Sometimes I feel like shopping.
The 2020 holiday season was one such time. After a year of COVID-19, an acrid political campaign, economic troubles, racial animosity, devastating wildfires, and more, it was tempting to try to buy my way out of feeling blue at Christmas. I had a full (virtual) cart. All I needed was a couple of clicks.
So I did what I always do now – I waited.
I waited because nothing in the cart was an urgent need. I already had gifts for my grandsons, plenty of holiday décor, Christmas cards to address, goodies to make for the neighbors. And I didn’t need anything for myself.
I waited because what I really wanted was some hope and joy, and I knew a couple of gadgets, a sweater, and a book or two wouldn’t provide that. I was anxious and a little depressed, and I wanted those feelings to go away. But I remembered other times when I tried to shop or eat my way out of sadness, and all the times that didn’t work, and I was able to resist.
Buying something new might give a momentary lift, but it doesn’t last. The gratification is short, and then you need something else to get that high again. You experience disappointment, guilt, debt, and clutter – bad things that make you want to shop (or eat, or drink, or escape). It’s a vicious circle.
But we can resist shopping, and maybe even find better ways to feel better.
This is the essential first step. Add the item to your cart if you must, then wait – for a day, three days, a week, a month. Can you even remember wanting it? If you still don’t need it, let it go.
I used to justify excess shopping because I was shopping for gifts. I had a looooong gift list, and I’m positive I bought many things the recipients didn’t need or want. I would see something cute or pretty or sparkly or otherwise “just right,” and think “I can give that to so-and-so.” The pleasure lasted only a moment, but I’ve learned that giving to someone who is truly in need will fill you with joy. Send farm animals to help make a family self-sufficient, make a micro-loan to help an entrepreneur lift her family out of poverty, or give a needy child a chance at an education.
3. Look inside
When I have the urge to shop for something I don’t need, I open my journal or the note-taking app on my phone and examine that urge. What am I really looking for? Is it the thing for sale or something more? What can I do to get the feeling I want? When you write about your true wants and desires, you’ll understand yourself and your motivations better. There’s no judgment here – just greater understanding.
4. Stay away
Ads, sales, and coupons are designed to activate our shopping reflex, so I make it easier to resist by putting up barriers. I’ve unsubscribed from emails that tempt me, stayed away from websites that are more ad than content, and said no to any media that constantly pushes me to buy or redecorate or otherwise be dissatisfied with what I already have. I’ve needed a little distance from some people and brick-and-mortar shops as well.
5. Be thankful
A gratitude journal can turn your focus from what you don’t have to what you do possess. I encourage you to make it a habit every morning to think of three things to look forward to, and every evening to remember three things that were good about your day.
Before we buy anything new, we need to get rid of things we don’t use or love. We bought all of this stuff thinking it would meet a need, improve our lives, or otherwise make us happy. Now it’s in the back of a closet or in a box in the garage. Did it do for us what we thought it would?
Consider a shopping ban. Create your own rules, such as the length of the ban and the items that are off limits. Invite some friends to join you and think of fun shopping alternatives you can do together.
8. Buy for today
I’ve learned to be honest about how a purchase fits into my actual life and not just my aspirational life. For example, don’t buy clothes a size too small hoping you’ll fit into them one day – buy the size you need and wear the pieces now.
Don’t buy a musical instrument because you plan to start taking lessons – borrow or rent a practice-quality item. Don’t buy expensive fitness equipment with the idea you’ll establish a routine for using it – start with walking, running, or bodyweight exercises.
Leave investments in skinny jeans, pianos, and weight benches for the day the jeans fit, you’ve become a decent pianist who plays often, and working out is a solid habit.
9. Be intentional
Shopping is not a hobby. It’s not a pastime or a social activity. I never head to the store without a list or a plan. I may not know the exact thing I need to buy, but I know the gap I am filling, such as a particular clothing item or equipment for a specific task.
10. Choose another activity
I can read a book, take a walk, ride my bike, or put on some music and dance. You could invite a friend over for coffee or lunch (or meet virtually). Give yourself a manicure or enjoy a soak in the tub. Smell the roses, watch a sunset, or gaze at the stars. Let’s get away from that store or that online cart and fill our lives with something better.
11. Return it
If all else fails, I return the thing I bought because I was bored or curious or unhappy.
For some of us shopping or over-spending on physical items is an easy avoidance, but for others, it’s a real challenge with real mental and financial consequences. I encourage those of you who struggle with spending to tackle it with me, one step at a time.
About the Author: Karen Trefzger is a writer, singer, teacher, wife, mother, and grandmother who has been choosing a simpler life for over 20 years. She is the author of Minimalism A to Z, and blogs at MaximumGratitudeMinimalStuff.
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