Holiday Binge Shopping

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It’s the season to get gifting, but if you’re opening your wallet a little too readily this season, we have news for you — and so does Psychologist Dr. Judith Rich: You may be an out-of-control shopper. A reformed holiday binge buyer herself, Rich chatted with us about her compulsive (and expensive) behaviors — and ways you can curb your seasonal spending, too.

Q: Can you describe your old holiday shopping habits and explain your shopping behavior?

A: I would characterize my old holiday shopping habits as compulsively driven by a need to fill a spiritual void in myself with “things” in the outer world. As I described in my article in the ‘Huffington Post,’ I would become frenzied in my shopping activity, buying on impulse, completely ignoring my shopping list and actually feeling out of control. It was like binge shopping, very much like binge eating. Afterwards, I would feel a sense of remorse and guilt. I knew I’d crossed a line within myself, but I was not aware of what was driving my behavior.

Q: When and how did you finally make changes to your old holiday shopping patterns?

A: The collapse of the economy in 2008, and my reduced income, forced me to tighten my belt in every area of my life, including Christmas shopping. I simply didn’t have the means anymore to support my shopping addiction. In my case, the recession was a gift of sorts, forcing me to do an inner-reckoning with what was behind my obsessive behavior. I had no regard for the monetary impact of my [habits] at that time. It helped that the national consciousness about excessive spending shifted. Everyone was going through a similar paring down process. I felt validated and supported in my efforts to correct this behavior.

Q: How are your shopping habits different now, and how do you feel differently about shopping during the holidays?

A: My family and I agreed that, beginning at Christmas in 2008, we would no longer exchange material things as gifts. Not even one wrapped present is allowed. It’s a cold turkey thing. It works for us. So my holiday shopping habits now are to simply avoid all stores, stay away from malls, no shopping — period. Instead, my family and I are discovering the joys of non-material gifts, creating experiences, like going to see the Nutcracker ballet, taking in a Christmas play or cooking a holiday meal.

Last year we did a gingerbread house competition with friends. I purchased two gingerbread house kits and we broke up into teams. Each team had 90 minutes to put the house together and decorate it. We took a vote (the winner was obvious, even to those who worked on the losing entry). We donated both to a convalescent home. It felt so good! One year, we adopted a needy family. It was so much more satisfying than buying for ourselves. Another year, we sent donations to Heifer International.

Q: What’s your advice for anyone who has trouble controlling their holiday shopping?

A: Ask yourself what need are you really trying to fill through shopping? For me, it was an attempt to fill a sense of emptiness. I was longing for a closer connection with what I’ll call my “essential self.” To be in my heart, to rewrite past Christmas disappointments, etc. Now, I know those needs cannot be filled by things. Lastly, just go cold turkey. Let your family and friends know you’re up to something different this year and co-create ideas for celebrating the season in more sane and simple ways that touch the heart and communicate the love you feel for one another.

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