I never gave much thought to compulsive shopping until I had to deal with it in my own life. Not me personally…I’ve always been pretty budget-conscious, plus I really, really don’t like clutter. However, it might be an easier situation if it was just me!
There is a family member who loves to buy things for our us: clothes, home items, etc. You might be think that sounds awesome — free stuff! But that’s the thing, it’s just “stuff” (LOTS of it) and it comes into our house so quickly that it starts to build up before I can find a place for it.
New clothes pile up in the laundry room waiting to be washed before their first wear. Photo frames stack on the counter, waiting to be filled. Countless toys get buried in the toy basket and forgotten. A home with two little girls is already a struggle to keep tidy, but with all this extra “stuff,” I start to feel like I’m drowning in shopping bags.
Dealing with this for the past few years (and likely for many more to come), I’ve figured out that this is something that is hard for this family member to control. It is a compulsive behavior that has become more pervasive for a number of reasons. You might be surprised that some of these have little to do with actually loving to shop in itself, and are actually much deeply-rooted:
- This is way for this family member to show love, to “do it better” than perhaps they did for their own children.
- To compensate for the feeling that they are “not able to be around enough,” even if that is not necessarily true.
Additionally, compulsive shopping may be a substitute for other “bad behaviors.” Simple boredom can also play a part. Because there are so many contributing factors (the exact mix could be different for each person), compulsive shopping can be very difficult to get under control.
One of my lifelong best friends is in an almost identical situation, so I’m guessing that this type of compulsive shopping for loved ones might actually be quite common. Like other addictive behaviors, it might also be a lifelong struggle to keep it under control.
So what can you do to stop the influx of “stuff” and reclaim your space, without hurting the feelings of someone close to you?
- Set the “new house rules.” Explain that you appreciate their generosity, but that you are clearing the clutter and not able to accept any new items that you don’t need or didn’t ask for.
- Hold your ground. This might mean you will be turning away shopping bags and sending things back. Boundaries might be tested (though usually not in a malicious way), as the shopper might not think you are serious or might not be able to help themselves. (Coupons, deals, and sales are common excuses for continuing to buy).
- Suggest other ways to show love or help out. If you’re like me, you might be slightly uncomfortable asking for favors, but in this case, it can give your loved one ways to feel useful without spending money on “stuff.” Ask if they would like to babysit, would they like to take the kids out for a special lunch, etc.
It’s important to remember that there likely won’t be an instant fix. In fact, you might have to go through the steps outlined above periodically, as the compulsive shopping can come in waves. Finally, always be compassionate (even when you start to get frustrated). Your loved one probably senses your agitation (I know I’m not always so good at hiding it), they are likely already aware that this is a problem, and it could truly be something they struggle to control.