The Rise And Fall Of The Shopaholic

As a college student, I often took up side jobs to make extra cash. One of those side jobs included selling random things on eBay. It was easier and slightly more lucrative than holding a garage sale every weekend.

Once, I sold a pair of highly coveted boots that I no longer wore. They went for $75, or in college currency, one textbook. I'd already started wrapping them up and brainstorming my budget when I received an email from the buyer:

“Sorry, but I'm not going to pay for these,” she wrote. “I have a shopping addiction, and my husband is going to be upset.”


“That's fine,” I replied, kindly asking her if she wouldn't mind repaying me for the five dollars in eBay fees. (This was old eBay. There were no second-chance offers; there was no fee reimbursement).

“Sorry, but no.” was her answer. “I have a shopping addiction, and that would defeat the purpose.”

As both a full-time student and full-time employee living in a world where every cent counted, including that five dollars, this upset me. I expressed my discontent. She told me that “other people have been really sympathetic and supportive.” I was being insensitive to her disorder, she said.

That was the first time I'd ever heard shopping addiction referred to as a disorder, and perhaps, yes, I was being insensitive. Because according to a study from Stanford, about 6 percent of women and 5.5 percent of men are legit shopaholics. Like alcoholism, it is, indeed, an addiction.

Shopaholics have been having a moment. There's Confessions of a Shopaholic, for example, and I recently got a spam email that read: “ Unleash your inner Shopaholic!” Oh-and there's even a new reality show called My Shopping Addiction.

In recent years, there's been a spotlight on this cultural trend of hyper-consumerism. And it's been given a cute, marketable name, but really, shopping addiction is pretty dangerous, even for the frugal.

The rise of the shopaholic

In the early 2000s, there was a cultural message that was beginning to spread through literature and film. Fight Club, American Beauty, and American Psycho all touted this message. Oversimplified, that message was: materialism is bad. Here's a clever excerpt from Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho, for example:

“Soon everything seemed dull: another sunrise, the lives of heroes, falling in love, war, the discoveries people made about each other. The only thing that didn't bore me, obviously enough, was how much money Tim Price made…”

Consumerism, materialism and superficiality are nothing new. We've been keeping up with the Joneses for years. But things seem to have intensified in recent years. People seem to be very obsessed with Stuff lately.