I Can't Get No Satisfaction
May 21, 2009 7:39 AM   Subscribe

How to you curb your desire for material goods?

I'm pretty good at not succumbing to shopping for things I can't afford or don't need. Lately I have been wanting to buy, buy, buy! I want new things for my house. I want new furniture and artwork and other expensive things that are not in the cards right now. I'm not broke, it's just not in the budget.

My house is pretty nice and I don't need anything. I have a lot of new things that I bought last year. How can I stop wanting to purchase even more new things? I have a problem with never being satisfied. If I bought a beautiful print or piece of furniture, next week I would want something else. If I redid my kitchen I would hate my bathroom, etc.

Can you point me to blog entries, articles, and advice that inspire simplicity? Intellectually I know things can't make me happy but I still want and have anxiety that things aren't as nice as they should be. Bonus for tips and advice to change or improve rooms with very little cash. Thanks.
posted by Fairchild to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Desires are like bullies, if you let them push you around they seem very powerful, but if you stand up to them they reveal how weak they really are. The next time you are seized by a powerful impulse to purchase something, sit down somewhere and take a couple of breaths while you center yourself.
posted by satori_movement at 7:50 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you subscribe to (or buy) home and garden magazines, or go to their websites, stop. Their primary purpose is to feed want.

Go camping. Not in an RV, but real, back-to-nature tenting. You will be amazed at how little you really need. You'll also be relaxed and happy -- without "stuff." (If you're the kind of person who freaks out at the thought of nature touching you, then this might not be your best plan, but it worked wonders for me.)
posted by sageleaf at 7:50 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

It feels good to buy! I give in every now and then. This is maybe not the answer you're looking for, but a recent rebirth of religious faith in my life really taught me to be thankful for the things I do have and thankful for the things I receive, but to view them as not so necessary. Maybe a similar philosophical gesture could help you get over your hump?

It really changed for me when I just started saying "Thank you" and being thankful. I can't say I don't still want things (I gave in and bought a new video game on Sunday), but I generally don't feel the pull in such a severe way.
posted by GilloD at 7:50 AM on May 21, 2009

Maybe not exactly the advice you're looking for, but... Something that works for me when I'm thinking about purchasing something is to just wait. Give it a few days or a couple of weeks, and if you're still thinking about that item, then go back and buy it. What usually happens is that you forget about it, or you end up finding something else that pushes the first item out of your top must-have spot.

I know it's fun to decorate and fix up your house. I have things at my place pretty much the way I want them, in terms of colors, pieces of furniture that I need, etc. It was actually sort of depressing when I realized that there'd be no more painting or trips to Ikea. But I love helping other people organize and decorate their homes. Maybe you have a friend who'd let you play around with decorating their space? To go even further, you might look into interior design or home staging.

Also, the way to make probably the biggest change to a room for the least amount of money is with paint. A can of paint isn't expensive, and in an afternoon you could change the look of your room totally.
posted by LolaGeek at 7:52 AM on May 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. ~Oscar Wilde
posted by caddis at 7:55 AM on May 21, 2009

Sometimes I get into this mode when I'm upset at how messy my apartment is. I think "If only I had a bigger bookcase, all of this stuff would have a place to live" or "these sheets look so dingy, I wish I had new ones." The real problem, of course, is that I need to clean up. Usually, if I give the place a thorough cleaning and neatening (getting rid of stuff I don't need, putting everything where it belongs, getting rid of dust) I find myself happy with what I've already got.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:58 AM on May 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

Mindful meditation is one way to re-appreciate what we have and to satisfy the desire that discovering new things can also (temporarily) satiate. You might try the vipassana style of meditation.. at worst, it's a new class to spend money on!
posted by kcm at 7:58 AM on May 21, 2009

There are some helpful articles at The Simple Dollar. Here's one.

As a reformed spend-a-holic who recently got out of almost $40K in credit card debt I can tell you that this is not easy. I had a new cell phone or gadget every 6-8 months. I had to start realizing (and believing) that the cell phone I had was good enough. Sure, it wasn't a RAZR (or whatever the popular one was at the time) but it worked just as well.

Also being more content with myself has helped me spend less. I am happier in my personal life so less twitchy/antsy to fill my house with stuff we don't need.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:58 AM on May 21, 2009

I think knowing what you have, and understand that you've made do with the things that you've had for all this time, is a pretty solid deterrant to new things. My wife keeps asking me (every year, now) what I want for my birthday, or for Christmas. When I sit down and think, what do I really need, literally nothing comes to mind. There's nothing, really, that I need. In some cases, there are things that, indeed, I want, but I can't imagine saying to my wife, hey, I'd like a new microwave/convection oven. It's a combination of price and the fact that I've made do for so long without one.

In that sense, I look at wanting new things like, would I be willing to accept that as a gift? If not, then do I really need it? Furthermore, if I were to buy it with my own money, would it still allow me to use my money for the things that I really do need to use it for (would it hinder my ability to maintain my life, and the happiness/comfort of those who rely on me)?

Looking at things this way, to be honest there's very little I really need to buy. Would I like a new computer? Sure. Do I need to buy one? Of course not. This obnoxious noisy brick I'm typing on right now does a fine job.

Also, think about just how much time you would need to work to pay off the cost of the thing you want. Break down just how much you make an hour. If that new doodad is really worth two solid weeks of your working life, hey, that's your call. (may not apply to people who earn $100s an hour, but then again, I don't see them posting this question)
posted by Ghidorah at 8:08 AM on May 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Fill up more of your time with non-material things.

Sometimes I look around my house and think something like, "I really want a new sofa and chair for the living room" (and eventually I will get them), but I don't spend much time sitting still, looking at the things I have and thinking about what things would be better, or seeing what I don't have. I get up and do something that has nothing to do with material goods, like going to the creek to see the ducks or visiting with a friend, and don't leave much time for object-lust.

Of course, I've also been too broke to buy a can of soup and knew that lusting after material goods was futile in my situation. Learning self-denial is a valuable skill that is strongly discouraged in our material culture (on a macro level, if not always micro).
posted by notashroom at 8:11 AM on May 21, 2009

I'm not sure if this will work for you, but I remind myself that once I have whatever it is, it's not quite as fun as wanting it was. My husband and I recently got a big upward change in income so we can buy a ton of stuff we had been wanting for years, and it's kind of boring now, to be honest. We only buy one or two things a month even though we could buy more of it. Looking ahead a few months and realizing that, by then, we might have all the things we've been wanting, mostly feels rather empty so I'm glad we're spacing it out more.

Lately I've been reminded of that episode of the Simpsons where Homer gets that great job, so they all move to this new house where everything is automated and Marge doesn't have anything to do around the house anymore. We just got a Roomba, and every time it vacuums a little clip plays in my head of Marge sitting in her spotless self-cleaning kitchen, drinking with a haunted expression on her face. It's an exaggerated version of the feeling, but there it is. I'm glad I don't have to vacuum, and I'm the one who wanted the Roomba, but it's also kind of eerie.

Also, I remember when I was a child, my mom spoiled me for Christmas. Every Christmas I was really excited but a week later there were still only a few things I played with. Because of that, I only buy something if it's functional or something I'm going to use a lot. Our decorating style is modern and minimalist as a result. We only put up artwork/photography that either we or our friends do, and some of that if functional as well (we have a nice-looking avian anatomy chart in the room where are birds are, for example). We tend to get rid of more stuff than we buy, which keeps us from buying a lot of things too, because we think, "Are we just going to throw this out in a few years?" If you're looking for the change-of-pace/something-new feeling you get from redecorating, remember that you can donate a lot of stuff and move stuff around to get it, too. You don't have to buy anything. Seriously, just try moving your bed to a new position and BAM, there it is. When we had no money, we did this sort of thing every couple months.

If I were you, I would just put aside some set amount of money you can afford every month and gradually save up for things here and there. There's nothing wrong with buying things if you can afford it. You have something to look forward to in the meantime, but if the wanting gets to be too much, just remind yourself it'd be boring if you already had it, or in the case of non-functional things, your life won't be any different if you had those things anyway.
posted by Nattie at 8:12 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whenever I want something expensive, I tell myself I need to save a certain amount of money before I buy it.

So, for example - I want an $800.00 bike right now. I have to save $3,000 before I will allow myself to buy it. Also. I want a Midi/RCA interface for my computer (like $150.00) so I have to save $500 before I can get it.

This is a good way to keep myself from getting out of control with my spending, and of spreading big ticket purchases out over long periods of time. It really helps.
posted by orville sash at 8:13 AM on May 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

I get bit by this bug occasionally. The way that I deal with it to not buy something unless I can get it at a price that is in the budget. So, for instance, I will spend time trolling e-Bay and Craigslist in search of a particular item. If I can find that $450 purse for $100, then I can buy it. If not, then too bad. But the pursuit of finding the bargain is satisfying, and often, the desire will fade if I don't find it within a couple of weeks. And when I do find something I've been wanting at a bargain basement price , it feels even better (like the new Dansko sandals I got on e-Bay for 99 cents)!
posted by kimdog at 8:20 AM on May 21, 2009

Read the book Stumbling on Happiness.
posted by matildaben at 8:21 AM on May 21, 2009

The advice of a grad student: only go to shops for things you actually need to buy, if you currently shop as a leisure activity then stop.
posted by Augenblick at 8:21 AM on May 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Try thinking negatively about your object of desire: how much room it will take, how much trouble it'll be to maintain, how crummy it will get as it ages, how boring it will be after a few months, how inadequate it will be when something better comes along. Smart sellers make their products seem bright and shiny. As a smart buyer, you can mentally repackage products in a way that tarnishes them.
posted by markcmyers at 8:47 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bonus for tips and advice to change or improve rooms with very little cash.

Put on loud music and dance around the kitchen. Invite people over and cook them a nice meal. Have sex on a table.

Good rooms are places where good things happen. Objects have very little to do with that.
posted by neroli at 8:49 AM on May 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

We all do this. Every single day I look at my couch and loveseat (faded and cat-worn parental hand-me-down, purchased the day of the Challenger explosion) and wish I had a nicer set. But then I realize, I'm damn lucky to have a couch, a loveseat, a computer, an iPod, a roof, heat, light, etc, etc.

A couple of years ago, I started reading Blogging Away Debt. I know debt isn't the issue here, but they have awesome tips for living frugally, so you can save your money and buy this stuff without guilt. Sounds like you have good self-restraint (otherwise you might have bought all this stuff and would instead be asking the hive to help you get out of debt).
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:56 AM on May 21, 2009

I quit looking at things that tell me to buy things (tv, magazines, etc) and I remind myself that the last time I thought buying something would solve a particular problem, it didn't. So logically, there's no reason to think it will fix my current problem.

One of the largest things that motivates us isn't getting stuff [whatever it is, a job, a relationship, a present] it's anticipating the stuff you might get. Think how much more appealing the present under the tree is before you unwrap it because it's full of possibility. Once you get it, even if it's what you always wanted, it's just one thing, not a wealth of maybes.

So, for you, you can do some things to curb this

- have a budget, and allow yourself to get rid of some stuff [ebay? yard sale?] before you get new stuff
- have a work party with friends to do stuff like paint a room or install window treatments or stuff that is lower tech than renovating a kitchen. Changing colors can give something a whole new look and feel. Apartment Therapy is good sometimes for ideas, though yeah there's a "buy this" aspect to it.
- forgive yourself. It's fine to want things, just find a way to work it into your life so that your desire for things isn't causing you stress in other areas of your life.
posted by jessamyn at 9:02 AM on May 21, 2009

Read anything that gives you insight into marketing and advertising. That will kill your desire to buy stuff - QUICK. If you want to go even further into the subject check out something like "Propaganda" by Jacques Ellul.

The truth is that the purchase impulse is a fairly weak one, and it is one that has to be groomed and fed over time. If you begin to see that grooming and feeding for what it really is, manipulation, it stops being "magic" almost instantaneously.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:12 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

You mention anxiety. Shopping may be a way to cover up anxious feelings and until you deal with the anxiety you'll keep wanting to find ways to blanket it.

I find when i get the "me me me's" it helps to focus on other people. One way I've been able to shake the attention off myself is through an exercise a friend taught me.
Think about something you can't imagine living with out, something that means a lot to you like your most favorite piece of artwork or your most favorite piece of jewelry the more attached and the more it means to you the better. Then give it away to someone you love and care about (family that lives in the same house as you doesn't count!) maybe to a friend that's always been there for you or a family member that you never get to see. The point is to share what you hold dear to your heart with people you love. Share the love!

If that's to much or to hard go through your closets and aim for 30-50 items to give to charity.
posted by ljesse at 9:30 AM on May 21, 2009

Whenever my kids want some "stuff", I always ask them to answer this question: Do I need this stuff, or do I want it? Of course, kids 'need' everything, but it's a question I also ask myself when looking at stuff. If you can distinguish between the "need" and the "want", you'll find yourself not buying stuff you only "want". And the desire starts to go away.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 9:44 AM on May 21, 2009

What have you been reading lately? I've found my desires for new stuf crop up when I start looking at house magazines (lately bridal magazines since I'm wedding shopping). When I read articles on the saving money, making your own applesauce (simple cooking or similar tasks), or just plain get outisde I get back into the mindset that I don't need stuff.
I have a few frugal friends (or just broke & crafty/artsy) too that are good to talk to.

There's also a certain pleasure in not buying things...the challenge of making do. Sometimes I choose one week to do my very best to buy nothing but what I absolutely need. Then at the end of that week, I see if I still want it, and if I do I wait one more week..and then buy.
posted by ejaned8 at 9:56 AM on May 21, 2009

How to you curb your desire for material goods?

My method is, move often -- every couple of years. Nothing like moving to make you analyze the utility of your possessions -- all of them.
posted by Rash at 10:05 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can still constantly remodel/redecorate without having to spend spend spend. Just do it yourself!

I can't afford many things due to my low income, but I'm in the process of building a really nice bed frame for the cost of supplies only ($60-$80). Even there I've saved money by using scrap/dumpstered materials.

Use craigslist and freecycle. Learn some basic skills in the areas of sewing, carpentry, and metalworking. Develop your inner artist and create your own prints for your walls and paint/repaint the things you already have. Be ambitious about it. Don't make excuses.

Part of the urge to remodel/decorate is the need to personalize your living space. What better way to personalize a space than to do it *yourself*! Right? And is it any surprise that you have no problem replacing something you simply bought and have no personal connection to? I find that I'm much less likely to want to replace/get rid of something that I made with my own two hands be it furniture, art, tools, whatever. Even when I have the money and do want to replace something I've made I usually just want to try to do it myself again--but better.

Once you're more confident in your skills you can ask yourself "Can I make this myself?" and have a fun time finding out. Then, if it turns out that thing is too difficult to make yourself you can ask "If I can't make this myself, do I really need it?" The answer isn't always no, but it's rarely yes!

There's always the adage "live simply so that others may simply live".
posted by symbollocks at 10:25 AM on May 21, 2009

I can't tell you if this will work for you, but it worked for me. Try to shift your focus from the pleasure of buying to the pleasure of owning something really, really nice. I came to this conclusion via another route. At one point I got so sick of buying stuff that breaks down all the time. When me and the mrs. were checking out the fourth coffee maker in our relationship, I got this insight. All those hours wasted on buying crap. Four mornings in my life that I could have made love to my gorgeous wife! I just couldn't do it any more. From now on, it was only stuff that lasted forever that came into my house. In the beginning it was just appliances and so on. Machines with a rigid built, that could be maintained over the years. But with that attitude purchases become investments. That means you're out of spending money very quickly, but that was a good thing remember? Buy Less. Better stuff.
But that was about quality. Over the years, I also found that my taste in everyday personal stuff (clothing, interior stuff etc.) began to shift from "the thing that is happening today" to "the thing that will still look cool tomorrow". If you buy a grey sweater every year, buy one that will last you five. Furniture? We said goodbye to ikea and saved two years for the couch we really liked. And it will look as good for years to come. If I want something on my wall, I go to an auction, set myself a limit and buy something I've admired for years and I kinda like saving for something like this, because I have a modest income. That way I've really learned to appreciate the things I own. And we prefer nothing over a compromise. All crap must go. As a result our small house is quite empty in terms of stuff, compared to others around us. But everything that is there, has a meaning or a value for us.
posted by ouke at 11:06 AM on May 21, 2009 [7 favorites]

Echoing what others have said above - a wise person once said:
"Happiness isn't having what you want, it's wanting what you have."
So yeah, make sure that what you have is what you truly want.
I also get the 'shopping bug' once in while, but have found that I can satisfy that by a nice long trip to Goodwill or Value Village. I can walk out with a bagful of clothes, pots/pans, whatever for $20, I'm recycling someone else's stuff, and if it doesn't work out, I recycle it again without any feelings of money wasted. I've even sold stuff for more than I paid at a garage sale (years after I bought it, no less).
posted by dbmcd at 11:19 AM on May 21, 2009

After a few days the new stuff just becomes part of the old stuff you already have. Life isn't really any better, and it makes you a wage-slave that much longer.
posted by jsonic at 11:29 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Use cash as much as possible.

"Because there's some suggestive evidence that the brain makes simple consumer decisions by comparing our desire for the item (as represented by areas in the dopamine reward pathway, such as the nucleus accumbens) with the pain that comes from having to pay for the item. The problem with credit cards is that they abstract the payment: Instead of taking cash out of our wallet, we just swipe this thin plastic card. As George Loewenstein, a neuroeconomist at Carnegie-Mellon says, "The nature of credit cards ensures that your brain is anaesthetized against the pain of payment." Spending money doesn't feel bad, so you spend more money."
posted by nooneyouknow at 11:31 AM on May 21, 2009

When tempted to buy, make a note of it, and promise yourself that if you still want it tomorrow(item under $10), next week (Item under $100), next month, etc., you can still have it. Keep a list of things you're looking for, like a new Dutch Oven, and if you see it on a really good sale, you have permission to buy immediately.

It's not just the initial cost. Stuff has to be stored. It gets old and crappy and you have to get rid of it. It has a significant environmental cost. Remind yourself of how lucky you are to be financially stable, and that staying stable requires saving.
posted by theora55 at 11:49 AM on May 21, 2009

Bring a limited amount of cash and leave the credit cards at home (see nonoeyouknow's link, above, and read the "Fooled by a Feeling" chapter of Jonah Lehrer's "How We Decide").

Fiddle with something in your pocket so you don't touch the object you're considering buying (touching it makes you more likely to purchase it).

Do a thorough spring cleaning so you can make everything you have look great and take inventory at the same time.

Practice delaying in small ways--add five minutes before you have a dessert, for example--and it may make it easier to put off buying what you want NOW.

Establish a goal for a big purchase/investment/savings plan. When you are tempted to buy the coveted object, review with yourself how spending now would hurt your long-term goal.

Walk away from the object you want and have a conversation with yourself about: why you want to buy it; the impact the purchase would have; how you will use, care for, and store this object; the fact that buying leaves you unsatisfied in the long-run; whether you have anything that already does the job; what will happen to what you buy, long-term (picture it in a landfill).

Most of all, when your emotional self says "OMG, BUY IT!," make it have a long, detailed, factual talk with your rational self. Your prefrontal cortex will thank you.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:18 PM on May 21, 2009

Moving is a great suggestion. You don't have to actually move; just go through your stuff and decide what you wouldn't bother packing. It can be quite eye-opening.

Also a big help: Cut up the credit cards and use only cash. This works in a couple of ways: 1) You don't spend what you don't have, and 2) A wad of cash in your pocket is just as satisfying as Buy! Buy! Buy!, but without the remorse.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:39 PM on May 21, 2009

Don't go shopping. Don't go anywhere where you will be tempted to buy stuff. Online is...a problem, but it's not as easy to solve as "don't go anywhere near stores." But you have to think about it before you hit PayPal, so try to.

Try to wait before you buy stuff. When you want something, try waiting at least 24 hours before you buy it (if possible, this is not so easy if you are somewhere you won't be returning to and why I end up buying a lot of crap on vacation, because it's now or never). See if you still want it just as badly after 24 hours. Or try waiting longer if you can stand it.

Otherwise, that's all I got. I have the same problem as you do. Problem is, even after waiting 24 hours I usually still want it :P But at least I know I REALLY want it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:45 PM on May 21, 2009

Moving is a great suggestion.

And to clarify, my suggestion wasn't to just move, but to move yourself. The deal where the movers come first, pack up all your stuff, and then deposit all of the boxes in your new place -- that won't help at all. You must assess each possession.

My mantra during this activity is, When in doubt, throw it out.

And yes, definitely -- pay cash.
posted by Rash at 3:30 PM on May 21, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you so much for these answers. They are all best answers and have been very helpful. Thanks so much.
posted by Fairchild at 10:04 AM on May 22, 2009

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