You’ve heard the term before. “Shopaholic.” The reference is usually to someone always on the hunt for a new item, a bargain, or the quest to have the latest and the best. But oniomania—the clinical term for this behavior—is no joke. One in 12 people in the United States struggle with this disorder. Of those affected, 80-90 percent are women.
In her new book, Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict, author Avis Cardella chronicles the years she battled her compulsion to fill her emotional void with shopping forays that ranged from purchasing top of the line luxury items to second-rate knock-offs.
Raised in a blue-collar working family, Cardella was impacted as a young girl by her mother’s distinctive style of dress. She became entranced with fashion magazines in her formative teen years.
The underlying cause that Cardella points to early in her narrative, as the catalyst for the obsession that would slowly take over her life, was the trauma of her mother’s death. In her opening sentence she wrote, “I used shopping to avoid myself.”
Cardella alternately describes her purchasing junkets as her escape, her boyfriend, her release, her therapy, and her drug. She came out of the fashion world—where she modeled briefly, was a photographer’s assistant, and then became a freelance writer. Throughout Spent, she lingers over descriptions of buttery suedes and designer creations cut from “dark blue lightweight gabardine wool.” Some readers may not be able to connect with her New York City lifestyle. However, they will certainly recognize her underlying desire to please others, her co-dependence on men, and her constant striving to replenish herself with another person’s love and approval.
In retrospect, Cardella realizes that she neglected to fully mourn her mother’s death.