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'I Used Online Shopping As A Coping Mechanism In 2020. This Year I'm Vowing To Buy Nothing'

'I Used Online Shopping As A Coping Mechanism In 2020. This Year I'm Vowing To Buy Nothing'

Words by Olga Alexandru

Like many people in 2020, one of my main sources of dopamine was hearing the buzzer going, the promise of a shiny new parcel on the other side.

My lockdown shopping habit started off innocently enough: a few books here and there; a pair of much-needed curling tongs; some cute dresses for when this is all over (spoiler alert: I still haven't worn them).

I don't make a lot of money so I tried to be frugal, sniffing out the best bargains, sticking to online sales and using discount codes.

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But I soon noticed my shopping habits creeping out of control, and the excitement of clicking 'add to basket' gave way to something else: shame, guilt and embarrassment. I realised I'd convinced myself I needed 'just one more' dress or that 'perfect' top and then I would have 'enough'.

Olga Alexandru tells how her online shopping habit spiralled out of control (Credit: Olga Alexandru)
Olga Alexandru tells how her online shopping habit spiralled out of control (Credit: Olga Alexandru)

But it wasn't enough and I started to feel ashamed of how many parcels were arriving on a daily basis. If I was feeling anxious or uncertain, compounded by the distressing news cycle of 2020, I would spend my time browsing sales online to make myself feel better. It became a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety and even boredom.

It came to a head towards the end of 2020. I'd had several parcels arriving every day that week and my partner gently asked me where we were going to store my latest round of books. We already had five bookshelves filled and they were now spilling onto the floor in small piles. The conversation ended in a fight, mostly because I was unwilling to admit that my shopping habits had gotten out of hand.

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Deep down, I was ashamed and embarrassed of my behaviour and the fact that I didn't feel in control anymore. I worked out I had spent almost £900 on things I didn't need. It needed to stop.

Olga realised she's spent £900 on non-essential purchases including books and clothes (Credit: Olga Alexandru)
Olga realised she's spent £900 on non-essential purchases including books and clothes (Credit: Olga Alexandru)

I set myself a goal of not buying anything in 2021 excluding essentials like food and toiletries. I put a ban on buying books, clothes and anything else that was not directly essential.

Logically, I knew I could go a year without buying anything. But I wasn't sure if I could handle it emotionally - which, I suppose, was the point. I needed to faceup to the feelings I'd been trying to avoid head-on without using retail therapy as a distraction.

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So how am I going to do this? Well, one of the first things I've done is to unsubscribe from marketing emails; if I don't know about a sale is happening, how can I spend money on it? I also unfollowed accounts on Instagram that were just selling stuff.

I've told my friends and family that I'm doing all of this so I am accountable to them. The more people I tell, the more likely I will be to continue on. After all, I don't want to embarrass myself by failing publicly.

Olga began to feel ashamed of the never-ending stream of online deliveries (Credit: Shutterstock)
Olga began to feel ashamed of the never-ending stream of online deliveries (Credit: Shutterstock)

The main thing I need to work on when I'm feeling overwhelmed or anxious is to not immediately turn to shopping as the solution. The dozens of items I've bought tell me that this is not something they can fix. So I need to learn to sit with the discomfort. With the uncertainty and boredom. And just breathe through it or find a healthier distraction.

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But sometimes that's not enough. So I reached out to Dr. Niall Campbell, addiction specialist and consulting psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital Roehampton for some tips on how to break the habit. His first bit of advice is to ask, "What is the reason for the purchase? Do you need the item or are you possibly looking to cheer yourself up?

"When someone does compulsively shop, they often do so in order to ease or distract themselves from certain feelings, whether that is boredom, stress, sadness or another difficult emotion," he adds.

Dr. Campbell recommends "paying close attention to your finances when looking to address compulsive shopping. Have a spending plan, set a daily and weekly budget and monitor your outgoings. Having a clear plan will help to stop you from spending uncontrollably."

I was lucky that overspending wasn't an issue for me. It was the compulsive nature of it that became a problem. But if you find yourself running into debt Dr. Campbell recommends accessing Debtors Anonymous.

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"As a result of COVID-19, a number of their meetings are available online. Debtors Anonymous gives you an opportunity to talk to people who have similar experiences to you. It can also teach you ways to develop healthier spending practices that you can use going forward."

As for me, I've been getting better acquainted with the things I already have. I've started actually using the things I've bought even when they're not that fun (sorry, exercise bike!)

I'm noticing the urge to shop when it comes up and working on responding in a healthier way. I'm hoping to save £1,000 this year and spend it travelling. If we're ever allowed again.

For more information or support, visit mind.org.uk

Featured Image Credit: PA

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