How to Resist Shopping and Find Better Ways to Feel Better
Sometimes I feel like shopping.
It's true! Even after more than 20 years of decluttering, simplifying my life, becoming debt-free, and writing about minimalism, I sometimes feel like shopping, even though I don't need anything.
The 2020 holiday season was one such time. After a year of so many trials and disappointments, it was tempting to try to buy my way out of feeling blue at Christmas. I had a full (virtual) cart. All I needed was a couple of clicks.
So I did what I always do now – I waited.
I waited because nothing in the cart was an urgent need. I already had gifts for my grandsons, plenty of holiday décor, Christmas cards to address, goodies to make for the neighbors. And I didn't need anything for myself.
I waited because what I really wanted was some hope and joy, and I knew a couple of gadgets, a sweater, and a book or two wouldn't provide that. I was anxious and a little depressed, and I wanted those feelings to go away. But I remembered other times when I tried to shop or eat my way out of sadness, and all the times that didn't work, and I was able to resist.
Buying something new might give a momentary lift (experiencing something new or exciting activates dopamine receptors in your brain), but it doesn't last. The gratification is short, and then you need something else to get that high again. You experience disappointment, guilt, debt, and clutter – bad things that make you want to shop (or eat, or drink, or escape). It's a vicious circle.
But we can resist shopping, and maybe even find better ways to feel better.
This is the essential first step. Add the item to your cart if you must, then wait – for a day, three days, a week, a month. Can you even remember wanting it? If you still don't need it, let it go.
When you have the urge to shop for something you don't need, open your journal or the note-taking app on your phone and examine that urge. What are you really looking for? Is it the thing for sale or something more? What can you do to get the feeling you want? If you write about your true wants and desires, you'll understand yourself and your motivations better. There's no judgment here – just greater understanding.
I used to justify excess shopping because I was shopping for gifts. I had a looooong gift list, and I'm positive I bought many things the recipients didn't need or want.
You see something cute or pretty or sparkly or otherwise "just right," and you think, "I can give that to so-and-so." The pleasure lasts a moment, but giving to someone who is truly in need will fill you with joy. Send farm animals to help make a family self-sufficient, make a micro-loan to help an entrepreneur lift her family out of poverty, or give an orphan the chance to grow up with a family.
4. Be thankful
Start a gratitude journal, and turn your focus from what you don't have to what you do possess. Make it a habit every morning to think of three things to look forward to, and every evening to remember three things that were good about your day.
Before you buy something new, get rid of things you don't use or love. Remember that you bought all of this stuff thinking that it would meet a need, improve your life, or otherwise make you happy. Now it's in the back of your closet or in a box in the garage. Did it do for you what you thought it would?
6. Stay away
Ads, sales, and coupons are designed to activate our shopping reflex, so make it easier to resist by putting up barriers. Unsubscribe from emails that tempt you, stay away from websites that are more ad than content, just say no to any media that constantly pushes you to buy or redecorate or otherwise be dissatisfied with what you already have. You may need a little distance from some people and brick-and-mortar shops as well.
Try a shopping ban. Create your own rules, such as the length of the ban and the items that are off limits. Invite some friends to join you and think of fun shopping alternatives you can do together.
8. Buy for today
- Don't buy clothes a size too small hoping you'll fit into them one day – buy the size you need and wear the pieces now.
- Don't buy a musical instrument because you plan to start taking lessons – borrow or rent a practice-quality item.
- Don't buy expensive fitness equipment with the idea you'll establish a routine for using it – start with walking, running, or bodyweight exercises.
9. Be intentional
Shopping is not a hobby. It's not a pastime or a social activity. Never head to the store without a list or a plan. You may not know the exact thing you need to buy, but you know the gap you're filling, such as a particular clothing item or equipment for a specific task.
10. Choose another activity
Read a book, take a walk, ride your bike, put on some music and dance. Invite a friend over for coffee or lunch (or meet virtually). Give yourself a manicure or enjoy a soak in the tub. Smell the roses, watch a sunset, or gaze at the stars. Get away from that store or that online cart and fill your life with something better.
11. Return it
If all else fails, return that thing you bought because you were bored or curious or sad.
Related article: 9 Ways to Free Yourself From the Trap of Consumerism
Updated May 2023