How a Shopping Addiction Became a Hoarding Problem

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photo: Lana Saint Clair

Lana Saint Clair’s roommate said the two could share a bed for the night. In truth, there was no other option for the now-25-year-old; her own bed had been rendered useless weeks before by the gargantuan piles of thrifted clothes that had accumulated on and around it. So much so that the door to her room was unable to open against the heaps of fabric covering the floor. Throughout the pandemic, thrifting slowly but surely became one of Saint Clair’s favorite pastimes, and she now found herself victim to it as a self-described “shopping addict and hoarder.”

In 2018, Saint Clair began thrifting, at first just for herself, but soon discovered there was fairly decent money to be made reselling the items through Instagram that didn’t fit her. She found the business increasingly lucrative as COVID-19 lockdowns went into place across the country and idle fingers latched onto online shopping as a hobby. This launched her foray into thrift and vintage reselling. At first, her business model focused mostly on vintage T-shirts, but Saint Clair says she soon found herself addicted to the process of shopping itself and began visiting thrift stores and outlets every day, often bringing home five pounds’ worth of clothing each time. She also began experimenting with the TikTok algorithm in an attempt to get her business more traction, and saw other resellers gaining an audience by posting their thrifted spoils: “I saw a lot of girls doing thrift hauls, and they would get all these views and all these comments and all these sales,” Saint Clair says. “I was like, okay, all I have to do is just post a bajillion thrift hauls, which I knew wasn’t sustainable.”

Saint Clair realized she had a problem and called for backup in the form of her sister to help sift through and get rid of nearly 2,000 pounds’ (that’s one metric ton) worth of clothing. She has since begun documenting her shopping addiction and hoarding recovery on TikTok, where several of her videos have reached millions of viewers who relate to Saint Clair’s journey.

Saint Clair sat down with the Cut to discuss how she went from being a thrifter to a hoarder, the moment she knew she had a problem, recovery, and where she hopes to go from here.

When did you first start thrifting?

In 2018. At first, it was for myself. I’d get pieces that would only fit me. Then I rationalized that if I didn’t like the item, I could sell it. But as I made more money, I began to buy across a wide variety of sizes. At that point, it had to be a business, because there was no way I could use all the products that I had. When the pandemic hit, I really think that was a big trigger, not just for me but for a lot of people — being at home and being in a scarcity mind-set where people felt like they couldn’t go out and get things that they wanted. I was looking on ThredUp because I really wanted to thrift, and then as soon as the doors opened, I went crazy.

How much were you buying?

At first, it was maybe one or two bags. I focused on T-shirts because they seem to sell well. I’d maybe spend like $20 or $30, and then make back $60 or $70. But then I grew overly ambitious and, honestly, addicted to shopping. And at one point, I started going to the outlet, and at the time it was $1.49 per pound of clothing, and so I would bring home five pounds of clothing every day for months. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t use my own bed or even see the floor of my bedroom.

At what point were you, like, this is a problem? 

I think it took on the pathology of a problem when I first opened my shop in 2018. It was unsustainable from the get-go. The hoarding realization happened when my roommate let me share her bed with her because my room was quite literally unusable. I couldn’t even open the doors, and it was the biggest room in the apartment. There was definitely a lot of guilt and shame surrounding it. My roommates were okay with it because we were best friends, so it worked out. I definitely would never approach a roommate situation like that again. I want nothing more than to be the most clean, responsible, out-of-the-way roommate.

Did you start connecting with other people who had a similar problem?

Kind of, yes. I posted a video, and it was half-hearted. I posted it before I went to bed. It was like “the realization that trying to thrift every day kept me in a mind-set of always looking for the next best thing. So I was never happy with what I already had.” I posted a little six-second blip, and it went viral overnight, and so many people were like, “Oh, my gosh, yeah, this is my problem. I can’t stop shopping, and I don’t like anything that I own.” And then I realized that I kind of had hit a gold mine in terms of a conversation that was yet to be had, but everyone had a common problem.

When did the piles start forming?

When I started vintage on Instagram, that’s when my hoarding problem began. But I had no community to connect to, so I was kind of suffering in silence for a couple of years. That’s when the piles kind of started. I kept them to small spaces in my room, like in corners and stuff. And then once I went on TikTok, that’s when it kind of went out of control for me, because I was using my hoarding as a way to get views and traction.

What I didn’t realize was that the more I accumulated, the more energy it would drain from me. This is probably obvious in other cultures, but having so many items in your house genuinely drains you of energy. I’d get home, and I’d look at my piles of clothing, and I’d instantly get a migraine. I’d be like, “What the hell am I supposed to do? I can’t even look at this.”

What kept you shopping and going back?

At the time, all my roommates and my friends had gone on winter break and so I was by myself. So I kind of went out of loneliness because it was something to do. I could have sold things instead of buying them, but for me, it was comforting.

I look back on videos of myself at that time, and I’m, like, giddy; it’s crazy. I looked into that, and there are four stages of a shopping addiction per shopping trip. The first stage is anticipation. People will typically get in a mental headspace. They’ll be excited. They’ll plan what they’re going to wear, what kind of card they’re going to use or how they’re going to pay for it, and to me that was my shopping addiction really physically manifesting, and I think I just couldn’t stay away from that feeling of excitement.

How did you start to make a change?

It’s funny, it took me months to clean off my bed. It was a complex process. And I actually see a lot of hoarders get stuck in this particular process, where if your bed is unavailable, because if you clean everything off of it, then it goes on the floor. And then by the time you’re done sorting everything on the floor, it’s usually been an entire day, and by the time you have to go to bed, you have to put everything back on your bed. The cycle restarts, and quite frequently, a lot of people don’t have the mental stamina for that, especially if they are already weakened by all the things in their surroundings.

But the true breakthrough came in about June when my sister came to live with me for a couple of weeks to help me because I had asked her, and she’s just really great at cleaning things up. She spent like three straight days cleaning my mess with me and donating everything. We were working ten-hour shifts, and then we went to my storage unit, which looked like the remnants of a bomb target. And I think there were already 2,000 pieces of clothing in there at the very least.

We donated hundreds and hundreds of pounds of clothing. And that was a relief, actually.

Do you know how much clothing you put into your storage unit and how much you donated from your room?

Probably about 1,000 pieces in my apartment and then 2,000 to 3,000 pieces in my storage unit. I want to say it was near one metric ton. It’s not a proud moment for me. But I think there’s so much more value in saying something. It’s funny because people won’t categorize big celebrities as hoarders, but if you actually look, [it’s] the same pathology. Céline Dion owns 3,000 pairs of heels. And just because she can store them doesn’t make it unreasonable. Like, it’s fine. She’s a celebrity. Why do you need 3,000? That’s, like, six straight years of wearing different pairs. I’m not judging, but I’m saying it’s so common.

Where are you now in your healing process?

So I started a different business model where I began offering curated style boxes. People would come to me and they would send me their measurements, their favorite brands, favorite colors, and I offered a service where they would give me their money and I would take their money and shop for what they requested. The thing was, I think I offered boxes that were too large, like there are a few 30-piece orders that are open right now, and I really thought that it would be easier than it is. But what ends up happening is I have a bunch of half-finished collections everywhere that I’m still working on. So it really reminds me of still being in a hoarding place.

I feel like I’m in a hole right now because this was supposed to get me out of this, and it’s just created a new but similar problem for me.

So you’re technically still thrifting, but are you thrifting and shopping at a slower rate than you used to?

I wish it was that way. At first, I told myself I’d go once a week and I’m gonna find all my customers’ pieces, and it wasn’t that easy. I go to the thrift store probably four or five times a week now, but sometimes I don’t even leave with anything or I leave with one item. So it’s definitely put a cap on what I buy, because I only buy what the client likes.

Did you ever try to seek out professional help?

I had a therapist at the time, but I hid it from her. I was too embarrassed to admit it. I still am. I once met somebody who followed me on TikTok, and she said, “I see the things you post, and honestly they make me want to vomit because of how vulnerable they are.” I wasn’t expecting her to say that, but I know what she means, because sometimes I see the things that I post and I want to vomit. They are vulnerable. And I won’t pretend like I’m doing it for the greater good. To me, this is personally significant. At the end of the day, we’re all gonna die.

Do you see yourself staying in the reselling business?

No. I’ve been recently thinking about this, and I came to the realization that when you sell one a one-per product, you have to photograph every single product. There’s no way you can ever make profit.

I also feel like I have to ask you, there’s been so much discourse around reselling and the ethics around reselling thrifted and vintage pieces. How do you feel about that?

I don’t want to give you the cliché answer of “Oh, there’s so much in landfills.” Obviously, there is a ton in landfills, but I think that’s so easy of an argument for people to use to just dissuade the haters. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if there’s clothing in a landfill or if there’s a landfill of clothing in my bedroom, because now I’m also an overconsumer. I think people want to be free of the guilt that comes with overconsumption by saying that they are selling it and it’s good for the environment, but at the end of the day, if it’s not constantly circulating, then it’s overconsumption. Shopping addiction at its core is overconsumption.

How do you feel about the argument that says resellers are taking away from people who actually need to thrift.

I think the people who need to thrift and resellers are often part of the same demographic. Because if you’re reselling for me for some reason or another, you don’t have — and not to say that this is normal — a nine-to-five job. For me, I don’t have nine-to-five. I quite frankly couldn’t do it with my sleeping patterns and a myriad of health issues. But I think there’s a very fine line. I think there are people who would take an expensive North Face jacket in the middle of winter to sell. I wouldn’t.

What would you say to anyone who is currently struggling with hoarding tendencies?

No material item is worth your peace of mind.

How a Shopping Addiction Became a Hoarding Problem