It was Sunday. I walked into one of my favorite department stores to find they were running (yet another) sale.

I grabbed everything that looked mildly interesting and made a dash for the changing rooms. With each outfit, I asked myself questions like, does this fit the image I have of myself? Do I look good in this? Would so-and-so wear this and how would she wear it? Maybe I can change my style– again. 

After frantically trying on various pieces of clothing, I marched out of the changing room, a few selections in hand. Within minutes, I was out the door with my brand new purchases.

Shopping bags that sit… and sit… and sit

Here’s the thing. I got home with a mountain of to-dos and left my new purchases by the couch downstairs. Which is where they stayed for at least a week.

I would have taken them out immediately, except for the fact that I wanted time to see how they fit with the rest of my things.

And while it was exhilarating to finally pull out my new dresses and sweaters, that exhilaration dwindled over time, reflecting the dreaded reality of diminishing marginal returns.

Soon, each new piece was ingratiated into my closet. I got bored of them. And I wanted to go shopping again.

Fleeting satisfaction in the ordinary

I’m actually a proponent of loving, creating, and owning beautiful things. My side gig with Noonday Collection is all about partnering with artisan entrepreneurs in vulnerable communities create meaningful opportunity in their neighborhoods– and doing so by making beautiful things.

Bracelets, coasters, pottery… We need beautiful, ordinary things.

But ultimately, we won’t find deep satisfaction that lasts in those things alone. What is reflected in those products is what makes a difference long-term.

Opportunity.

Hope.

Creativity.

Craftsmanship.

Self-worth.

Dignity.

All these things and more are worth some time and space in our lives. And in a way, shopping is sometimes an appreciation of that. But what often is really happening– at best– is that we throw our resources into selecting, purchasing, and organizing things out of a deeper desire for what those things represent. And no matter how deep we go, our need for satisfaction will go deeper still.

C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Ordinary things can reflect an extraordinary world. But that’s just what they do– they don’t imbue enough meaning on their own for us to find ultimate satisfaction in them.

A rational minimalist approach

Possessions are a part of life. We use things everyday. And part of what it means to be human is the ability to invent, build, create, and generate some pretty exciting items.

The key to healthy ownership isn’t limiting ourselves to a particular number of possessions. While I do advocate for smaller wardrobes (among other things), what I am most interested in is the continued examination of my desires. Minimalism can’t help us much if we don’t move from the what to the why.

So the next time you find yourself eyeing a brand new purchase, avoid the legalistic minimalism that says, “If I buy this, I’ll have to get rid of that.” A zero-sum game might be a good discipline to start with, but it’s not much more than that.

Instead, ask yourself this: “Why do I want this? Do I know in what ways this purchase can serve me— and the ways in which it will not?

What I believe often explains shopping-induced clutter is actually our false notions of satisfaction. We buy things believing they will satisfy us in a deep way. We need to remember that they only offer temporary satisfaction, and evaluate whether that temporary satisfaction is worth the time and space a new purchase will occupy.

As for me, I’ll be working on understanding why certain purchases are so alluring to me… and how those deep longings are meant to be met by a much deeper, richer, life-giving existence.

Have you found yourself dissatisfied after shopping? How do you evaluate whether you should make a purchase?