Why Retail Therapy Does More Harm Than Good

Retail therapy is becoming more popular.

And people are calling it self-care.

But it actually does more harm than good.

In today’s post, I’ll explain the 9 reasons why retail therapy does more harm than good, and give you a few healthier alternatives.

Woman shopping shoes
Reason #1

Retail Therapy is Addictive

I’ve spent almost my entire life buying into the myth of retail therapy. After all, it wouldn’t be so popular if there wasn’t some truth to the practice. The rush of excitement when we carry our bags away from the counter or when we click “complete purchase” is exhilarating. It feels good.

But this rush doesn’t last long. And since it’s temporary, we come back for it again and again to re-experience the same high. We keep pushing the lever, flooding our brains with distracting, feel-good dopamine in attempts to cure ourselves of the underlying problem. In reality, however, we’re only adding to our problems by becoming addicted to the dopamine-high of shopping. The underlying problems still remain.

Reason #2

Retail Therapy Doesn’t Address the Underlying Problems

Going shopping may seem like a less expensive and preferable alternative to actual therapy. Besides, the results are tangible and easily quantifiable whereas the benefits of real therapy are less immediately accessible and often abstract. However, retail therapy only provides a temporary distraction to numb the underlying pain. It’s a band-aid cover-up rather than a long-term solution to our primary problems. If we never face our problems head-on by digging to their roots in order to resolve them, we will never heal.

Reason #3

Retail Therapy is an External Salve for Internal Problems

Rather than facing our problems, we are covering them up with material purchases. Quick fixes and external shortcuts will never solve our internal problems. Trying to solve our inner turmoil with external treats and tokens is like trying to fix an upset stomach by putting a bandaid over your belly button. If we are not actively working toward solving our problems, we are enabling them to continue festering.

Reason #4

Retail Therapy Wastes Money on Crap We Don’t Need

Retail therapy is emotional spending. When we are shopping with our emotions, intention and mindfulness go out the window. This leads to us to bring home all sorts of useless crap we don’t actually need. We end up buying things just because we can rather than to fill a need. In the end, we are left with stuff we don’t use and little to no savings.

Reason #5

Retail Therapy Creates Clutter and Stress

We buy things to make ourselves happy or, at least, to distract ourselves from being sad. The rush and excitement of buying things does not last, but the things do. When the happiness fades, all we’re left with is clutter and the stress that comes with it.

Reason #6

Retail Therapy is a Vicious Cycle

Mindless browsing and window shopping is a slippery slope to imagining how much improved a space would be if only it had this or that. Before we know it, our homes and garages are so overstuffed we decide the only solution is to rent a storage locker because our home is suddenly too small.

One day, we open our eyes the mountains of clutter we have mindlessly amassed. We feel suffocated by our belongings and have the sudden urge to seek out something, anything, to make us feel better, to distract us from this stress and overwhelm. However, the way we have been taught to do this is by engaging in more retail therapy. And so the cycle continues.

Reason #7

Retail Therapy is Not Self-Care

Sometimes, we turn to retail therapy as a form of self-care. We encourage ourselves to splurge and buy that new book, those stylish shoes, or that lunch out. We tell ourselves that we deserve it. We tell ourselves that it’s been a hard day and we should buy ourselves something nice to make up for the difficult parts of life. This mindless consumerism is dressed up and passed off as self-care when in reality, it is anything but.

Remembering back to my own retail therapy runs, there was always a sort of underlying belief or feeling that I deserved to treat myself. The best, most luxurious way I could think of treating myself at that time was to buy myself something. Buying things is not a matter of deserving them. It is not a matter of whether they will be able to fill a void we feel within us. We are using and abusing shopping the same way we turn to alcohol or other vices during a difficult time. It needs to stop.

Reason #8

Retail Therapy Encourages Materialism

Retail therapy is also problematic because we assign undue meaning and value to things. It’s not just a cute sundress, it’s the sundress I bought after my uncle died. Or, it’s the pencil bag I bought after that super stressful test that I spent hours studying for.

When we become overly sentimental and emotional about material possessions, they become surrogates for our emotions and memories. This also makes it so much harder to declutter material things from our lives after assigning so much meaning and significance to them.

Ultimately, it is important not to cling to the objects themselves because they are only catalysts of our memories, not memories themselves.

Reason #9

Retail Therapy Has Us Believe That Happiness Can Be Bought

By turning to retail therapy, we are buying into the belief that happiness is something that can be purchased. Or, at the very least, we are under the impression that we will be better off with more things than we were without, as if things will somehow fill a void in our hearts.

Department stores and other bix-box retailers have been optimized to accommodate our perpetual urge to self-soothe through retail therapy by bringing in new inventory practically every week. It seems like every time we walk in the door there are hundreds of new things to look at. Things we know will likely be gone within the week and certainly within the month. This tactic preys upon our fear of missing out and our desire to get things before they are gone.

Material items cannot make us happy, and they do a poor job of filling the void. True happiness is found through engaging in activities that simulate and fulfill us.

Say No to Retail Therapy

Shopping has become a hobby. It is now treated like a sport or pastime used to fill our time when we are not at work or doing other things. Now, with online shopping, it is too easy to add things to our virtual carts and check out without really thinking about the money leaving our accounts.

Shopping becomes problematic when we start viewing it as anything other than a chore or errand with a clear objective. Other chores, like cleaning the house, taking out the trash, or paying the bills each have a clear purpose. Like buying groceries, shopping should be a direct and goal-oriented activity. We shop because our lives would genuinely benefit from purchasing something. For example, if the weather is turning and we do not own a winter coat, it would behoove us to get one.

The accumulation of things is a poor substitute for actual therapy. Retail therapy is also more expensive if we consider the damaging effects clutter can have on our well-being. Shopping has become a pacifier, a technique for self-soothing to suppress our feelings and our problems. It is a band-aid rather than a solution. We need to find better alternatives.

Find Better Alternatives to Retail Therapy

There are hundreds of things we can do to care for ourselves that does not involve spending money on things we don’t need. We can read, cook, create, bake, exercise, journal, spend time with friends, clean, and so much more.

Remember, true self-care is the intentional actions we take to support our mental, emotional, and physical health.

Practicing real self-care is an important part of building ourselves up and growing as individuals, but it is not everything. To truly address our underlying needs and heal ourselves from the inside out, we need to really dig in and work on ourselves.

We need to stop looking for ways to escape and instead to focus our energies on creating a life we don’t need to escape from. Ultimately, this means balancing our lives and knowing ourselves well enough to make carefully thought-out long-term decisions rather than opting for short-sighted, quick fixes. This is done through introspection and careful evaluation of our core values and beliefs that influence everything we do. It also requires us to act on our discoveries to create lasting change.

Both parts of this process can be supported through going to real therapy. Therapy isn’t just for people who are mentally ill, the same way doctors don’t help only those with medical problems. We visit the doctor to do an annual checkup. Seeing a therapist is not so different. However you choose to grow, make sure it is through healthy outlets.

Be simple. Be happy. Be bloopy.

And don’t be an asshole.



Ayla is a co-founder, writer, and designer at Bloopy Things. She helps individuals embrace simple living through practical and actionable guides in all areas of life.

3 thoughts on “Why Retail Therapy Does More Harm Than Good”

  1. I totally agree . I used to be a shopaholic trying to avoid my depression. Didn’t,t work. Now I regret all the money I wasted. Anyway learned my lesson, now I just buy what I really need.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing.
      It takes a great deal of strength and self-awareness to not only notice what is not working for us, but also to change our behaviors.
      For me, I try not to think about all the money I spent on excess purchases (the regret is very strong here too). Instead, I try to focus on all the money I am saving since I decided not to engage in retail therapy and to only spend money on the essentials.

    2. Yeah – me too. There’s a lot of money I wish I hadn’t spent on new clothes, video games, and random junk. But what’s in the past is in the past – and we’re lucky to have overcome it, so let’s celebrate that! Wish you the best.

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Ayla & Atle

We're a husband-and-wife team who help you simplify your life so you can focus on the things that truly matter and still have some time left for the bloopy things.


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