For this shopper, success is built one store at a time

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles psychotherapist Eileen Gallo, author of “The Financially Intelligent Parent,” has led many shopping-addicted patients into the light. The road to solvency, she says, starts with a journey of self-discovery.

When shopping begins to cause marital discord, missed appointments and financial woes, Gallo says, “it’s time to take a look inside and find out the motivation for the behavior. Some shop just to fill themselves up, and of course it doesn’t last long.”

Once such consumers recognize their motives for shopping, a bit of mindfulness can be a powerful thing, Gallo says “They certainly can take their own pulse when they’re thinking about shopping, have a self-dialogue,” Gallo says. “They can ask themselves: ‘How am I feeling now? Am I angry, depressed, lonely? How will I feel when it’s time to pay for it? Can it wait?’ ”

These are questions that Denise Hinds, a 51-year-old Woodland Hills resident, is asking herself more often these days. With nine bins of clothes in storage and a closet jammed with clothes -- many with price tags still attached -- Hinds acknowledges, “I have racked up a good amount of debt buying things I didn’t need.”


Recently divorced and trying to set a new financial course for her life, Hinds says she’s trying to be more mindful of what she buys -- and why she buys it. “When I wasn’t happy, I was disappearing a lot to the mall,” Hinds says. “It’s a diversion, a distraction, another way of not dealing with your problems. At home, everything may be crappy: The baseboards need replacing and the bathroom needs cleaning. But you go to a place where everything is new, nicely lit and you can space out.”

When she was sad, Hinds says, she would tell herself she needed to take care of herself, that she needed a treat. “Part of it is that you’re trying to fulfill some need -- I deserve this.” Part of it, she adds, is that “composing outfits” is a hobby that makes her happy. It’s a mood-elevating respite from stress, sadness and boredom.

Though Hinds is trying to replace those lost hours at the mall with books, friends and hiking with her dog, she still finds she needs a fix of “mall air” now and again.

After a hiatus of about two weeks, Hinds recently drove to the mall. She needed a few things at Target, but parked her car at the other end of the complex so she could walk through and check out the midsummer sales. She brought along her recyclable tote bag, which made her feel more virtuous about shopping.

In the parking lot after that recent foray, she was still savoring the pleasure of finding a fetching purple shrug, a pair of sandals on sale and a few new summer tops that, she said, laughing, she “just couldn’t live without.” The little sweater, she said, was a particularly satisfying catch. “I thought of that in my bag and I felt happy.”

But even as she did so, a shadow of sadness seemed to darken her celebratory moment.

“It’s fun. But it doesn’t last,” Hinds says with a sudden sigh. “You can fill yourself up but you still want more.”