Compulsive Stealing, Spending and Hoarding

by Terrence Daryl Shulman, JD, LMSW, ACSW, CAADC, CPC

Compulsive Stealing, Spending and Hoarding


This article comes from Terrence Daryl Shulman, JD, LMSW, ACSW, CAADC, CPC, Founder/Director of  The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending & Hoarding in Detroit, MI.  For more about Mr. Shulman and his practice, please see the contact information at the bottom of this post.


CLUTTERED Lives, Empty Souls

It comes as no surprise to any therapist working in the addiction field (or any therapist who has personally struggled with addiction) that the majority of addicts have battled multiple addictions, simultaneously and/or consecutively. Thus, it’s vital we educate ourselves about every addictive-compulsive behavior–especially those that are emerging (such as TV, video game, and Internet) and those that, in my opinion, have existed for ions but remained unrecognized (compulsive stealing, spending and hoarding).

According to recent statistics and surveys, more than 10% of Americans shoplift and that most shoplift not out of need or greed but, rather, in response to various pressures in their lives. For most shoplifters, it’s not about the money or the thing–Winona Ryder proved that. Most act out of feelings of anger, loss, disempowerment, and entitlement. And many become hooked, addicted. Nearly 70% of shoplifters arrested will shoplift again unless there’s effective intervention/treatment.

Have you or anyone you know ever shoplifted?

A related behavior, employee theft, is even more pervasive. The American Society of Employers, estimates that retailers lose more than twice as much from “internal theft” as from shoplifting and that 55% of employee theft is committed by managers and supervisors. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that 75% of employees steal from their work place and that most do so repeatedly. Even “time theft” or loafing costs U.S. employers nearly $500 billion per year in lost productivity. The FBI calls employee theft “the fastest growing crime in America.”  Fox News Chicago aired a news story about employee theft which estimated it has doubled since the recession.

Have you or anyone you know ever stolen anything from the workplace?

On compulsive spending, Oprah, Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey and many others have been sounding the alarm about the growing problem of individual and collective debt and financial “dysfunctions.” The primary culprit is out-of-control shopping and spending. In 2006, Stanford University published a landmark study which identified “compulsive buying disorder” as a phenomenon affecting 6% of Americans and a 2008 University of Richmond study put the figure at closer to 10%. Men and women suffer about equally from this disorder as well as the related behavior hoarding. Statistics show the average American is nearly $10,000 in debt and that arguments about money and spending are the leading cause of conflict and separation/divorce among couples.

Have you or someone you know ever had a shopping or spending problem? 

Finally, unless you’ve been living on another planet, you’ve probably noticed the ever-increasing media coverage over the last few years around the “latest” disorder: hoarding. Several cable programs on hoarding have garnered big ratings and endless fascination: A&E’s “Hoarders,” TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive” and “Storage Wars,” Animal Planet’s “Animal Hoarders,” and OWN’s “Enough Already!” Of course, these TV programs tend to highlight the more extreme cases of hoarding, but hoarding is either on the rise or we’re finally starting to come to terms with it. While statistics and prevalence are still sketchy, the latest research shows that hoarding affects about 6-15 million Americans and that there are over 75 U.S. National Hoarding Taskforces (2010, Time Magazine) and that personal consumption expenditures and storage unit rentals increased over 20% since 1980 (U.S. Chamber of Commerce).

Have you or someone you know ever had a problem with hoarding or excessive cluttering? 

What’s common about shoplifting, employee theft, over-shopping/overspending, and hoarding is that they have only recently been identified and treated as mental health issues.

As a therapist specializing in treating compulsive theft and spending and as a recovering theft addict myself since 1990, I’ve had the opportunity to help thousands of people since that time. In 1992 I founded C.A.S.A. (Cleptomaniacs And Shoplifters Anonymous) in metro-Detroit. Only a dozen or so such support groups exist in the North America. While many Debtors Anonymous groups exist, there are few Shopaholics Anonymous groups and relatively few local Clutterers Anonymous or Messies Anonymous groups for hoarding. Many therapists fail to recognize, let alone effectively treat, people who are afflicted theft, spending, or hoarding disorders.

We need to look at the roots of these behaviors which are not merely personal or familial but which are related to increasing stress, materialism, emptiness, and addiction in our society and world. We need more research and new perspectives. Like with any epidemic, the longer we wait, the more we will all suffer. My hope is that with more open conversation and more resources available, we shall see a transformation in the awareness of how we view these behaviors. Only then will we attain a more honest, balanced, and abundant society and world.


Terrence Daryl Shulman, JD, LMSW, ACSW, CAADC, CPC is a Detroit-area therapist, attorney, author, and consultant. He is the founder and Director of The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding. He is the author of Something for Nothing: Shoplifting Addiction and Recovery (2003), Biting The Hand That Feeds: The Employee Theft Epidemic… New Perspectives, New Solutions (2005), Bought Out and $pent! Recovery from Compulsive $hopping and $pending (2008) and Cluttered Lives, Empty Souls: Compulsive Stealing, Spending & Hoarding (2011). He has organized and/or presented at many conferences across the nation and has been featured on nearly 100 television programs, including The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2004. Contact him by e-mail at, by phone (248) 358-8508 or via the websites:,,,, and/or Mr. Shulman offers counseling and consulting locally, by phone and/or via Skype.

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