I have come a long way in this area. I used to be able to enter the first letter of my favorite brands into my search bar, and their full URLs would pop up. That’s how often I “window-shopped” online. Of course, said window-shopping quickly became real shopping.
There are many reasons to limit unnecessary shopping, but they might not be the ones that immediately come to mind. Avoiding unnecessary purchases can certainly save money, but saving money isn’t everyone’s highest priority. Perhaps there are things you desire more deeply than a stash of cash: courage, generosity, community, purpose, joy… and limiting your shopping can help with those things, too.
You see, shopping is an act of consumption– often dissociated with the impact that it has on the rest of the world. When we mindlessly shop, we disconnect ourselves from our true needs, our deepest desires, our immediate communities, our knowledge of global issues, and even our sense of self.
So how do we change this? As with most things, I believe it has to be a combination of new habits and mindset changes. And my goal today is to convince you– at least on an intellectual level– to change the way you think about unnecessary shopping.
5 Mindset Changes That Limit Unnecessary Shopping
1) Somebody strategically decided to put this product in front of me today.
I am quite the cynic when new technological gadgets come on the market. Whenever someone remarks that they really need the new Apple watch or a smartphone upgrade, I’m tempted to remind them that they had no idea they needed those things until they were invented.
We respond to what we see, but so often we’re only reminded of what we think we “need” when it’s put in front of us. Marketers know this, so they try to put products in front of us as often as possible. The truth is, though, that the less of these products we see, the less we feel the need to buy them. Think about your needs before someone has a chance to tell you what you need.
2) Shopping is not a legitimate hobby.
I like to consider myself a self-respecting plant hobbyist, though I can hardly boast of much skill. Still, shopping might be a leisure activity but it’s not a hobby (in much the same way that watching television is not a hobby). Hobbies should bring value into our own lives, if not also the lives of other people. They should make us more interesting. They should bring us inspiration and relaxation, and develop a part of ourselves that would otherwise be dormant. As far as I can tell, shopping did none of those things for me.
3) Buying new things won’t greatly change people’s opinions about me. If it does, their opinions don’t matter.
There’s the famous quote from Dr. Seuss that says, “People who mind don’t matter, and people who matter don’t mind.” While there’s no point in being reckless in front of people who might mind, I certainly find this proverb to be true of acquiring new things. When I was in the thick of my shopping habit, I was constantly obsessed with how a new item would make me look to others. How would it change my image? What would people think of me as I walked by?
I strongly believe that vanity can be a sickness, but the more important lesson I learned was that few of the people who mattered the most to me cared very much about whether I bought something new. My friends might have been excited about my new acquisition, but their opinions of me weren’t changed by my shiny new objects. There is freedom in no longer feeling like you have to shop to keep up appearances. Very few people are watching, anyway.
4) There was a social and environmental cost to the production of this item, and those costs are likely hidden from me.
Who made your clothes, your shoes, or your accessories? It’s likely that you have no idea– and it’s not necessarily your fault. The fashion industry has, for the most part, hidden away the people who made the product, and for good reason on their part. Conditions are unsafe, workers are underpaid (and sometimes underage), and there’s nothing “hip” about the inside of a factory. Brands would much rather have us stare at the beautiful faces and bodies of models wearing new clothes, rather than the tired bodies of exploited workers.
Grim as it may sound, realizing the impact of my shopping on the global poor changed my mind quickly about it. And because it’s harder to come upon things that are ethically made, my shopping has decreased quite a bit. And when I do shop now, I research every company for their social responsibility. If it’s not to my satisfaction, I don’t buy.
5) Whatever I don’t spend today can be invested or given away.
What’s the opportunity cost of unnecessary shopping? It’s the act of throwing away the potential of those dollars into an item that I don’t need to add. If I save those dollars, perhaps their value will grow over time. If I give away those same dollars that very day, then perhaps they will rescue someone in need, give care to someone suffering, or provide much more joy than a new dress would ever provide for me.
When I think about what my money could be doing instead of going to that trendy shirt that I might only wear a few times– and that likely contributed to some form of injustice far away– the decision is simple. I can keep that money until I find a better use for it, or I can give it away immediately so that it is better spent today.
The bottom line: recognize your power as the consumer
Consumption is not a bad thing– but like everything else, it has its place. As consumers, we get to decide what that place is. We vote with our dollars, and the market will have to listen. So the more mindful we are of how we shop, the fewer unnecessary things we buy, and the more socially conscious we choose to be, the greater likelihood the industry will change. It’s starts with you and me.