How to Kick Your Shopping Habit in 5 Steps

Hello, my name is Kara and I’m a recovering shopping addict. Growing up in an affluent California suburb during the ’90s, it is no great surprise that I spent a lot of time in shopping malls. The local shopping mall was a safe place where my mother could drop me off with friends to kill an afternoon on the weekend. Unlike my younger sister, who saved all of her allowance money and had over a thousand dollars saved by the time I left for college, I spent mine on things at the mall until my closet was so full that when I slid the door open, something would inevitably fall out. By the time I left for college, I started to wish that our house would burn down or someone would rob us, so I didn’t have to go through the emotional process of clearing things out that I had spent lots of money on but no longer cared for. Unfortunately, this never happened and I spent many painful weeks during my summer vacations trying to clean out my childhood excess. Sadly, I didn’t learn my lesson quite yet and continued to spend a lot of time shopping for things I had no real need for in my twenties. My kitchen filled up with gadgets I rarely used, my closet was full of clothes that I rarely wore, and my inbox was filled with sale alerts from a bunch of different brands, triggering me to go to their website and spend up to an hour looking at the sale items, often finding nothing I liked at all. Why did I do this? In retrospect, I think that I was still trying to figure out who I was as a person and what mattered to me. I had yet to find my true passions in life and had a lot of free time that needed to be filled with something and since it was what I did as a kid on weekends, it became my default as an adult when I had nothing else to do.

Eventually, I found more meaningful things to fill my time with and slowly, shopping became a less important part of my life yet I still bought a lot of clothes that I didn’t need, mostly because they were on sale and I could get a good deal. I finally kicked that habit two years ago, when I started preparing to depart for long-term travel. First off, I needed to save money to take six months off of work and I needed to cut out all non-essential spending to do so. Second, I knew that anything I bought would be put into storage and the more I put into storage, the more money I’d be paying to store things and the less money I’d have to see the world. To remove temptation, I unsubscribed from all marketing emails and started to focus my energy on getting rid of the things around my house that I no longer needed. I realized how much I had accumulated over the years that was never getting used and how many tens of thousands of dollars had been wasted on things I thought that I would use, then rarely did. We sold off a few things, donated the rest and put our remaining possessions into a 9×9′ storage unit, heading out to see the world with just a backpack. On that trip, I learned how few items that I really need to be happy.

I am now of the opinion that shopping should not be considered a hobby. It should be a task that is performed when you need something and not something done out of boredom to fill time. Giving up unnecessary shopping can be transformative; you’ll earn back both time and money to do more fulfilling things with your free time. Plus, there is the side benefit of using fewer resources and generating less waste. It’s a win-win for both you and our planet.

Here are five steps to take to kick your shopping habit:

  1. Unsubscribe from all marketing emails and stop reading the ads in the papers. Most people like to get a deal, so it’s really tempting to be on the email lists for sales. Yet, it leads to buying things you don’t need, because you see a good deal on something that you like (but don’t need) and you feel like you should buy it, because it’s such a good deal. By unsubscribing from these emails, you will have less things triggering you to shop and you’ll gain back time in your day.
  2. Write down a list of things that you actually need and only buy things on that list. Think about grocery shopping; when you have a shopping list at the grocery store, you get your shopping done faster and are less likely to add in a bunch of impulse buys. The same logic goes to a shopping list for household items. My list currently includes a new purse (since my old one fell apart and I’m currently using a shopping bag to hold my wallet) and running shoes. Once you know what you need, it is okay to search for the best deal online.
  3. Wait 72 hours before buying something on your shopping list to avoid impulse purchases. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule. If your refrigerator breaks irreparably, it might be a good idea to replace it sooner than later since our society relies heavily upon refrigerated food. However, if you learn about a great new product, wait 72hrs before buying it and ask yourself the following questions before adding it to your shopping list: do I already own something similar? How often will I actually use this? What is the cost of maintaining this over time? If I didn’t spend my money on this, what else could I spend it on that would bring me more joy, e.g. saving for a trip, getting a massage, etc.?
  4. Stop window shopping. I used to do a lot of window shopping, to see if there was anything that I might “need” that I was not aware of or to see if I could get a deal on something that I might need in the future, like a cocktail dress for a wedding that I might go to (even though I had a bunch of dresses that had been worn once in my closet at home). I can now see my flawed logic – if I truly needed something, wouldn’t the absence have been felt and therefore I could have articulated at least the basic need on my shopping list? I realize now that something was missing in my life and I was hoping that I’d find that missing piece at a store, which I never did.
  5. Find new hobbies to fill your time. Part of why I shopped so much was that I did not know what else to do with my time; when I had a few hours to kill on a weekend, my response was to go to the mall and walk around, looking for a deal. To figure out what else to do, I turned to list making and wrote down all of the things that I had been wanting to do but never seemed to make happen: hobbies I had wanted to take up, day-trips to go on, books to read, dinner parties to throw, volunteer opportunities to pursue, etc. I realized through these exercises that I wanted to be more active and spent more time outdoors, and started to fill my free time with hiking, biking, skiing, yoga and rock climbing. Before I knew it, I was extremely busy, learning new skills, making lots of new friends, and feeling much healthier and happier than ever before. My only regret is that I did not find myself sooner and that I wasted so many years searching for something that could not be purchased, community and purpose.

Do you have any tactics that have helped you to kick your shopping habit or stories of how kicking your shopping habit has improved your life? If yes, please share them in the comments!

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