Former shopping `addict` tells her story

Updated: May 14, 2010, 09:45 AM IST

London: What kind of woman impulsively buys 20 pairs of thongs in different colours at an expensive store, only to realize later that she doesn`t really want them, and so buries the shopping bag in her closet — along with plenty of other purchases she`s never used?

Or walks into Saks Fifth Avenue in New York for no particular reason, but feels overwhelmed by an urge to buy something, anything, and so spends about USD 1,000 on a sweater and a pair of pants?

Well, Avis Cardella used to be that kind of a woman, and she tells us all about it in "Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict." She shopped, she writes, to define herself and to avoid unpleasant realities of her life, to fill a psychological emptiness.

It was, at times, quite a rush: "The store seemed to become vibrant, bathed in a cinematic glow. There was the elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, dizziness and general euphoric feeling. I felt I had been injected with helium and could rise to the ceiling if I wanted to."

But after a while she found herself in a "slow bleed" of dealing with crushing credit card payments, scraping out the minimum to pay, sometimes falling behind. She missed a few rent payments and faced late fees. She sneaked through the lobby to avoid the building manager, even as she hid her troubles from her successful friends.

So, one of her friends suggested, how about a yoga retreat in Mexico? Sure, Cardella told herself. She couldn`t afford it, but what a great break from a life of overspending.

Eventually, she piled up enough credit card debt that she sought financial help and straightened out her life. She writes now as a survivor. (And yes, she still shops now and then, but without the physical sensations, regret or grief.)

She concedes that her story, set mostly in Manhattan in the 1990s, isn`t as dramatic as others she`s heard about. She`s right. Yes, there`s plenty of ‘Sex and the City’ kind of shopping in New York, a window into high-end retail services most of us will never see. (Put it this way: She mentions getting handwritten notes and Christmas cards from salespeople.)

But her story, though heartfelt, doesn`t have a lot of dramatic energy. It just runs along, each chapter relating new events but with an overall feeling of more of the same. The reader longs for Cardella to get help and turn her life around, not only out of compassion, but also just to introduce a turning point. When she finally does, it`s almost anticlimactic.

Still, for anyone who has felt the thrill of snapping up a bargain or buying something extravagant, this glimpse of the far side of shopping`s emotional kicks can be fascinating. For a while, anyway.

Bureau Report