Sunday, 19 February 2017

A New Word

I learnt a new word a few months ago. Oniomania - The uncontrollable desire or compulsion to buy things. I'd not actually heard of this word before, but it possibly describes my behavior of 6 or 7 years ago. (Warning: This is quite a personal post and is a bit long and rambling, so feel free to stop reading at any time if you are not interested or are not enjoying it.)

Wikipedia describes this as a mental health condition, that often requires pharmacological intervention. I didn't have any, but what I did do, once I realized that my behavior was compulsive in nature, was to read lots of self help and other books, that documented the stories of other compulsive spenders, to try to understand why I behaved in this way and what it was that made me want to buy things. I can't say whether or not I was a severe case, but I know that my behavior and my compulsion to shop wasn't normal.

I still fight the urge today, but I have become much better at self control. I can't say that I'm cured and perhaps I never will be. It might always be a crutch that I fall back on when the going gets tough (if finances allow, of course). I still think about buying things a lot, but the urges have diminished enormously over the past few years.

Whilst I realize that the rampant consumerism and advertising we are exposed to these days might have fueled this behavior and that many people display this tendency today to some degree, I have to admit that it was a tendency I exhibited and acted upon in earlier periods of my life too.

Probably the first episode was on starting work, in what was a good job in the Civil Service in my late teens/early twenties. Over a period of a few years, I embarked on spending sprees in my lunch hour, managing to fill more than one credit/store card to their limit. I then paid minimum payments on these cards, incurring and having to pay ridiculous interest charges. I find it hard to believe now, that I actually paid all that interest. It seems such a waste of money when I think about it. Now I pay my credit cards off every month and avoid interest at all costs.  It would, however, be better if I used them a lot less.

A few years later, I decided to leave my job and return to full-time education to study for a degree, but with the debts I had to pay off (only a couple of thousand at the time, but still a lot for a young person thirty years ago), I had to wait for over a year until I had paid them back, plus I had to finish paying off a car loan for my first car.

After doing so, I vowed I would never get into debt again, but on a couple of subsequent occasions I have run up similar sized credit card debts, with little to show for them and then subsequently had to pay them off again over an extended period.

The last round of compulsive spending was triggered when my daughter started full-time school and I felt bereft, having stayed at home full time to look after her. One of the things I filled my some of my time with when she went to school, was thrift shopping.

As the house filled up with things that I'd bought (not particularly expensive things might I add), my partner became increasingly concerned about me and the amount of things I was bringing into our home, not to mention how cluttered it was becoming. Although I knew his concerns were justified, I ignored them for a while, the impulse to continue being too strong. Thankfully, for me, it didn't become a big issue in our relationship, as I gradually began to realize that he was right and it had to stop.

I think I survived the experience, because I recognized early enough that I had a problem and managed to find ways to avoid shopping. I went cold turkey on visiting charity shops and increased my visits to the gym which kept me away from the shops.

It helped when we got a dog, as walking her every morning gave me a new routine, not to mention the fact that her addition to our family helped me to recognize that much of the spending was emotional in nature. My little dog unknowingly helped me to take back control of my life. Walking her helped me to slow down and think about my behaviour, why I was doing it and how I could change it.

It's taken me a few years, but I'm gradually getting to grips with it and finding ways to control it. I couldn't possibly have volunteered in a Charity shop a few years ago, as I would have spent far too much money whilst working there, but volunteering in one now is possible because of the effort I've made over the last few years to understand where the compulsion was coming from psychologically and avoiding situations that might trigger it.

Volunteering in the CS has been a big test for me, as I have spent the last few years keeping out of charity and other shops as much as possible, and only shopping when I need something.  I rarely 'go shopping' these days, save for weekly food shopping, unless I need something specific. In fact, when I do visit my local mall, two hours is more than enough in this particular environment, before I start feeling overwhelmed by it all.

I'm no psychologist, and if someone has a similar problem that is affecting their lives detrimentally, then getting external help might be necessary. I'm grateful that for me it wasn't needed, but it is a battle I wage every day, especially now internet shopping makes it even more easy to shop, without even getting up from the kitchen table and I have had and still do have lots of moments where I give in to temptation.

I also quite often buy things from the CS in which I volunteer, but I try to stick only to things we definitely need or that I feel are educational and in doing so, I am hopefully saving us money, improving myself as a person and preventing waste and more clutter in the long term (not to mention giving to a good cause).

I'm still working on my behavior patterns. I am trying to keep away from websites that trigger spending, unless I absolutely need something. I have made a point of unsubscribing from many, to avoid temptation altogether. I also write a wish list of only the things I need, which as the year progresses, I work on until there is very little left on it at all.  I think I'm finally beginning to realize that there is little I actually do need, and thus I am gradually becoming more satisfied with what I already have.

My daughter, too, is getting used to the reduced shopping opportunities and I think my progress has been good for her, as she now shops much less too. I should hate to pass this compulsion on to her.

I'm hoping that I get to a point eventually, where I feel more normal and I don't feel I want or need to shop as strongly, although this is perhaps a little unrealistic, as there will probably always be something that needs to be bought, especially with a growing teenager, a household to maintain and a keen interest in gardening and other hobbies.

I hope that you don't feel I have shared too much in this post.  It is quite a personal account of the past few years of my life, and I have thought a lot before pressing the publish button. It has been written to help me and anyone else who may find they can relate to some of the things I've mentioned and to enable readers to understand where I've come from and how far I've progressed in the last few years.

It's also been written as a kind of thank you, for the kindness and support I've received from the blogging community, which has been a great help in my journey, so a big THANK YOU to you guys. You know who you are.


  1. It's a path many have gone down, to various levels, our whole world is consumer lead, so it's hard to even know to what level you are stuck at. The slow opening of our eyes to the simple fact the pleasure of those few moments when we purchase anything is lost so quickly, and we are lead to believe we just need to purchase something else. The biggest thing in our lives now is how little we require to make us happy. We still shop but only when we want and not to cover any other emotions.

    1. I'm hoping I get to where you are at some point. I'm in a much better place than I was though.

  2. Many of us try to fill something in our lives with compulsive shopping. I did and I know of others who did and are still doing so as well.

    Over the years the thing I have found that helps me the most is planning my shopping, making a list and paying cash for things such as fabric, and yarn (amazingly that seems to work really well for me, I no longer over buy and am working my way through my stashes).

    It used to be if something was on sale I bought it, cause you know I might need it down the road, and it was on sale! Now I don't do that as much (do slip up every so often, especially with the food aspect).

    Thanks for sharing your story with all of us.

    God bless.

    1. Thanks Jackie. I agree, sticking to a list is vital. I don't go anywhere without one now.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story.

    It sounds like you're understand yourself more and making some good steps to deal with your spending triggers, well done.

  4. Thank you for being so honest and sharing this post. You have made major endeavours to change something which was not good for you. Well done xx