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Sophie Varon loves to shop. But lately, she's been wondering if her shopping habit has become a shopping problem. (Youth Radio)

I Love To Shop, But Do I Have A Shopping Problem?

by Sophie Varon
Dec 18, 2013 (All Things Considered / Youth Radio)

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Whether you love buying gifts or dread trips to the mall, good luck avoiding some kind of shopping during the holiday season. But I don't need the excuse of a holiday to get me to the stores. I'm obsessed with shopping.

The question is, am I a shopaholic? The technical term is "compulsive buyer," according to psychologist April Benson.

"Simply put," says Dr. Benson, compulsive buying is "when we spend so much time, energy and/or money shopping ... or even thinking about shopping and buying that it is impairing our life in a significant way."

That does apply to me. Being a busy 18-year-old — balancing Advanced Placement history classes with swim team and friends — can make my life feel out of control. Shopping gives me a sense of order. So, yes, I do spend a lot of time thinking about and buying clothes. Turns out, I'm not alone.

"I love shopping," says Joi Morgan. "Anytime I have money to spare, that's what I'll do."

I asked Morgan how often she went shopping.

"Definitely every two weeks. That's my pay schedule."

Brandon McFarland spends a lot of time shopping, too.

"I probably go thrift shopping at least once a week," says McFarland. "It's almost a way to pass the time."

It's also sometimes about acting on impulse. Chantell Williams says she's especially tempted by heels.

"They're really cute, but they hurt so much," she says, "so I'll wear them for a few hours and I can't stand them."

Morgan delights in taking the tags off of new clothes and putting them on for the first time. "I love that feeling," she says.

Me too. But I worry that maybe I'm not just having some fun — that I'm needing a fix.

"High-risk situations are an event like a prom or a Sweet 16," says Benson. "Or people wanting to go to school with all new clothes."

My high-risk situation? The mecca of teen shopping: Forever 21. Chandeliers hang from a gold-painted ceiling, pop music is blasting, and there are racks and racks of dangerously cheap clothes. On a recent visit, inside the dressing room, I played back in my mind the six questions Benson suggests her patients ask themselves before making a purchase.

"Why am I here? How do I feel? Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay for it? And where will I put it? And if you can answer those questions, preferably in writing, to your satisfaction," Benson says, "it's probably not a compulsive purchase."

I ended up buying the cute top I tried on. And a lot more. Why couldn't I stop myself? I asked Benson what type of person is at most risk of becoming a compulsive buyer. There are two factors, she says. The first is what she calls "large self-discrepancy."

"There's a big distance between who we are and how we'd like to be, or how we'd like to be seen," says Benson.

The second factor is a "materialistic value orientation."

Benson says that's "somebody for whom the acquisition of material goods is the central life goal."

My worldview is not so narrow that I think material possessions are the only indicators of success. But this whole process has led me to a realization. Like Benson says, "You can never get enough of what you don't really need." So I've got to figure out what it is I do really need. And it's not that adorable pair of wedge sandals, or yet another chiffon top.

This story was produced by Youth Radio.

Copyright 2014 Youth Radio. To see more, visit http://www.youthradio.org/.

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