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I Love To Shop, But Do I Have A Shopping Problem?

Originally published on Thu December 19, 2013 9:36 am

Whether you love buying gifts or dread trips to the mall, good luck avoiding some kind of shopping during the holiday season. But I don't need the excuse of a holiday to get me to the stores. I'm obsessed with shopping.

The question is, am I a shopaholic? The technical term is "compulsive buyer," according to psychologist April Benson.

"Simply put," says Dr. Benson, compulsive buying is "when we spend so much time, energy and/or money shopping ... or even thinking about shopping and buying that it is impairing our life in a significant way."

That does apply to me. Being a busy 18-year-old — balancing Advanced Placement history classes with swim team and friends — can make my life feel out of control. Shopping gives me a sense of order. So, yes, I do spend a lot of time thinking about and buying clothes. Turns out, I'm not alone.

"I love shopping," says Joi Morgan. "Anytime I have money to spare, that's what I'll do."

I asked Morgan how often she went shopping.

"Definitely every two weeks. That's my pay schedule."

Brandon McFarland spends a lot of time shopping, too.

"I probably go thrift shopping at least once a week," says McFarland. "It's almost a way to pass the time."

It's also sometimes about acting on impulse. Chantell Williams says she's especially tempted by heels.

"They're really cute, but they hurt so much," she says, "so I'll wear them for a few hours and I can't stand them."

Morgan delights in taking the tags off of new clothes and putting them on for the first time. "I love that feeling," she says.

Me too. But I worry that maybe I'm not just having some fun — that I'm needing a fix.

"High-risk situations are an event like a prom or a Sweet 16," says Benson. "Or people wanting to go to school with all new clothes."

My high-risk situation? The mecca of teen shopping: Forever 21. Chandeliers hang from a gold-painted ceiling, pop music is blasting, and there are racks and racks of dangerously cheap clothes. On a recent visit, inside the dressing room, I played back in my mind the six questions Benson suggests her patients ask themselves before making a purchase.

"Why am I here? How do I feel? Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay for it? And where will I put it? And if you can answer those questions, preferably in writing, to your satisfaction," Benson says, "it's probably not a compulsive purchase."

I ended up buying the cute top I tried on. And a lot more. Why couldn't I stop myself? I asked Benson what type of person is at most risk of becoming a compulsive buyer. There are two factors, she says. The first is what she calls "large self-discrepancy."

"There's a big distance between who we are and how we'd like to be, or how we'd like to be seen," says Benson.

The second factor is a "materialistic value orientation."

Benson says that's "somebody for whom the acquisition of material goods is the central life goal."

My worldview is not so narrow that I think material possessions are the only indicators of success. But this whole process has led me to a realization. Like Benson says, "You can never get enough of what you don't really need." So I've got to figure out what it is I do really need. And it's not that adorable pair of wedge sandals, or yet another chiffon top.

This story was produced by Youth Radio.

Copyright 2013 Youth Radio. To see more, visit http://www.youthradio.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Whether you love them or hate them, many of us will find ourselves in a mall this holiday season. The prospect of shopping doesn't bother Youth Radio's Sophie Varon. In fact, she'd be happy to shop anytime, to the point that she's not sure her relationship to shopping is entirely healthy. Sophie Varon shares her story.

SOPHIE VARON, BYLINE: I know I'm obsessed with shopping. But the question is, am I a shopaholic? The technical term is compulsive buyer, according to psychologist Dr. April Benson.

DR. APRIL BENSON: Compulsive buying is when someone spends so much time, energy and/or money shopping and buying, or even thinking about shopping and buying, that it is impairing their life in a significant way.

VARON: That does apply to me. Being a busy 18-year-old, balancing AP history, swim team and friends can make my life feel out of control. Shopping gives me a sense of order. So, yes, I do spend a lot of time thinking about and buying clothes. Turns out, I'm not alone. Just ask my friends: Joi Morgan, Brandon McFarland, and Chantell Williams.

JOI MORGAN: I love shopping. Every time that I have money to spare, that's what I will do.

VARON: How often do you go shopping?

BRANDON MCFARLAND: I probably go thrift shopping, like, at least once a week. It's almost like a way to pass the time.

VARON: Have you ever bought something on impulse?

CHANTELL WILLIAMS: Heels. They're really cute but they hurt so much.

MORGAN: Something about taking the tag off of the new clothes and putting them on for the first time, I love that feeling.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THRIFT SHOP")

WANZ: (Singing) I'm going to pop some tags. Only got $20 in my pocket.

VARON: I can totally relate. But I worry. Maybe I'm not just having some fun. I'm needing a fix. Dr. Benson again.

BENSON: High-risk situations are an event like a prom or people wanting to go to school with new clothes.

VARON: My high-risk situation? The Mecca of teen shopping, Forever 21. Chandeliers hang from a gold ceiling, and there are racks and racks of dangerously cheap clothes. On a recent visit, I played back in my mind the six questions Dr. Benson suggests her patients ask themselves before making a purchase.

BENSON: Why am I here? How do I feel? Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay for it? And where will I put it? And if you can answer those questions, it's probably not a compulsive purchase.

VARON: I tried Dr. Benson's technique in the dressing room.

OK. I have it on. It is kind of adorable. I guess now I'm going to think about Dr. Benson's questions. Do I need it? Do I need it? I don't want to ask myself that. The simple answer is no, I don't need it. But I really do want it.

I bought it and a lot else, too. I asked Dr. Benson what type of person is at most risk of becoming a compulsive buyer. There are two factors. The first is what she calls large self-discrepancy.

BENSON: There's a big distance between who we are and how we'd like to be or how we'd like to be seen.

VARON: The second factor is a materialistic value orientation.

BENSON: Somebody for whom the acquisition of material goods is the central life goal.

VARON: My world view is not so narrow that I think material possessions are the only indicators of success. Like Dr. Benson says, you can never get enough of what you don't really need. So I've got to figure out what it is I do really need. And it's not that adorable pair of wedge sandals or yet another chiffon top. For NPR News, I'm Sophie Varon.

CORNISH: Sophie Varon's story was produced by Youth Radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THRIFT SHOP")

MACKLEMORE: (Singing) About to go and get some compliments. Passing up on those moccasins someone else has been walking in. Bummy and grungy, I am stunting and flossing and saving my money. And I'm hella happy that's a bargain. I'm going to take your grandpa's style. I'm going to take your grandpa's style. No, for real. Ask your grandpa. Can I have his hand-me downs? Velour jumpsuit and some house slippers.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.