If you're a female between the ages of 3 and 103, you're probably feeling the effects of consumer marketing— even if you're not consciously aware of it. From TV commercials, billboards, magazines, social media, popular influencers on Instagram and Youtube, and internet ads— even ads on your phone— more is being offered to you from every direction. The desire for more even pits us against one another.
We're presented with shopping as a solution to unhappiness, boredom, dissatisfaction, and feelings of unworthiness. Shopping is something you do by yourself, with friends, on the weekend, on a date, and when you visit a new city.
Going out an buying a new item is a fairly neutral activity in and of itself— some items can bring us joy and can be very useful in our lives. But it can be very easy to let the habit of shopping take control of your life and impact your happiness. Why? Because shopping is addictive. When we purchase something, we get a small rush of endorphins, a little high that leaves us craving more not too longer after— and our prized purchase? It sits discarded, no longer the life-changing item we thought it would be, while we search for the next great thing.
If you're finding that you're using shopping as a crutch to fix boredom, unhappiness, or dissatisfaction, there are a few steps you can take to shake the habit and get on a path to true happiness— one that doesn't come with a price tag.
1. Go in with a list, and stick to it
We all need to buy something occasionally, and typically, that means heading into some kind of store, often located in a regular mall, a plaza, or a strip mall of some sort. These kind of places can be like an overdose to someone trying to kick a shopping habit, but you can help stay on track by making sure you never head out without a list, and you always stick to it. Bring a pen with you, so if you find something that you think you need, you can jot it down and come back to it later.
2. PAY IN CASH
I know cash isn't the cool thing, what with PayPal, Apple Pay, and digital wallets, but it's one of the most important things you can do to help curb a shopping habit. Pay in cash and only bring as much as you need; that way, no matter how much you may want to purchase something on the fly, you simply can't. Bonus: it's a whole lot easier to stay on track with your budget using this method.
3. Put it on a waiting list
If you're out shopping and you see something you think you really need, jot it down on the back of your list and make sure it's something you really need by giving it some time. Typically, I wait about two weeks before revisiting anything on my list, and if I still thinking it will substantially add to my happiness, or be a useful tool in my life, I'll get it (obviously this suggestion does not really apply to groceries, toilet paper, garbage bags, etc).
4. Make a list of alternate activities
If shopping is something you do to kick boredom or sadness to the curb, I recommend making a list of things you can do for fun, and to lift your mood. What else brings you joy? What stimulated your need for something new and exciting? Maybe that means having dinner with friends, snuggling on the couch and watching a movie, having a hot bath with a book, or taking a walk around the park.
Tip: Don't go shopping with friends. Instead, suggest an alternate activity like a picnic, a walk, or a Gilmore Girls marathon sesh.
5. Ask yourself the "5 Whys"
If you think something might add to your happiness, but you've got a gut feeling it's something you don't really need or you're buying for the wrong reason, ask yourself the "5 whys". This means you ask yourself the simple question of "why" over and over again to get to the root of the feeling. Sometimes it doesn't even take 5. For example:
"I want a new couch." Why?
"I want my house to look nice." Why?
"I want to impress friends when they come over." Why?
"I want them to like me." Ah.
And we see here that the feeling is actually insecurity and a fear of loneliness or lack of acceptance— something that has really nothing at all to do with a couch, and a lot more to do with self-love and the strength of our relationships. Friends don't love friends because they have nice sofas.
6. Buy used, if and when you can
Think of every item you buy also as a piece of waste. Even if you give that item a good long life cycle, taking care of it and tending to it as needed, it will still some day become a piece of garbage. Are you willing to dispose of it responsibly? A good way to help reduce your impact is to buy used whenever you can. There are some things I would be a little less than willing to acquire second-hand, but buying tools, kitchen appliances, outdoor supplies, wood furniture like shelving and kitchen tables, toys, and bicycles is a great way to save money and reduce demand for new goods.