t an artist might buy a load of painting tools because they want to create something great but haven’t yet figured out their passion.
Someone else might buy loads of makeup and dresses when they don’t even like makeup and dresses, just because they feel ugly, or aren’t sure of their image.
Some people suffer with depression or feel empty inside, then attempt to fill the void with material possessions.
For others, buying and ordering goods is the only thing they feel in control of.
Even a person’s past can play a part. If all someone has known is poverty and struggling, and suddenly they have the power to surround themselves with the things they never had, buying and surrounding themselves with stuff might be a comfort or reassurance.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, someone who has always been surrounded by things might be unable to find satisfaction without buying something new every week (this one is definitely a part of me that I regularly battle).
Now we’ve looked at the different levels of feelings which can trigger us to buy things we don’t need, let’s look at the feelings you might experience before, during, and after an impulse purchase.
First, know that for the most part, dopamine is responsible.
This is the feel good chemical that our brain releases whenever we do something pleasurable such as make a purchase, drink alcohol, receive a like on Facebook, or complete a level in a game. It can become very addictive and many companies exploit the dopamine hit that people chase to keep your attention.
And here are the feelings that might be familiar to you at the three different stages of making a purchase.
Feelings after impulse purchases
Elation, excitement, impatience, a rush, anticipation.
You can’t wait to get the item home and see what it will look like on your shelf or your body. It also felt great to buy something new. You feel the excitement and anticipation of the delivery coming to your door, or from the shop to your home.
Feelings after receiving the item
Emptiness, sudden drop in satisfaction level, shame, embarrassment, guilt, exhaustion from wasted energy and possibly making a return, panic at finances.
The initial rush from making a purchase wears off as fast as the dopamine hit. And that’s fast. Eventually, buying things we know we don’t need can lead to the negative feelings above.
I know because I’ve been there myself plenty of times.
The item never gave me the happiness I was sure it would give me at the time, and then comes the shame and embarrassment, and the realisation that the money could have been better spent investing in a skill or saving.
The shame can be tripled when returns have to be made and family members see it happening again and again.
Not to mention, the financial burden caused by impulse purchases can lead to even more stress and shame, and cause arguments with family members.
Ways we might try to deal with the after feelings
Buying more stuff, hiding the stuff, reselling or returning the item, adding it to the hoard and convincing ourselves we must keep it as we spent money and time on it, drinking or other coping device, shoving it in a cupboard and forgetting about it, denial (making up stories as to why we had to have it, or that there is isn’t a problem).
Believe it or not, people who have a problem with impulse buying or who have a shopping addiction often try to get rid of the negative feelings by buying yet more stuff. Others might hide the stuff and how much they spent from the people around them.
This can become a vicious and never ending cycle.
Alcohol and other coping mechanisms may also pose a problem for those trying to escape the shame and other bad feelings inside.
As you can see, there’ are a lot of factors to consider that might cause you to get trapped in a cycle of buying.
The only way to escape is to look at the deepest part of yourself which your purchases might be covering or compensating for, then take steps to deal with the issues themselves.
While some issues, such as boredom, can be more easily solved, painful issues relating to your past or mental health might require some sort of therapy or seeing your doctor.
Without pulling out or killing the roots, weeds will keep coming back, sometimes bigger and more numerous than before.
It’s the same with our inner selves.
If we don’t recognise and treat the underlying cause, we’re doomed to forever fall victim to the resulting behaviour or activity.