How to Tell If Your Love of Shopping Is Actually an Addiction

A few weeks ago with all the tempting winter sales, I began to seriously wonder if I had what my mom has always suspected, "a shopping disease."
Publish date:
January 26, 2015
fashion, Sneakers, trends, Winter Sales, Overshopping, Shopaholics

I’ve often felt that my habit for shoe shopping has erred on the side of addiction. I never shop myself into debt, but a few weeks ago, I began to seriously wonder if I was buying things thoughtfully or compulsively.

I was on my way home from the gym when I passed Paragon Sports, a sporting goods haven in the heart of Union Square in Manhattan. It was during the heat of post-holiday sales and the windows were plastered with signs touting discounts and neon sneakers urging me to come see what else was in store.

I didn’t need anything, but I walked in and went straight to where my instinct always takes me — the women’s shoe section. I found myself standing in front of a pair of sneakers I’ve wanted on many occasions and in different prints: the Nike Roshe Runs, at just $40.

On my hierarchical wish list, the Nike Roshes are low. I’ve gone so far as to put them in an online shopping cart, but I've never gone all the way to check out with them. I’d wear them if someone gave them to me, but I’m slightly turned off by their identity crisis — they seem to be caught between running shoe and leisure footwear.

To be honest, I wanted the Nike Roshe Runs for one reason: to add to my burgeoning sneaker collection. I have more than 20 pairs of sneakers. They’re pretty basic — Vans, Supergas, Adidas, Converses. They might not compare to the luxe, special-edition kicks featured on sneaker-interest sites like, but it’s definitely more than I need.

The pair in question was a purple mesh style that I didn’t love, but didn’t hate. I’d wear them a few times in the first weeks of owning them, but I knew that once the honeymoon phase ended, I’d retire them to my overflowing shoe rack and wear them rarely ever. It took a lot of willpower but I didn’t buy the sneakers.

As I left the store without a shopping bag in tow, I realized that I had tried to legitimize buying a pair of shoes I didn’t need with the pretentious notion of “curating a collection.” My sneaker collection was an excuse to overshop. I was proud for not buying into my own bullshit, but I had freaked myself out a bit. Am I shoe addict? Did I have what my mom always suspected, “a shopping disease?”

I talked to Dr. April Benson, a psychologist who specializes in compulsive shopping, to find out the difference between a controlled, albeit enthusiastic, shopper and a compulsive one. “An overshopper is someone who spends so much time, energy, and money shopping that it seriously impairs their life — financially, interpersonally, occupationally,” Benson told me.

Thank god — that’s not me. Shopping doesn’t impair my life, but I do spend a lot of time thinking about the shoes (and clothes and bags) I want to buy, so I went to Benson’s website and took a free self-assessment to determine if I was close to entering overshopping territory.

I have some shopaholic-like tendencies (there are times when I have “a strong urge to buy”), but I answered to “no” to a majority of questions that indicated compulsive habits. I never shop to fill a void, and very rarely do I buy something without planning, or “just because I have to have it.” I’m responsible in my shopping. I keep a running list of things I want, and I tend to only buy things from the list, many of which are shoes.

I found a like-minded shopper in Caroline Curran, a lifestyle blogger who initially started her blog, Perfect 10 SF, to chronicle her shoe shopping. Caroline has around 50 pairs of shoes — flats, pumps, running shoes — and admits that though many of her purchases are planned, some are impulsive.

She’s a bit more practical than I am in her collecting since she donates whatever isn’t getting their fair share of wear. I like to keep mine around for the sake of the “collection.” Caroline and I are different from bona fide over-buyers because we don’t hide our purchases, which according to Benson, is a red flag.

Regardless of how we flaunt our purchases, shoppers — thoughtful and compulsive — get an adrenaline rush when we buy something. Shopping releases feel-good chemicals in the brain, and overshoppers get addicted to that high.

Whenever I fear that I might be an overshopper, I think of that line from Confessions of a Shopaholic: “When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it’s not, and I need to do it again.” I will admit: Buying things makes me happy, but I don’t seek that high again and again.

Do you feel like all the amazingly cheap stuff you can buy during the winter sales is tempting you to buy things you don't absolutely need or love?