Calm the Pulse of Impulse Buying

Do you feel caught between two messages? One from advertising and our culture to get the new cool things, provoking a belief that you want these things because they will make your life better. And the other that tries to remind you, despite this barrage, that you want your life to be simpler, to have less stuff, and to be more careful where you spend money (the things that would actually make your life better). The latter comes in different tones: from books, listicles, inspirational videos, and the voice deep within you. And yet, in the moment, it’s hard to resist a seemingly special thing that you’d like to wear, or a new watch to add to your collection. Or perhaps you want to buy something less flashy, more practical, but still not needed. 

There is an impulse and then a chain reaction. You are quick to ignore the voices, and affects on your bank account, and the growing closets. The chain reaction happens differently for different people. Yours might start with a protest, saying,“no” to the impulse, or an attempt to reason out of it. And then comes the, “… but on the other hand,” where the rationalizing begins: 

“But I’ve worked hard, I deserve this!” (You may have worked hard, but that doesn’t qualify you for a brand new car.)

“But it’s really great quality and I’d wear it all the time!” (That’s what you said about the last thing you bought which sat in your closet. Or maybe you would wear it but that doesn’t negate the fact that you don’t need it.)

“It’s such a great price, I can’t miss a deal like this!” (Deals are figments of our imaginations; sales are relative. 80% off something you don’t need is still 20% more than you need to spend.)

“I love the new colors, styles, blah, blah, blah, of the season. It’s about to get cooler and I need to be prepared.” (Did you make it through last season to be here now? You are already prepared.)

You might skip the steps of rationalizing and go directly to purchasing or you may go through a longer version of rationalizing. Either way, the chain reaction may result in regret or shame. At best, it’s just some stuff that may offer you a momentary sense of happiness. This isn’t true happiness, just a faint nod at what actual happiness feels like. You might get some use out of your purchase, but is it worth it? Why spend time, money, and your energy with this endless routine?

It’s time to change perspective so you can retire from these negotiations. There are some key strategies you can use in the moment to prevent these purchases but they require the use of your imagination. If you’ve only begun your downsizing project, it’s more difficult because you haven’t seen the results yet. The results tend to be holistic and deep, not just visual. No number of photos of perfectly organized homes can truly convince you of the benefits, nor do they represent most of the benefits. I find, as with most things, it’s best to trust the process and end goal while treating it as a life experiment. Just like trying a new diet, it takes time to see the results and even to see if it’s the right diet for you. But if you don’t commit yourself to it for a period of time, acknowledging that bumps and growing pains are part of the process, you’ll never see the benefits. If you ever learned to play an instrument, learned to knit, or played sports, you know what I’m saying.

Step one is simply saying yes. Yes, I’ll try this out and commit to this new approach.

Step two is simply saying no. No to all the shopping and collecting of things, free or otherwise. Practice it like scales on a piano. It’s a bit boring, sure, but it’s an exercise that should be no sweat. By switching the mindset to automate on no, you’ve minimized decision fatigue.

Step three is to work your way through the stuff you have and doing away with what you no longer need. And then, if you feel good about what you did, and want more freedom, get rid of more stuff. This will reinforce your resistance to bring in more; you don’t want to give yourself more work to do. Also, if you do allow some exceptions to the automated “no,” you are more likely to bring in stuff you actually need, now with a clearer inventory of what you have.

Some startegies that will help after enacting these steps: 

Stop exposing yourself to temptation. Being subscribed to catalogs, store newsletters (not worth the coupons they send as a reason to stay subscribed), and using online “window shopping” as a way to cure boredom, are invitations to feel denied. If you’re trying to watch your weight, hanging out at an ice cream shop drinking water probably wouldn’t be the best use of your time.

Start noticing the effects. Take note of what’s working for you, how you feel, how your bank accounts are doing, whether you have extra time, and how that time feels. And then tweak your new lifestyle accordingly. 

You still have some beautiful days of summer available before you. Get out of the stores, go offline, and enjoy yourself in whatever clothes you happen to be wearing.