Compulsive shopping and hoarding is nothing new in our modern society as we get greater and easier access to all the things we need and even more that we do not. This issue is especially apparent in high income nations where finance and accessibility are less of an issue. Now with the advent of internet shopping, the issue shows no signs of slowing down with Hong Kong leading the pack in this unhealthy race.

Two thirds of Hong Kong adults are compulsive hoarders

A recent Greenpeace survey found Hong Kong to be the most shopaholic and wasteful city – beating out other regions, such as Taiwan, China, Italy and Germany, by a large margin. The survey discovered that two-thirds of Hong Kong consumers owned more clothes than they needed, with another half owning brand new clothes with tags still on. Finance also did not prove to be a significant border – with 43% of consumers spending more than they could afford on clothes.

The majority of respondents in Hong Kong consume far more than they actually need and use. (Source: Greenpeace)
The majority of respondents in Hong Kong consume far more than they actually need and use. (Source: Greenpeace)

Another survey carried out by the Wofoo Social Enterprise, an organisation promoting donations and sustainable development, obtained similar results. The survey revealed 57% of Hong Kong adults to be compulsive hoarders with another 11% showing compulsive shopping behaviours.

Oniomania, more commonly known as compulsive shopping, is an issue that is currently gripping Hong Kong consumers with this trend having potentially serious ramifications. According to clinical psychiatrist Dr See-Yuen Chung, compulsive shopping and hoarding are often associated with mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

“There is a fine line between collectors and compulsive hoarders,” Chung said. “The main basis for [differentiating them] is to see if one’s collecting or shopping behaviour starts to affect his or her family relations or the person’s mental health. If someone does not feel guilty or distressed at all, he or she will not be seen as a compulsive hoarder or shopper,” he added.

Additionally, there is the issue of wastefulness as highlighted by the Greenpeace survey, in which much of the purchased goods are not utilised and is just left to waste. More than just wasting the financial resources of the consumer, Greenpeace also points out the wasted resources put into producing the products to feed a market demand which is built upon artificial demand.

Gender differences in compulsive buying

So, what are some of the driving factors which compel these adult consumers in Hong Kong to hoard and shop compulsively? Do factors such as gender indeed play a role?

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong, University of Macau and National University of Singapore published a study on gender differences in pathways to compulsive buying in June 2016. The study identified female shopper tend to have a decreased link between psychological stress and compulsive buying pointing towards a compensation process of sorts.

Nevertheless, the study also found no gender difference when it came to irrational buying related decisions, which involved the purchase of wants rather than needs. As such, both men and women were equally likely to give into their wants when it comes to shopping.

Other possible determinants of compulsive buying

Besides gender, what other factors could contribute towards compulsive shopping? As one research in Brazil found, mental health can also be a contributing factor towards the act of compulsive buying. The research found a link between depressive symptoms and compulsive shopping, something clinicians have suggested to be the case. Moreover, the study also showed a link between the female gender and an increased compulsion to shop.

Even then, there remains to be other established “triggers” for compulsive shopping and hoarding which include:

1. Situational – sales, advertisements, marketing
2. Cognitive – self-reward, rationalisation
3. Interpersonal – conflict resolution, buying to impress
4. Emotional – excited, sad, lonely, stressed, euphoric
5. Physical – substitute for eating or drinking alcohol

There are various reasons and circumstances surrounding hoarding and compulsive shopping in adults, especially in Hong Kong. Whatever the reason may be, compulsive shopping and hoarding is never healthy both for the economy and health. From an economic standpoint, compulsive shopping leads to wasted resources and an increasing debt. In addition, the links to mental health disorders – such as anxiety and depression – paint a grim picture of the community as a whole. MIMS

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