Shopping bulimia. First-world problem or legitimate disorder?

Sound like a first world problem? Well, maybe not. Mamamia’s Nicky Champ writes:

“Not to be confused with a shopping hangover or wardrobe amnesia (where you buy really similar clothes to the ones you already own) shopping bulimia is when you spend up big on your credit card only to feel guilty and return most of the purchases at a later date.

Isla Fisher in Confessions of a Shopaholic

An article appeared in the New York Post describing this new phenomenon and detailing one Upper West Side woman’s experience. Warning: You may want to poke her in the eye after reading this.

“You’re laying in bed with your iPad and you’re shopping, and suddenly you’ve spent $2,000,” she says. When the packages arrive at her Upper West Side apartment a few days later, she is elated, if not a tad confused. (It’s not uncommon for the 39-year-old to experience “I Forgot I Ordered It” syndrome.) The goods are then hidden in the corner of Michelle Madhok’s bedroom, where they will sit until the end of the week, when she’ll return almost everything she’s bought.”

Ahem, suddenly you’ve spent $2,000? Can’t say I can relate to that, I tend to break out in a cold sweat if I’m in the multiple hundreds mark, not the two-thousands. But the scary thing is that this type of behaviour is not a one off for Madhok or sufferers of shopping bulimia.

“Despite the two hours each weekend Sabrina Malen, 26, devotes to returns, she’s accepted that this is just a way of life. Even when she shops in a store, the Midtown East resident refuses to try clothes on. “I will not go into dressing rooms anymore, especially with the bedbugs thing,” she says, citing a fear of infestation.”

There really is a bed bug problem in New York. But, what I don’t understand is that Madhok is a website CEO, and thus surely a smart and savvy business woman, who is bizarrely trapped in this spend and return cycle.

According to Today Show contributor and psychotherapist, Dr Robi Ludwig, she thinks that technology is making it easier for us to fall victim to the binging and purging of online shopping, as it is entertaining and addictive, “people are overwhelmed by the desire to buy something in order to feel better, triggered by our consumer- and status-obsessed culture. And technology has made access to all of these items easier to get than ever before. Most things are just a quick click away,” Ludwig says.

She outlines the 5 warning signs of shopping bulimia:

  • Shopping to ease depression and anxiety.
  • Damaging perfectly good products and telling elaborate stories so retailers will accept returns.
  • Feeling euphoria and excitement after a purchase is made, followed by extreme buyer’s remorse.
  • Buying pricey luxury items for social events with the intention of later returning them for refunds.
  • Having high expectations for how you should live your life, without the cash flow to maintain such a lifestyle.

Sure does sound like a legitimate addiction problem. I’ve always thought your savings resolve is a hell of a lot less when you are shopping online.  All of a sudden those $400 pair of shoes become a bargain, (if you don’t eat for a week) and something you’d never actually buy in a retail store, like a studded leather skirt, becomes a ‘hot’ item that you must have immediately.

A quick survey of my friends reveals that they are mostly too embarrassed to return things but then again, rarely do they have a spending spree amounting to $2,000. When they do buy a dud they’ll either sell it on eBay or shove it in the back of the wardrobe resolving to make some sort of alteration which will deem it wearable. The only time we have all done it to some extent, is for situation like a wedding, Christmas party or an event where an ex-boyfriend is likely to be frequenting. A situation which calls for multiple dress purchases, various accessory styling and several shoe options, which once you have sorted, all the others get returned back to the store.

But perhaps it’s not that common in Australia because we are not so lucky on our antipodean shores to take advantage of the free return policies American stores offer to US citizens. Thanks to high postage costs in order to return a piece of clothing purchased online to the US (or UK), it usually costs more than the actual price of the garment you are returning (unless you are shopping at net-a-porter and that’s a whole other ballgame).

Not sure about you, but spending double the amount of time returning garments, lining up at the post office or queuing in the shops is enough to turn me off ever having repeated episodes of shopping bulimia. Shopping amnesia on the other hand…”

Do you compulsively buy things and then return them? Ever experience it once or twice?

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