Tanya Sweeney: Shopping addiction is real – take it from someone who knows
Broadside: The way you spend your money can tell you how you view yourself
Marie Kondo: the woman they call the “Beyoncé of decluttering". Photograph: Joanne Rathe/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Proof positive that we have reached peak Marie Kondo: the name of the woman they call the “Beyoncé of decluttering” has now been upcycled into an actual verb. “I’ve just KonMaried my wardrobe,” a raft of smug women are proclaiming. After using Kondo’s approach (essentially “bin it if it doesn’t give you pure joy”), they are seemingly bereft of material goods, yet lighter of spirit.
Quite what Kondo would make of my perennially spewing wardrobe is anyone’s guess. Dresses still wearing their labels. A shelf or two of “with enough Bikram yoga” clothes in a smaller size. Impulse buys that made sense at the time. A few “in case I ever get an office job” purchases. Fancy finery I have never found the right occasion for. Dozens and dozens of identikit navy jumpers. Frocks that have never felt the sun on them, nor are ever likely to.
Several of these outfits have been procured during what I term “retail blackouts”. Only when the ATM becomes more foe than friend, or the postman rings with a sizeable Asos package, do I recall. The mindless browsing online stores in front of the TV. The successful Ebay bid secured with a few smartphone clicks in the pub. The moment where you glance at a bank statement and think “€200 in Cath Kidston? But I’ve never even been to . . . Oh.”
I justify this cavalier behaviour in any number of ways. I have neither Class A drug addiction nor dependents. Besides, clothes are a basic need, something that saves me from public-indecency charges.
Whatever their financial means, most women manage regular splurges, whether it’s clothes, Boots three-for-two offers or even a few cute new tea towels from Dunnes. I can barely make it out of Tiger without a few items that I’m sure will prove life-enhancing down the line (like, eh, a head massager).
Something for the weekend
The high street is packed with women jostling to get their hands on something, anything, for the weekend. There is so much psychological comfort to be had from the amassing of stuff. But in ways, it has become the sneakiest, most subtle addiction that can befall people. Its just that we are not talking about it, and we have no real idea how to identify it.
Those dozen navy jumpers might not mean anything now, but they did once bring momentary joy, at a till. And, as with most addictions, the buzz starts to wear off, forcing the addict to hit ever greater highs to achieve the same kicks. The retailers know how to play the susceptible like fiddles, beckoning them with siren-song emails promising 70 per cent off.
I knew things had reached a worrying nadir when I was guarding an Ebay bid on my phone while queuing in Brown Thomas. It all sounds excessive and pathetic, writ large in black and white, but I know I’m not alone.
According to experts, “shopaholism” stems not from greed or being a slave to style; it is often caused by a need to fill an inner void. Some shopaholics seek approval or excitement, while others are perfectionists. Others like the idea that there is an aspect of their lives that they can control (to some extent) or that they can be instantly gratified. Well, it ain’t called retail therapy for nothing.
In research, shopaholics have even been broken down into types: there’s the compulsive shopper; the trophy shopper, who needs the perfect accessory at all times; the bargain shopper, who get a thrill from the hunt; the collector shopper, who have many variations on the one item; the bulimic shopper, who buys and returns; and the image shopper, who likes highly visible stuff.
Caitlin Moran once astutely observed that food addiction isn’t taken seriously because it leaves the addict high-functioning compared with other types of addiction. She has called it the “addiction of choice of carers” because it’s a way of self-destructing without inconveniencing anyone and remaining fully sober. A shopping addiction might also be feasibly categorised as such. It is the addiction for those who do not want to derail their lives in an obvious way. In a visually oriented world, where looking put-together often signifies being put-together, it is a way of appearing very visibly “on top of things” while enjoying the psychological balm of a slightly reckless vice.
Add to this the whole idea that shopping has become integral to the self-identifying behaviour of many independent modern women, and the line between self-gifting and an actual problem becomes ever more blurred. It is difficult and uncomfortable to face, but the way you spend your money can tell you how you view yourself.
How much does a person have to buy in order to finally feel satisfied? If, like me, you have seen Kondo’s benign, open face as a sort of anxiety-inducing spectre, or you have left opening that bank statement for a day or two because you are scared of the horrors that lurk within, you probably already know the answer to that.