January 19, 2015

Shopping For Self Esteem

"Spend money on stuff and we guarantee you will think at least twice as highly of yourself."

Are people with low self-esteem more materialistic? That is what researchers have found, and they conclude that it is the same for both children and adults. Feeling bad about yourself? Go shopping and acquire as much crap as you can.

Study results show that individuals with low self-esteem desire more consumer goods, and indulge in impulsive and compulsive shopping more often.

While shopping can give a short lived self-esteem boost, it is too often replaced with feelings of anxiety, stress, depression, and even lower self-esteem. It is a vicious cycle that marketers take full advantage of while spending billions to convince us we need even more stuff.

For all the ages a pre-occupation with material goods has been looked down upon as leading us away from our true purpose.

And for a good reason. We can not be healthy while constantly wanting more. We can not be happy while feeling out of control.

There are things that we can use to protect ourselves and the planet against the many forces of materialism and market manipulation.

1. Practice Self-discipline

- do not create excuses for shopping, take control of what and when you buy things
- remember times that you have successfully overcome urges to purchase things you don't need
- give yourself a pat on the back for refusing to be a consumer drone
- learn to enjoy not shopping more than shopping

2. Recognize the Scam

- hundreds of billions of dollars are spent every year to find ways to make us buy more
- we are trained to be consumers from an early age by parents, friends and abusive marketers alike
- consumerism may be good for sellers, investors and the economy, but at the same time is detrimental to shoppers, not to mention the planet
- no one likes an unfair contest, or being duped, but these are the modes of operation for people who want you to buy things you don't need

3. Recognize the challenge

- advertisers, marketers, and sellers of superfluous crap are not your friends and are not concerned about making you a healthier, happier human
- salespeople are out to get your money: think twice, or more, about giving it to them
- any one that tells you to buy things you don't want or think are necessary are not doing you any favours

Consumerism and shopping are self-esteem dead ends. They are stories with bad endings, but they can be changed.

What really feels good is having the discipline to say no.

“Self respect is the fruit of discipline: the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.”  
- Abraham Heschel


  1. I agree with this 100% and admit that I am still guilty of compulsive shopping at times. More often, however, as we are walking through a store, I say with sarcasm, "I wonder what thing I can buy today that will make my life perfect". As I have gotten older and happier with myself, things definitely mean a lot less to me than they used to.

    1. Melodee,

      The experts say that about 6% of Americans could be diagnosed as compulsive shoppers. But in a materialist consumer culture we are all trained to believe that our identity and success are dependent on our things, thereby creating whole populations of aspiring compulsive shoppers.

      In such an environment it is a very difficult task to resist the urge to spend money and acquire more and 'better' stuff. But it can be done.

      A strong sense of identity helps us avoid getting sucked in to slick marketing schemes, as does having a group with which to share our experiences with shopping, or not shopping.

      Aging also has its benefits.

      I like your saying - it puts things in perspective because the thing that can make our lives perfect can not be found in stores.

  2. Hi Gregg,

    I wonder if people who have trouble with shopping would find it helpful to go back to the way we did things when I was growing up. We only went to the grocery store once a fortnight, and Saturday mornings we went to the pharmacy, baker, newspaper shop etc..That minimised exposure to shops.

    Bed and bathroom linens were only bought once a year, on sale - again, limiting exposure to shops. Clothing was shopped for twice a year at change of season. And how about shopping with cash only?! Once our house was set up it was very rare for there to be any other shopping excursions other than those I've mentioned.

    I think the above routines have probably helped me avoid becoming a compulsive shopper, along with really understanding the environmental impact, and having a modest income!

    Just a question that someone may have an answer to - were there 'hoarders' when we were growing up and we just didn't hear about them? I was born in the sixties, and honestly don't remember a single cluttered home. Maybe compulsive consumption hadn't yet taken hold? I think people took better care of their homes and gardens then too - am I wrong? I think 24/7 shopping and internet has wrenched people away from healthy daily routines that involved cooking, cleaning, gardening,hanging out together etc...


    1. Madeleine,

      Great suggestions. In my own experience minimizing exposure to shopping and advertising has been important. I like living somewhere inconvenient - I really have to want to buy something before I am willing to go to town to buy it.

      Our current schedule is very much like the one you shared. And I agree - once your house is set up you don't need much else to maintain a nice life.

      I would rather work less, and have less money so as to be less tempted to spend on frivolous things. Having too much money (or access to credit) is a problem for many people - it does something to our brain chemistry.

      I think that both hoarding and compulsive shopping have been officially recognized only in more recent times. They have probably always existed, but now they are promoted as lifestyle choices on their own, so it is not surprising they appear to be more common now.

  3. You're right 'more stuff' is not the road to happiness - too many material objects clogs your life up just as too much food clogs up your body. You can't buy happiness and buying things to make you fit in with (or be 'better than'!) others won't make you happy either. I know this but am still tempted occasionally. It's a good plan to make yourself wait and often the 'need' will go away!

    1. Charlotte,

      We have to remain ever vigilant. The bug can infect anyone at any time. Waiting really helps.


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