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If you’re anything like me, the winter term hits your mental health hard. Seasonal affective disorder has gripped Lawrence as evidenced by the light therapy lamps scattered across campus. And if you’re especially like me, the answer to this is clear: binge shopping. There is truly nothing that can boost my mood like knowing something is being delivered to me. I stalk it through the package trackers, noting when it hasn’t moved in a while and when it’s made good distance in a day. I watch as it creeps closer to me and, after receiving the notification that it’s delivered, compulsively check my Lawrence email every hour to see if the mail room knows it’s delivered yet. And as soon as I get that divine email, I will speed walk from my room to Warch to get my grubby hands on it.
The web browsing satisfies my masculine urge to hunt, and collecting my package satisfies my feminine urge to gather. My ancestors smile upon me as I tear through tape to acquire the object of my desires. In more historic terms, my material belongings would be a great indication of wealth and prosperity. But, once my purchase is in my grasp, it is not enough. Thus the cycle continues, and I become a part of the machine that is capitalism. Why is it so enticing to search for the perfect waste of money and wait days, sometimes weeks, for it to be delivered? Why is it never truly satisfying for a binge shopper to only buy one thing? I’ll examine some of my theories here.
Perhaps it’s about control. Even when mental health is spiraling and you feel like your emotions are out of control, you can control how you spend money. You could be spending your time and energy doing more productive things but instead you choose to do something fun and easy. And why not? Time and energy are precious resources. You can go through the whole process of online shopping without leaving your bed. You get to choose what you want and feel a tangible result of this choice, giving back that sense of control that depression might take from you.
It could also be about aesthetics. In Wisconsin, winter means snow and almost nothing but snow. It displays a true winter wonderland that can blind you if the sun catches the ground just right. The leaves on most plants have long since left and color has been drained from the world. Buying something pretty releases the happy chemicals in your brain that left with the colors of autumn. But once you’ve looked at this pretty thing that you bought, you get used to how it looks and it fades into the rest of your surroundings. The only answer is to continue acquiring these new, aesthetically pleasing things to diversify your surroundings and restore a sense of variety to the world around you.
Mostly it’s about the cycle. Once you’ve gone through the initial steps and opened the long-awaited package, you aren’t satisfied with your purchase. Maybe you regret spending your money. You might realize that you could’ve bought something more useful or meaningful. You are back to feeling sad, empty, lonely or whatever other emotion initially sparked the purchase. Your brain remembers that the last time you felt good was when you were buying this thing, so you chase that initial spark of happiness by continuing to make purchases, and ultimately continuing the cycle of binge shopping.
This is the part of the piece where I give you hope or advice, but I honestly don’t have anything solid to offer. I’m still figuring out how to use that energy and enthusiasm for shopping to better take care of myself instead. But yet again, I have my theories. If you can trace your binge shopping to its source, you can find an alternative. Want more control? Make another decision, like choosing to go somewhere on campus or grabbing something small from a local business. Want a change of scenery? Rearrange your room or surround yourself with art to satisfy your need for aesthetics. And if you’re just stuck in the cycle? Try to sit in that moment of sadness after you get your package and instead think of other times you were happy. You might call your family, make plans with friends or play a favorite game. Whatever it is, commit to it instead. Your wallet will probably thank you.