Last weekend, I made a trip to a local mall to visit Barnes and Noble. I'm trying to lose the ten pounds I've gained since moving to Portland, and find that I just don't have time to get to the gym every day. I chose a 20 minute workout by Jillian Michaels, one of the trainers on The Biggest Loser. So far, it's giving me a run for my money!
Anyway, it's been quite some time since I've wandered through a mall, and I felt my anxiety rising with each step. Although my head swiveled to the left and right as I passed interesting stores, I successfully avoided stopping in at my favorite pre-Compact stores (Banana Republic, The Gap, Ann Taylor Loft. . .) but ended up walking past a couple of stores that brought back that credit card itch! I'll admit to making a quick detour through the shoe section at Macy's on my way out of the mall. Luckily, nothing truly caught my eye---and I was happy to turn my back on the springtime displays of strappy sandals and peep-toed flats.
I re-entered the outside world with a "Whew! I made it" attitude. But why was I lured in the first place? I felt like a diabetic sitting at a dinner table with a giant chocolate cake in front of me.
As part of my night job, I routinely read articles from all over the world, and although frugality and simple living aren't part of my target focus, it's impossible to pass up a headline like: Why spending money is like a drug. Researchers showcased in this article found that the perception of higher salaries (and spending money) actually activates a part of the brain termed the "reward center". Although this particular article focuses primarily on how our 'reward center' is activated when we perceive that we have a higher salary (regardless of inflation), there is a secondary reward when we purchase an item.
This might explain why there is an actual term for compulsive shopping, called Oniomania. For example:
"Victims often experience moods of satisfaction when they are in the process of purchasing, which seems to give their life meaning while letting them forget about their sorrows. Once leaving the environment where the purchasing occurred, the feeling of a personal reward has already gone. To compensate, the addicted person goes shopping again. Eventually a feeling of suppression will overcome the person. For example, cases have shown that the bought goods will be hidden or destroyed, because the person concerned feels ashamed of their addiction and tries to conceal it."This is exactly how I racked up so much credit card debt (except I never destroyed my purchases---though I did sometimes deny that an item was new if someone asked). When I'd had a bad day, when I was depressed, when I felt fat, or ugly, or any other negative emotion, I often turned to the mall to assuage my feelings. Interesting, then, that researchers have recently found that anti-depressants like Prozac can actually help 'cure' people of overspending!
Luckily, I've made a commitment to both The Compact and to not adding useless charges to my credit card. I never again want to be in a position where my credit card payments are larger than my deposits to savings and investment accounts. I can't say it's been easy, though, as my recent trip to the mall illustrated. Maybe someday I can walk through a shopping center without feeling anxious about not spending anything. I do know that even when I find a used item at the Goodwill or some other used clothing store, I feel a momentary thrill--and that, for now, is more than enough for me.