The therapy that fuels sickness |

The therapy that fuels sickness

“When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.” — Unknown

What has become affectionately known as “retail therapy” is an unfortunate symptom of our accumulation-based, commercialized, consumer-frenzied culture. It’s the materialistic version of a binge-induced blackout.

Here are 10 indications you may have a problem.

1. You have 17 pairs of [fill in the blank]. You can’t even tell them apart.

2. You’re not exactly sure why your credit card statement insists you spent $1,782.16 on Amazon last month.

3. You are on a first-name basis with your local FedEx and UPS drivers. Curiously, they always say, “See you next week.”

4. You buy every new doohickey and must-have gadget featured on the entire Internet. Most things are quickly forgotten and go unused.

5. Your monthly statements never show the available balance you thought or wished you had in your bank account. Weird.

6. Your living spaces are cluttered with department store bags, delivery boxes, crumpled receipts and merchandise tags.

7. You have officially run out of room in your closets, crawl spaces, cabinets and storage areas. Your stuff has exceeded your capacity.

8. You don’t remember buying things. You blankly stare at them, stupefied as to how they came into your possession.

9. You don’t like anything you own. Nothing fits or looks good in your spaces or on your body. You feel awful. It’s embarrassing.

10. You regain consciousness in unfamiliar places, where you find yourself standing in line, waiting to check out items you don’t want, like or need — but feel it would be too awkward to discreetly put them down and run from the store — so you buy them anyway. Later, you conceal your inevitable panic by attempting to justify another series of impulsive purchases. You feel like throwing up.

We have always been prolific collectors of things. But when we succumb to mindless acquisition, we perpetuate a harmful cycle. This descending progression goes something like this: 1) We experience a feeling (happiness, sadness, desperation, guilt, hunger, liberation, joy, anger, etc.) 2) That feeling is inexplicably followed by a sensation like emptiness. 3) We turn to the euphoria associated with acquiring something new to fill that vague void. 4) We experience superficial and short-lived ecstasy while we bask in the novelty of our new thing. 5) After a short while, that ecstasy wears off, the thing loses its twinkle and the void grows. 6) Brought on by the next life event, we experience a feeling. 7) We feel compelled to mark the occasion with the acquisition of something new. 8) And the cycle continues.

Like other compulsive behaviors, retail therapy is relative and scalable. One thing is for sure: Inexplicably accumulating things for sport or to satisfy some psychological craving can contribute to chronic clutter. When we carelessly collect things faster than we move them along, our little corner of the universe stagnates — and we begin to fester in our tepid pool of accumulated things.

Chronic clutter is not good for us. There is definitive evidence linking chronically cluttered spaces to an increase in stress, anxiety, obesity, depression, substance abuse, domestic violence and social isolationism. In addition, research indicates the chronically cluttered experience a significant decrease in attention, motivation, self-esteem and optimism. Parts of the brain responsible for communication, creative problem-solving and enthusiasm begin to diminish. The more we amass, the less focused, the less solution-oriented, the less we value our authentic selves. It’s a dangerous cycle like any other addiction, with profound and lasting impacts.

Mark the occasions of your life by sharing your emotions with other people and/or engaging in activities that help you to process your feelings, whatever they may be. Bring your awareness to your urge to shop — and intentionally replace it with something healthier that supports who you want to be and what you want to do. Because everything else is just stuff.

Evan Zislis is founder and principal consultant of, delivering hands-on organizational solutions and strategies consulting for households, businesses, students and life transitions. For more information about simplifying your stuff and organizing your life, call 970.366.2532, email or become a friend at

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