As the long, hot summer fades and the autumn gets ready to step in with its free display of stunning colours across our woodlands, countryside and gardens, the retailer’s displays have already been transformed. Barbeques, garden furniture, summer dresses and beachwear have now been replaced with festive teasers. Shelves are stacked with Christmas tableware, decorations, and kids’ toys.

We have become a nation of consumerists. A throwaway society that depends on material goods to achieve happiness and perfection. This isn’t just the biggest humanitarian misconception of all, but it also creates high levels of personal debt and causes serious harm to our environment.

On Sunday afternoons, the huge, indoor shopping arenas are packed to capacity, while our parks and beautiful countryside stand almost empty. A daily, free ticket with enormous health benefits is largely poo-pooed for the cleverly constructed shopping villages, whose restaurants, cinemas and other temptations merely encourage families to stay longer and spend, spend, spend.

No sooner have our planes touched down from summer holidays than the adverts begin. Expensive perfumes, designer handbags, classy jewellery and the latest technology are marketed to be the ideal gifts for a loved one. Swish sofas to impress the in-laws on Boxing Day, the most up-to-date televisions on which to watch familiar Yuletide films, and even fully fitted designer kitchens in which to cook Christmas dinner are all promoted as being the solution to a perfect Christmas.

‘Black Friday’, imported from America and usually taking place in November, seems to have stretched into a whole week. And no sooner have we washed and dried our dishes from the Christmas Day meal than Boxing Day will launch the January sales. The traditional family Boxing Day walk becomes hijacked by the lure of materialistic bargains – as if we haven’t spent more than enough! Could we possibly be seduced into using our plastic once more?

January can be a difficult month for numerous reasons – bad weather, New Year’s resolutions that are often very quickly broken, an expanding waistline after the Christmas indulgence – but personal debt supersedes all of these minor irritations and can seriously damage our health.

I was plagued by mental health issues, and a little retail therapy eventually became a habit. It ultimately turned into a shopping addiction. Just like any other addiction – drugs, gambling, alcoholism, food, work – it started to encroach on other areas of my life, finally leaving me with £50,000 worth of debt and almost nothing to my name.

Recovering from any addiction isn’t easy, but here are a few tips that helped me transform my life:

  • Value experiences, rather than hoarding possessions.
  • Step away from routine as habit tends to dull your senses. Try a new experience.
  • The act of giving is far more rewarding than receiving. Spend some of your spare time helping others.
  • Trust in your own capabilities. We sustain companies that are dependent on society’s weaknesses, and yet healthy lifestyles can generally be achieved without cost.
  • Connect with nature. Being among nature is one place I can guarantee anyone can heal, learn to be mindful and live in the present moment.
  • Embrace and nurture your own creative talent(s).

Sharon Bull

Speaker, poet, and author of Stripped Bare (available from Bit.ly/strippedbaresharon)

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