If your closet is crammed full of clothes still bearing the original tags, your house is strewn with unopened boxes or you’ve rented a storage unit to hold all your unused purchases, you might be a shopaholic.
“A lot of people are embarrassed to admit they have a problem and are out of control,” said Terrence Shulman, founder of The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending & Hoarding.
Compulsive shopping affects at least 6 percent of Americans, and can include behaviors like buying stuff you don’t need because it’s on sale, shopping to distract yourself from feelings or spending to get love from others, according to Shulman.
The more stuff that comes in, the more difficult it is to find a place to put it.
— Professional organizer Ellen Hankes
If you’re not sure whether your shopping habit qualifies you as a shopaholic, you can take a quiz from ShopaholicNoMore.com, a website run by psychologist April Lane Benson, author of “To Buy of Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop.”
About one-third of compulsive shoppers develop a hoarding problem, Benson said. Some shopaholics get a storage unit—or several units—to contain the overflow from their homes, Shulman said. And others even build or buy second homes to hold all their stuff, said Ellen Hankes, a professional organizer who works with clients who have chronic disorganization.
But the good news is, there’s help. If you’re a shopaholic with a clutter problem, here are eight steps to get your home (and life) under control:
1. Get Professional Help.
First, consult with a mental health professional, Hankes said. Also consider getting help from a professional organizer trained in working with clients who exhibit hoarding behavior, she said. The Institute for Challenging Disorganization offers such training to organizers, and has a search tool to help consumers find an organizer. It’s ideal for your therapist, your organizer and you to work together. “It’s best to take a team approach,” Hankes said.
2. Curtail the Influx of Stuff.
To make progress in decluttering and organizing your home, it’s important to stop bringing in a steady stream of new stuff, Hankes said.
“It’s just a math equation,” Hankes said. “The more stuff that comes in, the more difficult it is to find a place to put it.”
If a client hasn’t dealt with the compulsive-shopping issue, an organizer might not be able to help, Hankes said.
3. Enlist Support From Loved Ones.
Ask for help from family and friends, Hankes said. Your loved ones can support you in different ways, from intercepting catalogs that tempt you to helping you declutter, she said. A support group such as Debtors Anonymous also can help compulsive shoppers, Benson said.
4. Avoid Triggers That Spark Shopping.
Take a look at what makes you want to shop. Is it getting deal emails from your favorite retailer, flipping through glossy magazines or going to the mall with your best friend? Part of recovery from compulsive spending involves identifying your triggers and steering clear of them, Shulman said, so you might have to make some big changes in your life.
5. Fill the Void.
When you stop shopping so much, you’ll have extra time on your hands, Hankes said. Think about how to fill that time with meaningful and emotionally rewarding activities so you’ll be less tempted to go back to your old ways, Hankes said. For example, you might make plans with family members or friends you haven’t see for a while, try volunteer work or take up a new hobby, she said.
6. Start Small.
Begin the decluttering process simply by going on a “treasure hunt” around your home to gather one type of item, Hankes said. For example, if you can’t seem to stop buying greeting cards, collect all your birthday and holiday cards and put them in one spot. If you’re crazy about shoes, do the same with all of your pumps, sandals and boots.
Seeing everything in one place can help you realize you have more than enough stuff, Hankes said. “You get a visual image of the accumulation,” she said.
7. Pick a Decluttering Target.
Once you’re ready to start decluttering, begin in the part of your home that bothers you most, Hankes said. For example, if it bugs you that you can’t cook food because your kitchen is too cluttered, start there, she said. Begin with a small task, such as clearing off the stovetop for safety, disposing of empty takeout containers, or gathering all the bottles of medicine on your counter and putting them into a box. “As confidence builds, tackle bigger areas,” Hankes said.
8. Be Patient.
Don’t expect your shopping behavior to change overnight, Hankes said. “It really takes time to adjust to new thoughts and behaviors,” she said.