Imagine this: you’re scrolling through your favorite online store and stumble across an adorable sweater. Excitedly, you added the sweater to your cart. But just as you are about to pay, you get a feeling that you should wait things out. The sweater lingers in your cart for a few days while you consider if the purchase is worth it.
In the end, the sweater will probably lay forgotten in your cart as you move on to purchase better things. You may not even think about it again.
Routinely adding items to your shopping cart but never buying anything is a common experience these days.
Many people have adopted this habit, as evidenced by multiple TikToks and Instagram posts fessing up to the quirk.
It may be quirky but compulsively hitting “add to cart” makes complete sense.
Contrary to popular belief, buying things doesn’t make you happy. Well, let me rephrase that.
A survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Eventbrite revealed that around 72% of millennials prefer spending money on experiences rather than materialistic objects. And a study out of Cornell University supports this by stating that, “People get more retrospective enjoyment and satisfaction from their experiential purchases than from material purchases.”
So as enticing as that sweater is for you, it won’t contribute to your overall happiness in the long run.
Psychologist Guy Winch sheds light on the reason this is so. “The ironic thing about shopping addiction is that the real dopamine rush comes from ordering the stuff,” he writes, “not from getting it or using it.”
According to Priory, an independent provider of mental healthcare and adult social care in the UK, “When we make a purchase, our brain releases endorphins and dopamine.“ They follow up by saying that the momentary happiness you get from that purchase can lead you to compulsive buying.
This can help explain why so many people find joy simply in the act of “add to cart.” And maybe that alone is enough, so they choose to wait it out before they press purchase — and ultimately decide not to.
That’s obviously not the case for everyone, however, because compulsive shopping can be extremely challenging to manage at this time of year.
Why do people shop compulsively?
Some people slip into a compulsive shopping to fill a void. Sofia Kospanos of Step Up For Mental Health says that there are two types of lonely people in this world:
- Those with many connections but feel disconnected.
- Those with many connections that believe they aren’t meaningful connections.
If you have dealt with loneliness, you know just how rough it can be. And the coping mechanisms can range from complete isolation to extremes, such as shopping compulsively.
As highlighted by Black Bear Lodge, a residential treatment facility in Georgia, “Shopping provides a temporary high, and those who have an addictive personality shop to cope with life’s difficulties.”
This behavior can have devasting consequences on not just your finances but your relationships, as well.
So, how do we deal with it? Matt Glowiak, PhD, LCPC, shares shares five ways to go about this.
How To Manage Compulsive Shopping
1. Admit you have a problem.
How can we begin to fix an issue that we don’t even know we have? The first step is admitting you have a problem.
2. Share your feelings with someone trustworthy.
It’s important to have a good support system. Telling someone that you trust, can ensure that you feel less alone throughout your healing and recovery journey.
3. Consider joining a support group.
A support group like Shopaholics Anonymous allows you to connect with individuals who face similar shopaholic tendencies. Members hold one another accountable, and they support each other through the recovery process. And if you aren’t able to meet in person, guess what? There is an online option as well!
4. Identify triggers.
Recognize what compels you to compulsively shop and develop healthier coping mechanisms to deal with it. Glowiak suggests engaging in activities such as reading, writing, or exercising.
5. Set boundaries.
One of the most crucial steps to halting your compulsive involves setting boundaries. “By having someone else create the shopping lists, do the shopping, or by budgeting only for necessities, you can slowly start to take control”, says Glowiak.
Maybe people who ‘add to cart’ and never buy are onto something.
As the holidays approach, the pressure to spend and the mental noise around shopping is getting bigger and louder. Before giving in to the urge to compulsively click “purchase,” take a second to pause, and think about all the people who have embraced the quirky but helpful approach of “add to cart” and then walking away.
Consider adding items to your cart and reflecting on it for a few days. In the end, you may realize that the item you thought you needed wasn’t worth purchasing in the first place, and you already satiated your desire for the thrill of the hunt.
Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor’s degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career, and family topics.