How to stop wanting things: practical advice
June 5, 2016 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I want things. All the things. All the time. Things are fascinating and beautiful and shiny. My desire for things is so impulsive, and absorbs so much of my energy, it's maddening. I am seeking out practical advice - actions; habits; constructive methods for self-reflection that I can work on putting in place - to help me change my outlook on life and reduce the importance I place on possessing and desiring material things.

As always, full disclosure: I see both a therapist and a psychiatrist for CBT and medication in treatment of my anxiety, ADHD, depression. I've been discussing these issues with them, but am seeking additional insight.

I am very devoted to self-improvement, but time and time again I hit a brick wall when it comes to the impulse to buy and possess material things.

Absolutely and without a doubt, I buy things - and obsessively covet things - as a misguided form of self-medication (retail "therapy"). I'm all about better living through modern chemistry, but Western psychiatric medication - like everything else - has its limitations.

My desire to buy things seems, also, to be rooted in a kind of identity dysmorphia where I delude myself into believing that my identity is consumption-based, or that if I am not consuming things that say something about my 'identity' then my identity will unravel. "You are what you buy," to put it in fewer words. It's a pathetic, first-world problem, but I can only blame so much of my behavior on capitalism.

One positive change I've made is no longer having access to active credit cards (thanks to mefite-recommended Greenpath Counseling!). The accounts are closed and I am paying them down via monthly automatic bankdraft. This action, thankfully, disempowered much of my unnecessary spending.

But even if I'm not buying things, I am often obsessively researching or just obsessively daydreaming about things I want to buy. On bad days, it can occupy as much as 90% of my headspace. I hate that. It feels terrible. It's unhealthy, contributes to my anxiety, and works against my self-esteem - and yet I can't seem to stop doing it.

So, one part of this equation is eliminating my access to money and credit. I've already taken a big step forward by closing out my credit cards and entering into a debt elimination plan. I have a budget and bill-reminder system I use; I have been withdrawing a limited quantity of cash to have on hand for incidentals/necessities, and rarely use a debit card.

Another part is eliminating my access to advertising. This is tougher, because while I can block websites and send all the tempting 50% coupons to my email spam folder, advertising is ultimately omnipresent.

And yet another part is the day-to-day struggle of deciding how much effort I can put into creating and maintaining habits that will help me overcome the symptoms of my ADHD, and how often I need to give myself a break by accepting that the cost of certain 'convenience' items is worth it for my mental health. I can't do everything from scratch, nor should I spend money to have everything become simpler and more convenient, but figuring out how to balance to the two has been really, really tough.

The biggest issue here is eliminating that obsessive, 'scratch that itch' desire to BUY and HAVE things, which exists independently of whether or not I have access to credit or cashflow. I've come a long way, and would not generally describe myself as insecure, but there is without a doubt a deep-rooted insecurity - about "who I am" and "who I'm becoming" - that seems to be feeding my impulse to buy (or nurture my desire to buy) all the things I think are cool. I quit using Facebook a few years ago, and scarcely use other forms of social media (the ones that really encourages performing one's identity, anyway), so I have no idea to whom I'm trying to "prove" myself. Other than, well, me.

I've tried putting things I want to buy in an online shopping cart or on a wish list to give me that 'feeling' of buying something without actually buying it, but this doesn't change my obsessive desire to research and look at things I want to buy - in fact, it has a tendency to encourage it.

I'm also part of a Zen/mindfulness meditation group. It has helped my mental health and focus, but developing non-attachment? It's like playing a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. and it's wearing me out. Even after reading and thinking through this AskMe from eight years ago, I'm still not sure what to do about this. I just know I'm tired of feeling this way.

More than once I did try to join a Debtors Anonymous chapter but 1) there isn't one within 30 miles of me and 2) I disagree with the AA model, for reasons. I'm not trying to have a back-and-forth about why I disagree with the AA model; I am not in denial of my issues and I will be the first to admit that I am a spending addict, a shopping addict, and a consumption addict. I'm aware that Debtors Anonymous exists and would prefer to leave it at that while exploring other, practical solutions.

So, what other practical methods could I try? What other lifestyle changes could I make, and what other habits could I try to build? Are there different questions I should be asking myself, or more productive methods for examining these issues?
posted by nightrecordings to Work & Money (49 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered _making_ things instead of buying them?
posted by amtho at 10:33 AM on June 5, 2016 [10 favorites]

How's your media consumption? I've found I have an easier time with some of this when I am not watching TV or reading glossy magazines that have BUY MOAR as one of their primary purposes.

What's your peer group like? Is this a thing they share? If not, could you maybe get some support from them when you are having troubles like this? Have you had any luck with budgets (i.e. I can blow $100 this week on nonsense but when it's out I am DONE) or consumption with an eye towards things like sustainability? I'm not saying you have to, certainly, but the thing I am hearing from you is that part of the problem is a lack of decisiveness about a lot of these issues (and a bad feeling because of that) and maybe there are ways to create harder limits for yourself that seem more "real" somehow.

Have you tried meditation at home? It may be that being part of a group but participating in something where you have total control and do not need to buy a thing may help. Like even 10-20 minutes as part of a practice every day when you are not buying anything but also practicing getting out of the BUY MOAR mindset yourself can create space for yourself. I also found it helpful not as an end in and of itself but in learning to be at peace with, as you say, the line between being a DIY ascetic hermit and someone with problematic approaches to spending, buying and living with money.

You did not mention whether you have tried medication for this specifically because for this level of disturbing (to you) thoughts, there may be some options along an OCD path.

AA is not for me either but one of the things I found useful from it was the "Just for today" aspect. That is, you don't need to become a different person, you don't have to change your whole emotional makeup, but let's just not buy a thing today. Let's not research things you need right now. Let's fix a thing instead of getting a new thing this afternoon.

The other thing I took away from meditation directly and indirectly is that desire is the root of suffering. You certainly don't have to believe this, but it's a good mantra to myself when I am feeling weird or sad or empty, asking myself "what do I want?" and then, again "No, what do I REALLY want" and then sitting with that feeling instead of having to have that feeling make me go do something.
posted by jessamyn at 10:34 AM on June 5, 2016 [23 favorites]

For many people, it helps them to tell themselves: You can have that, if you still want it in a month. That means you can stop researching it (because that part is done), but you can't go and buy it. If after a month, you find yourself still actively wanting it, well, then maybe it's a good buy.
I have a feeling that this technique may not work for you because it's still centered around buying. So maybe this is a better option...

So you're a buyer. How about becoming a maker? If you see something you really want to have, could you make something that would scratch that itch? (In the case of electronics, that may be difficult, but you haven't told us what you buy.) If you want a silk scarf, are you interested in learning to paint silk? If you want a lotion or soap, wouldn't it be interesting to learn how to make your own? What about making your own infused liquors, leather belts, wooden bowls? Furniture? Clothes?
You'd learn stuff, you'd be less focused on having and more on doing, and you might very well end up with a cool hobby and great gifts for loved ones and friends. You would gain new insights and spend more time doing than wanting. You'd be less of a comsumer and more of a creator. And making things is, to many people, one of the most satisfying things you can do.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:37 AM on June 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

What if you explored a hobby that involves making things, in order to cultivate more creative thinking?

This can be problematic because many crafting hobbies also involve a fair bit of purchasing/stash building, so you'll need to put thought into what works for you.

Writing could be a good outlet, since you are obviously a good writer.

Origami is also fun, especially if you challenge yourself to create without the fancy papers. Modular origami from post it notes can be striking.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:39 AM on June 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

It sounds like your desire to shop is currently more of a problem (mental health wise) than actual shopping. You seem aware that online window shopping / researching potential purchases is a problem for you. I suspect that if you're able to stop doing that (or at least cut it down drastically), the obsessive thoughts & daydreaming will also lessen. I'd guess that that techniques to buy less / delay purchases are not going to be particularly helpful with this - you need to cut out the planning and thinking as much or more so than cut out the shopping.

I had to do something similar once - the issue was totally different (an eating disorder), but the symptoms were kind of similar (obsessively researching & reading about something unhealthy-for-me online in a way that took up WAY too much of my brain-space). For me, the first step was admitting to my therapist that despite being behavior free for a while, I was still spending hours a day reading blogs/websites/etc that directly played into my obsessions. It's not clear to me if you've told your therapist just how much space this occupies in your brain, but if you haven't, that's a good place to start - CBT can be really helpful with stopping obsessive thoughts and behaviors, and learning to mindfully redirect your thoughts when they go to the obsessive place. On the more practical side, I deleted all the bookmarks & RSS feeds that contributed to the problem, and came up with some new go-to websites for when I wanted to browse around online (this might be especially helpful for you if you need to use a computer for work and have that temptation all day). I also came up with more non-computer things in my free time. I like things along the lines of going for a walk or doing a puzzle while listening to music/a podcast (but be mindful of the podcast topic) or watching a movie while coloring - it's key for me to do something that keeps me busy mentally and physically in order to keep from drifting back into obsessive thought spirals.

I've found that thought patterns are harder to change than behavior patterns, but over time, new behaviors can lead to new thought patterns. It is difficult and slow, but doable. You seem very self-aware and thoughtful, and I'm sure that you will be able to make the changes you want to if you keep working on it!
posted by insectosaurus at 10:45 AM on June 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

I would disagree with the people who are suggesting making things, because then you just go from "buying things" to "buying things to make things".

(says the woman who has more cardstock than any one person should have)
posted by Lucinda at 10:50 AM on June 5, 2016 [51 favorites]

I was the executor of a loved one's will several years ago. I had to dispose of everything she owned in 36 hours. It truly opened my eyes to the fleetingness of life and the utter unnecessary nature of 99% of the things we possess. Our society encourages us to buy and store and consume, essentially, as a distraction from things we can't control. Maybe your issue would be helped by counseling, maybe by a closet organizer. But maybe, it's just a cold and clear eyed look at what you really want.

Meanwhile, if you have people who love you, think about how they won't have room for all of your stuff and will have to sell it, destroy it, throw it out or give it away. Although I was grateful that my loved one chose me to settle her affairs, disposing of the things that meant so much to her but had little or no meaning to me is something I don't wish on anyone and an situation I hope you don't have to reach to cure your obsession. The old adage is simply yet eternally true - you can't take it with you.

Quickly, a place to contemplate you is Gethsemani, a trappist monestary in Kentucky. Good luck.
posted by CollectiveMind at 10:55 AM on June 5, 2016 [12 favorites]

I know this isn't possible for some people because of work, but can you spend less time on the internet entirely? Because what you describe to me - while you characterize it as a consumerist issue - sounds like the exact same mechanism as the unhealthier flavors of fandom, porn consumption, or what I think of as "high-distraction surfing", in which an actual neurobiological payoff is the stimulation of flipping-flipping-flipping through information (often "novel" information, or seeking novelty and justifying it as being more-informed).

I agree with other suggestions that *making* is better than buying, EXCEPT!! I think Makerism is actually one of those infosnacky fandoms where you can browse and surf and watch thousands of videos and it's a constant cramming of novel "high-value" information and the potential (as with all hobbies) of extraordinary expenditures and never actually extract ass from chair and go do something. Real hobbies are great, and real hobbies require your eyes and hands, but watching 74 knitting videos is not a knitting hobby, nor is buying hundreds of dollars of yarn and not using them. So, yes, find a thing to do with your eyes and hands that isn't media consumption, but it needs to require no new supplies and you have to learn it from a book from the library or secondhand store, if you require instruction.

But really, on that note, I believe that "high-distraction surfing" is really just a way to avoid being in your own head, and you can break a habit but you're going to have to learn to stand being with yourself if you want to not replace it with a new addiction.

Spend less time on the internet, and spend some of that time in silence with yourself. Clean your living space (this is a highly repetitive non-novel task and if you are novelty-seeking chances are good you've got stuff you could be cleaning), go for walks, exercise, write longhand in a journal (one you already own, with pens you already own), and do at least part of those tasks with no podcasts, no TV on for background noise, no music. Practice having less information firehosed into your consumptionholes. It will be very hard at first, and then it will be less hard.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:57 AM on June 5, 2016 [108 favorites]

What do you want your sense of identity to be based upon? Put some energy into whatever that is. Read about it, do things related to it, journal about it.
posted by bunderful at 11:12 AM on June 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

I also love buying things, and wanted to stop. Here were my strategies:

1. NEVER go into a mall. Malls make you feel like all your stuff is shit and your life will improve by buying shiny new shit. Avoid them.

2. Sell your TV- no commercials. Stream things you want to watch.

3. Don't read magazines. Remove fashion, makeup, and design blogs from your reading habits. Read blogs about personal finance, working out, eating healthy, feminism, humour, etc, instead.

4. Media aimed at men is better than media aimed at women- more substance and less seductive advertising. If you really love magazines, try Forbes, Fast Company, Esquire, the Walrus, GQ, Harper's, Harvard Business Review, etc.

5. Don't just send advertising emails to spam- unsubscribe from all of them. Spending two hours doing that will save you hundreds of dollars.

6. Try making a commitment to buy all your clothing (except underwear, bathing suits, and earrings, due to health concerns) and most of your books secondhand. My shopping now pretty much only happens in secondhand stores, where there are fewer nice things in general, and fewer things that fit me. It also made me more creative and openminded about what I like- now my wardrobe is less trendy and more interesting. And furniture and housewares are really affordable, and often pristine, on Craigslist.
One secondhand shopping tip: knit clothing, like sweaters and t-shirts, tends to wear badly and not look good secondhand- knits get stretched, faded, and pilly very quickly. Woven fabrics are better. Avoid the "used knits" area.

7. Volunteer. You can read to kids at a hospital, mentor teens, serve in a soup kitchen- etc. Seeing people who have less than you will help put your life in perspective.

8. Make things. Doing crafts, learning to sew, learning to cook, refinishing old furniture- getting good at making things means store-bought goods start to seem uncreative and overpriced.

9. Pay attention to what you feel when you want to shop, and try to address the emotion with a different behviour pattern. For me, often it was after some kind of life situation made me feel insecure (for instance after a job interview). So whenever I felt that way, I started calling a friend and saying "I feel like crap, talk me away from shopping!" My funny friend would jokey-yell at me not to shop. She'd say, WHERE ARE YOU, DON'T YOU GO IN THAT SHOP, DID I HEAR A DOOR OPEN? GET OUTTA THERE NOW!! and we'd laugh, and then the convo would morph into a nice regular conversation and I'd feel loved and connected, so the urge to medicate with retail would pass.

10. When you do buy something, staple the receipt to the tag, and keep the item it in the bag until you actually need to use it. That way it's really easy to return it if you get buyer's remorse. I open packaging delicately and start reading books gingerly, so I keep things in re-sellable condition and if the item doesn't work or the book is boring, I can return it. I probably reconsider and return about 20% of the things I buy.

11. Do the Marie Kondo book- The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up. It is actually life-changing. Beyond just decluttering, it teaches you to think about what you actually want, which makes you want to buy less crap. Book is $25, spend 2 weeks going through your stuff- you'll probably be much less likely to buy random stuff afterwards.

12. Set a financial goal. Automatically pull $200 from each paycheque into a savings account you don't touch. Save it for a big trip or buying property or something similar. Having less disposable income = disposing of less income.

Good luck! It's hard not to be a consumer in a capitalist society! I have put a lot of thought and work into it and while I've improved a lot, I still sometimes slip and over-shop (usually when I find myself in a mall). But I think it's a great thing to be aware of and changing the retail-therapy behaviour makes you happier and wealthier!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:13 AM on June 5, 2016 [34 favorites]

Do you have a library card? Or could you find other ways to incorporate borrowing and returning new-to-you things into your life? I'm not a frequent library patron any more, but I'm pretty sure having a library card and weekly library trips made me substantially less obsessed about Acquiring Things To Keep, growing up.

Also if it appeals to you, I recommend growing plants from seed. Plants are space limited (you can't just put them anywhere, they need full spectrum light!) and grow at their own pace, and you can't just get them and neglect them and expect them to still be alive in the corner three months later. So no matter how plant-acquisitive you get you still have to be somewhat mindful about what you can reasonably take care of. If I wanted to scale up my plant habit much more I'd really have to go volunteer at a community garden where they'd be someone else's plants instead of mine, which would also be great.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:41 AM on June 5, 2016 [8 favorites]

I am very, very much like this.

First off: an emphatic nooooooo to the suggestion of making stuff. If you're addicted to buying stuff, this will just transfer your addiction into buying supplies. You'll find that buying the stuff is more satisfying than using it, and the stuff you do end up finishing will likely give you that "what do I do with this now that I have it?" letdown without the thrill of acquisition. I'm a crafter, and I love making things, but it will easily enable a stuff-acquisition habit.

The one thing that has helped me the most (besides, like, moving several times and having a baby and other things that are probably not practical solutions for you right now) has been to visualize the thing I want after I get it. Maybe there's an utterly gorgeous bottle of perfume I want, but it won't look so good cluttered up with half a dozen other bottles on my dresser. Or maybe there's a dress that looks amazing in the store window, but makes me look washed out and frumpy. Or it'll look good on me once and then sit in the back of my closet for five years, gathering dust and guilt.

Nothing in the world looks better once I own it. Nothing. Most of it loses its charm the moment it's out of the box. Taking this lesson to heart has let me leave so much on the shelf, where I can appreciate it from a distance, forever, and it can never disappoint me.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:01 PM on June 5, 2016 [33 favorites]

Would checking out a big stack of media (you can get DVDs and CDs and sometimes even e-readers in addition to the typical books and magazines) at the local library help satisfy some of your desires to acquire new things? What about browsing through the online catalog and requesting things from inter-library loan? As a bonus, you then have a bunch of media to consume with much less advertising in it than internet browsing or typical TV/music streaming.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 12:36 PM on June 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have this, and I agree with what everyone says re: making stuff, which is just an invitation to buy supplies instead of already-made things. Here's what I do:

If I find something I want, I put that something on a list. I call this "shopping list". I have no schedule to review the list or anything, but I find that making the list transfers the anxiety (if you will) of wanting something NOW into knowing that I will remember to buy it (because it's on the list!) when I'm next out & about, or when I'm next shopping online. The side-effect of this is that sometimes when I get to the shopping list, a week or so later, the BUY IT NOW anxiety/impulse has waned and I realize it's not something I actually need.

I read Marie Kondo's book and thought it was okay, but the part that resonated most with me was when she talked about our motivation for either holding on to old things or stocking up on new things, "just in case". When you live in a "just in case" mentality, you are unable to live in the present moment.
posted by Brittanie at 1:05 PM on June 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

eliminating my access to advertising. This is tougher, because while I can block websites and send all the tempting 50% coupons to my email spam folder, advertising is ultimately omnipresent.

The advertising industry uses exactly the same methods to persuade you that this particular lie is true as it uses to make you want to buy stuff. Yes, there exists an advertising-industrial complex. No, you don't need to be caught up in the wheels of it. Start by informing yourself (Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders, first published in 1957, is a good place to start) and make a genuine project out of rejecting advertising and advertised goods from your life.

It's not omnipresent. There are places you can go that have minimal to no advertising. Start an obsessive quest to track them down and visit them.

Think of the advertising industry as a man with a funnel deliberately ramming consumerism down your neck, and get angry.
posted by flabdablet at 1:31 PM on June 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

Iron your clothes and learn to make simple repairs like buttons and hems and maybe taking things in a little so they fit better. An iron (iron and ironing board are easy to find at a big secondhand shop) will make them feel new, fresh and crisp, and much more stylish and flattering looking. The clothes you already have are better than you think- they're probably just rumpled.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:48 PM on June 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

Make sure that you aren't using buying things as a reward system-- that you aren't working in the patterns of 'if I get through x onerous task I can buy y thing', or 'I have been soooooo good lately that I deserve to buy x', or 'things have been so shitty that I deserve to buy x just to have something good'.

If you identify any of those patterns, and you're using buying things as a reward to yourself, a very important piece in breaking the pattern is to come up with a different reward. If you're using shopping and buying as rewards and you stop that without having a new way to give yourself small rewards and incentives, you are going to feel miserable and cheated on some level, because you've stopped the thing you knew made you feel good and now what are you supposed to do when you've gotten through that task or things have gone terribly.

Sit down and think up ways you can reward yourself, take care of yourself, and be good to yourself without buying more things. How about experiences? If you get through x onerous task, or y thing is being really shitty, or you've been being really awesome lately, you will go to a pleasant place you don't usually go and do a fun thing you don't usually do-- sit under that tree on a nice day with a book, go to bed early in clean sheets with a bathrobe and cocoa, meet up with a friend on your lunch break. The key is that whatever you choose really has to feel like a reward. If you find that you simply can't think of anything that feels like a reward which doesn't involve buying something, talk to your therapist, who will absolutely be able to help you brainstorm.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 2:23 PM on June 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

I unfollowed any and all brands on Facebook/Twitter/email (I was following some for updates on deals, no more) and stopped using social media as much in general. Helped a lot.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:37 PM on June 5, 2016

The thing that helped me was taking trips and going camping. I learned to make do and appreciate the essentials and also get annoyed with unnecessary things that would weigh me down. Anytime I get the urge to have more nice things I imagine having a packing list for my regular life and remember I have everything I need.
posted by alusru at 2:48 PM on June 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

I love buying things but what I do is make a strict budget & stick to it.

I give myself $50 a week I can spend on any random crap I like without recourse. If it's an expensive thing I work my budget & save up for it at maybe a slightly higher rate by trimming stuff I don't consider as important, stop eating out that month say. If there are a lot of things I want I make a list & buy them week by week as my budget allows. The cool part of the whole list thing is it's surprising what you cross off of it when it finally come around to buying time. Oh that make up palette I thought was so cool, no i don't want that now, those cute shoes, well I found some others that do the job. I figure if I still want it by the time it hits the top of the list and I've budgeted for it then I buy it.

You are scratching your itch to buy things, in a mindful way that is not going to ruin your budget, because with the financial limit you find yourself really comparing well do I want x when it means I can't have y and z. or if I save to buy that fancy handbag I can't get that dress I wanted for another 3 months. It helps you realize just how little of the stuff you really do want.
posted by wwax at 3:09 PM on June 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

What worked for me:

1. Working in advertising and then leaving that job. While I was working there I self-medicated my stress with too much shopping, but now that I'm outta there and less stressed out, I suddenly very easily notice all of the tricky ad tactics other companies use that it's very easy to shrug them off and not give in to impulse shopping. I know you can't necessarily get a job in advertising and then quit it just to help your shopping problem, but I mentioned this to go along with what others have said: getting familiar with advertising tricks can really help you to prevent yourself from getting suckered into falling for those tricks. They're getting especially wily now with social media, bloggers, and even giving special rewards to top reviewers on their own websites. Educate yourself and be vigilant!

2. Going along with that -- cut yourself off from as much advertising as you can. Unsubscribe from promotional e-mails; quit going to shopping sites when you're bored; don't go to blogs that review products; limit your consumption of television and other media that come with advertising; etc. So much of my own shopping tends to happen merely because I found out something existed and then my brain suddenly HAD TO HAVE IT. Even as I get better about not shopping, I can trace certain recent impulse purchases to precise moments -- those jeans I got because I opened up the promo e-mail and saw there was a sale; those cosmetics were a new release and I stupidly went to the store to check them out; etc. When I don't know about things, it's a lot easier to avoid wanting/buying them. Cut yourself off at the earliest stage in the shopping process as is possible. (Like if you watch HSN or QVC? Don't watch ever again. Just don't.)

3. Instead of making stuff as others have mentioned (which will definitely just divert your shopping habits to craft supplies -- ask my old collection of sock yarn, which greatly outnumbered the actual number of socks I was able to knit), SELL STUFF. As in, your stuff. If you've got a shopping problem, then you've probably got a ton of great things at home that haven't gotten enough attention to have gotten used much -- so they've probably held onto some of their value! Get thee to eBay, or Craigslist, or a Facebook selling group, or even just a consignment shop and sell your things! When I started selling my own stuff primarily as a way to declutter and get something more than a measly tax deduction, I actually had a hard time spending the money I got from it. It felt like hard-earned money and I wanted to use it wisely, so I mostly just enjoyed the growing cash pile for a while and then deposited it to use for regular expenses. I also learned that I just love exchanging things for money, and it doesn't matter which side of the transaction I'm on! So I've learned to channel my energy into the direction that benefits me more -- selling, not buying.

4. As I sold more stuff, I got into Marie Kondo's great book about tidying up (mentioned above), and it really was life-changing in a lot of ways. I've had lifelong problems with acquiring stuff and being unable to let go of certain things, and her book really helped me to be more present and aware of my current belongings, which in turn helps curb the shopping urges because of how differently I think about my home environment and how much happier I feel when it's less cluttered with things I thoughtlessly bought and never really used. Give it a shot and see if something in there speaks to you!
posted by phatkitten at 3:16 PM on June 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

I made up my own 100-day challenge last year. I bought nothing for 100 days, as in no things. I could spend as much money as I like on eating out, haircuts, whatever, but nothing entered the house (other than food, meds, etc of course). I quite quickly dropped the habit of going into stores "just to see" or being stressed over things seeming like a good deal, too good to miss, since I simply would t be buying anyhow. Once or twice I borrowed an item from someone for a specific purpose, but I felt no particular hardship otherwise, in fact it felt quite freeing. Soon do it again I think!
posted by Iteki at 3:49 PM on June 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

The one trick I don't see on this list is to calculate your real hourly wage -- take your net, post-tax salary, add up the hours you _really_ spend working and getting to work, divide and there is your real hourly wage. Then consider if the things you are buying _or_ the time you spend shopping is worth it.

Ultimately, all we have on the planet is time. Do you want to have spent 4 hours of your life working to pay for one more purse? That's the question that helps me the most.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:33 PM on June 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

Are there common threads to the things you find yourself wanting? You say you've made some lists of things you desire--do they group together, by price point, by place you've seen them, by what you hope they'd say about you, by who you'd want to share them with? Like: I really want [x clothes] that look like that because everyone I see wearing them seems like they're confident and not bored at their job. Or: I want that [y kitchen appliance] because I love feeling proud about my apartment when my classmates come over.

I have gone through similar stretches of desirousness, and for me they're often symptomatic of anxieties or wants addressable by means other than buying stuff, once identified. Or even if they're not addressable, identifying them makes them less likely to take over my daydreaming self.
posted by miles per flower at 6:08 PM on June 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

Would doing the research and finding an item for someone else be satisfying? Because your obsession is the thing I hate most in the world, and I'd pay someone to find an outfit for the wedding I'm going to next month of it meant I didn't have to think about it for more than 5 minutes. In addition to using that power for good, interacting with people who aren't wired that way might be illuminating.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:49 PM on June 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I do a goofy thing sometimes where I'll go to, like, Pier 1... somewhere that has nice things that are shiny and cute, but not overwhelmingly compelling to me.... and total up the prices of the things I liked... and then congratulate myself on having "saved" $X by not buying it. But this method doesn't work in places that I really truly want the stuff, only if I mildly like the stuff!

Also, as someone said above, most stuff is pretty unappealing once you get it home. That's another thing to try - visualizing that purse just sitting in the closet with the other purses, the perfume or lipstick tossed in your drawer with all the rest of the crap. They work hard to make you see it in a very unrealistic setting, so you need to think about how it will actually be once it's not new and just another thing with all the things.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:05 PM on June 5, 2016

Move. A lot. I am so tired of movers commenting on how many books/whatever I have and the cost for extra hours of work that I'm getting obsessed with purging and make a very concious effort to consider every purchase extensively.

On a slightly more serious note, I posted a comment a long time ago about changing the things you buy. When I feel like compulsively shopping, instead of going to Nordstrom I go to Goodwill. I can usually find something cheap that scratches my itch that I can later get rid of with no guilt.
posted by bendy at 9:21 PM on June 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, avoiding advertising is key. Don't trust advertising - its sole purpose is to get you to spend money. Think of ads as a plea from an evil manipulator. Read Naomi Klein or Sut Jhally and get angry.
posted by bendy at 9:23 PM on June 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I also struggle with this and so far I've only learned to manage it through budgetting, as you have too, and limiting my time browsing various websites. I've found that the Self-Control app has helped a lot. Basically, it allows you to ban yourself from certain website for however long you want. I ban myself from google so I can't search some random items I suddenly decide I need to own.

I've also started to read a lot about minimalist lifestyles, and that's gotten me to start thinking differently about the stuff I own. It might not be your thing, but it's worth looking into. I like The Minimalists podcasts and blog.
posted by figaro at 9:24 PM on June 5, 2016

Spend more time at the library? Going on a "shopping spree" there and checking out a bunch of stuff helps scratch that itch for me.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:26 PM on June 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also if it appeals to you, I recommend growing plants from seed.

Warning: this can get kind of expensive too once you start researching beneficial microbes and organic soil amendments etc. (Source: I spent a ridiculous amount on my garden this year.)
posted by Jacqueline at 9:31 PM on June 5, 2016

I think people often buy things instead of doing things. Shopping, buying, researching, feels like doing something.

I've tried putting things I want to buy in an online shopping cart or on a wish list to give me that 'feeling' of buying something without actually buying it,

This is like going to the bar, ordering a drink and just smelling it, if you're an alcoholic.

Maybe don't try to stop yourself from buying so much as just try to have a completely different view. Do things instead of acquiring things.
posted by bongo_x at 10:22 PM on June 5, 2016

Similar to bendy's answer -- I had a lower-grade acquisitive-itis for a while, but I was also planning to make a big move overseas. So what helped me was immediately rephrasing every "I want this" to "Do I want this enough that I will pay to have it shipped to another country?" It turns out that a lot of the things I wanted I didn't want enough to move, even in theory, long before it was a reality that I had to deal with. It basically shut down impulse shopping for me, for years, and redirected shopping from "I want to have nice things and this thing right here, right now, is really nice" to "I need to have a basket to put things in in this drawer...oh hey, this shoebox will do fine."

Even if you're not planning a move, is there a similar criteria you can invent for yourself? Like picking an interior design theme and sticking to it come hell or high water (I like Art Deco. But I'm sticking with Mid-Century Modern. This is Art Deco and it's beautiful, but it doesn't fit the theme. Therefore... pass.), or deciding you no longer believe in single-purpose gadgetry (Although that cherry-pitter would be great during fresh cherry season, it's pointless 10 months out of the year, therefore...pass.), etc.? Some really firm preference on your part that you can codify into a shopping go/no-go absolute that you don't violate?
posted by sldownard at 12:14 AM on June 6, 2016

Something I've found very helpful is tracking all of my spending with You Need a Budget. I enter every transaction manually, which has helped me recognize patterns in my spending and generally makes me feel much more "centered" about my finances. Also, seeing the line on the net worth graph go up and up has been a huge motivator; obviously I know that shopping less = more money in my bank account, but seeing it quantified from month to month finally cemented that fact in my mind, and killed a lot of my desire to buy stuff.
posted by neushoorn at 1:05 AM on June 6, 2016

Unsubscribe from promotional emails and do what you can to stop catalogs from coming to your mailbox.

Also, very important: install an ad blocker in your browser. I recommend uBlock Origin for Firefox or Chrome. But I think any kind of widely-used ad blocker will do. These days, I'm surprised if I see an ad.

Perhaps try to cultivate an attitude of "sticking it to the man" when resisting advertising/buying? I usually vow not to buy a product/brand if they're too agressive with the advertising.
posted by gakiko at 4:37 AM on June 6, 2016

1. Visualise the Saturation Point. This is easier to do with food but you can fast-forward to the moment after your purchase when you feel regret, bloatedness, annoyance with yourself that you haven't stuck to your 'goal' of not consuming X, having a house full of shit that you don't need, your cluttered mind ... this takes a little time but you need to build up that shitty feeling you get from having made yet another purchase. Alternatively...

2. Do you have any sense of what you could be putting that money towards? Like a house? A car? A vacation? Even just knowing what 'space' and 'peace and quiet' feels like? It can be helpful to something that feels better or different for you to 'switch' to. Again, it takes time.

3. A question not a tip: do you think you buy this stuff to rid your mind of the obsessive thinking-about-it? Like it would sort of 'get rid it'?

4. You mentioned advertising but what else are you consuming in terms of TV, magazines etc.? Who are you spending time with? What are they talking about? Nothing is 'harmless' when it comes to any sort of addiction. You will also need to replace these things: find better 'judges'/ 'heroes'/entertainment etc.

5. I used to buy shitloads of crap and most of the above cut out my desire but the thing that really contributed was Pinterest. It sounds unlikely but 'pinning' pretty much replaces the buzz of 'buying' for me. I haven't bought a single thing i've saved on Pinterest. You realise after a while how soon items just become 'yesterday's thing'. Familiarity takes the sheen off everything.

6. Possibly impractical but have you considered getting rid of the internet? I don't have it - I use the one at the library (or work...) meaning that my time is very restricted. When your mind knows it can't have something, it stops asking (goodbye craving).

7. I only intended to write 2 and now i'm on 7. In keeping with the 'buying stuff to make stuff' thing - it sounds as if you do need another focus: a hobby of some kind to obsess over. I don't think obsession is a bad thing - it just needs to be focused on something more beneficial.

8. What do you want to leave behind when you pass on? How do you want to contribute to society? Who do you actually admire? This is sort of in keeping with 'who i am' and 'who i am becoming'. Can you think of a cooler, better, more interesting, giving-to-other-people identity?

This is all I have. Best of luck.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:07 AM on June 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Could you try to get joy by signing in the choir? Helping children with their homework? You can help grownups, too. You can help older people in many ways.

Also, about crafts: big part of art/craft classes' income comes from the selling supplies to you. The craft class itself is the advertising for supplies and "tool kits".
posted by Oli D. at 6:38 AM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

One tip I've gleaned from an "organizing for ADHD people" book - don't store things in opaque containers. Out of sight = out of mind. Keeping things out in the open (or writing exactly is in every container) helps remind me, "oh, I already have twelve thousand packages of cardstock, I don't need a twelve thousand and first."

(I'm curious, though - how many people who have provided answers here are ADHD? 'cause many of the answers display a lack of knowledge about what goes on in the ADHD brain.)
posted by Lucinda at 7:52 AM on June 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm a bit like this, particularly with clothes, since clothes are undeniably something that one must have and therefore can easily rationalize buying (although the utility of a given item of clothing is always debatable). Moreover, clothes are both explicitly marketed as, and universally treated as, an important way of conveying Who You Are. So that sleek and impossible jumpsuit, or whatever, seduces you with the promise that if you owned it, you would be the type of person who wears sleek and impossible jumpsuits which must also mean your life is hip and immaculate and not at all in shambles.

So one way of dealing with the clothes-shopping compulsion I have, is to allow it, but under very specific parameters. Which is to say, I almost exclusively buy clothes at secondhand stores - as others have pointed out, there is much more effort involved in finding something desirable, which alone is helpful because it takes away some of that overflowing shopping-energy. Second, because the prices are so low, I can get a heap of clothes for $50, which has the effect of completely recalibrating your expectations for what is reasonable to pay for clothing - I can't even shop at cheap fast fashion places like Forever 21 because I'm always mentally comparing their poorly-made goods to the lower-priced, higher quality goods I have found at thrift stores.

Lastly, perhaps the key element in my case, is that I have turned my tendency to buy things that don't fit/are unflattering/I will never have occasion to wear, into a source of income, by selling them on eBay. Obviously, this only works if the item is desirable in some way and in good condition, but it completely offsets the cycle where I would just buy the designer item on account of it being a "great deal" and then never wearing it.

I don't eBay enough for it to be a significant source of income, but the margins are excellent (usually well over 100% since the original prices are so low) and it feels like a much better way of indulging the consumerist itch.
posted by Aubergine at 8:57 AM on June 6, 2016

On preview, re Lucinda's comment, I am a diagnosed ADHD, although I couldn't even begin to figure out how much of my shopping habit is that and how much is other factors.
posted by Aubergine at 8:59 AM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sometimes I tell myself this, and sometimes it works:

"there will always, always be another sale"
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:28 AM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just throwing this out there in case there's a chapter near you: SMART Recovery is for anyone who has a habit they're trying to quit.

Most of the people will be there for drinking, but I've also met people with gambling addictions, and I wasn't the only person there for an eating disorder. It's scientifically based, no nonsense, actionable help training your brain out of following your old destructive habits and feedback loops.

They also have online meetings, if you're in an area without any physical meetings.
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:48 PM on June 6, 2016

Three things:

1. I agree with those above who say it is possible to eliminate the vast majority of advertising from your life.

Make a list of contexts and activities where you'll encounter little or no advertising. For example:

1. books
2. parks
3. jigsaw puzzles

You can spend an afternoon reading a book, or walking in the park, or doing a jigsaw puzzle, and be exposed to little or no advertising.

2. Since researching things is one of the behaviors you want to change, give yourself the challenge of trying things without researching them. Go to the library and go to the New Books section; pick up one book and check it out based only on the title. (You don't have to finish it; you don't even have to read the first page - but you might read it, and you might like it.) Pick up a couple of randomly-chosen CDs and DVDs while you're there. Bonus points for trying genres you don't know very well.

3. Learn more about the science of habit change. This summary of the three steps - reminder, routine, and reward stuck with me when I first read it. There's also evidence that it's much more effective to replace a behavior with a new behavior than it is to try to just stop doing something.

So let's think about some new behaviors you might prefer. You mentioned meditation, so that's one option. Are there other activities you might enjoy doing more? Reading, journaling, knitting, birdwatching, writing poetry, learning a language?

Now, let's pick one or two - say, meditation and writing poetry.

Next, let's come up with a trigger and a routine (or a few) . Maybe:

* at the start of my lunch break, I will meditate for five minutes
* when I get home from work, I will get a nice cool glass of water and sit down and write poetry for half an hour
* at 10 am every weekend morning, I will do a walking meditation for half an hour

And don't forget the reward - think of something you really enjoy, that is blissfully ad-free, that you can treat yourself to whenever you practice your new habit.

You are doing great, and you can totally do this. Imagine how much calmer and more pleasant your life will be when you're practicing these calmer, self-chosen habits!
posted by kristi at 5:51 PM on June 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

Might help to spend some time going through the things you already own. Though I live in a climate with no strong seasons, I put away most of my short sleeved shirts for the cool season and put away most of my long sleeved shirts for the warm season. This has actually been psychologically really fun because when the seasons change I bring out all my cute tank tops and - oh, neat! I love this blue one! - it's always a nice surprise.

I also think about how to repurpose what I have now to look different, different outfit combinations and accessories that I already own.

It sounds like you are dealing less with "I really wish I had another cute outfit" and more with compulsive shopping, though. For that, I can't help so much - therapy and all the little CBT tricks are all I can recommend.
posted by Lady Li at 1:15 AM on June 7, 2016

This is me! I think I am a little better, but I still feel the struggle. Thank you for being able to articulate this, I am sure it wasn't easy.

I agree with the person that said try to wait to buy things if you can. For me, this isn't the most natural skill and it is something I have to work hard to cultivate.

One thing that works for me is logging into my bank account and looking at my past purchases. Are there any that I am embarrassed by? If someone I respected saw these purchases, would I be embarrassed? Do my purchases fit in with my goals and values?
posted by whereismyrobot at 8:13 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've been like you. There's a dopamine rush that you get with the obsessive research, the endless thinking, the finally buying the thing. I've been decoupling myself from that slowly with meditation, and spending more time thinking about being more responsible with my finances.

However, the biggest factor that is changing my thinking lately is that I'll need to move again soon, and every single time I move, the packing, the unpacking, the realizing I just have TOO MANY THINGS AND OMG WHY DID I DO THAT AND I HAVE TO CART THEM ALL TO THE NEW PLACE OR SPEND TIME SORTING AND DONATING WHYYY is a feeling that I keep recalling over and over again every time I get that tingle of wanting to get something new.

Here are a couple of questions I ask myself now when I get that tingle of NEW THING:
1) Do I really need this thing? What is that need?
2) Do I already have anything similar to this thing?
3) Will I be frequently using this thing 5 years from now?
4) If there was a fire, would I be devastated if this thing got destroyed?

I also no longer let myself impulsively purchase, I need to spend 48 hours on it before I'm allowed to buy. Usually the urge goes away after 36 hours.

It's also been helpful channeling that obsessive part of my personality into other things that do not cost money. YMMV on what those things are. When I'm consumed by something else I'm not thinking about researching new cameras and lenses or handbags or clothes...
posted by raw sugar at 7:51 PM on June 8, 2016

I have a few things which, in combination, dramatically reduced my spending.

1) When I found myself really wanting something dumb, I would instead put the cost of the item into my retirement fund. It felt awesome to see a monthly statement full of me responding to temptation with good decisions.

2) I learned a lot about advertising and marketing. Your library almost certainly has "Influence" by Cialdini. An especially gross but effective bit of knowledge was learning how direct response advertisers do their thing, which numbed me to many of their techniques.

3) I stopped watching live TV. We still have a TV which streams NetFlix and HBO (total cost: $20/mo, so it's cheaper than cable)

4) I got more ambitious. I identified things I wanted to be good at, but wasn't, and then selected one of those things for serious effort.

5) I started getting rid of things I own on eBay or by donating to the charity shop, and noticed how much better my home is with less stuff in it. This took many many passes.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 3:22 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't have an answer but this is so me and I thought I was one of the worst people in the world for being like it and wanting things. I've just been through a course of CBT and wish I'd thought to bring this up because I can see now that, rather than just having been a jealous greedy mare all my life, it might actually have something to do with the mental illness that I have suffered most of my life. Reading your article has made me think seriously about it and about finding ways to address whatever it is that makes me like it. Thank you so much for your candour and for sharing this - just knowing that I'm not the only person on earth who's like it makes me feel seriously better ;-).

I don't think it's a case of finding ways not to spend money but a case of finding out what is behind the having to have everything whether it be insecurity or depression or lack of self esteem or something completely different. I'm a knitter and have to have all the yarn I see even though I could knit for 24/7 until I'm 140 and not run out of the yarn I have already. And if I start another hobby, I have to have everything for that also. And maybe not one of a thing but two in case one wears out! Now that I've thought about and read what you and others have written, I think it's addressing the underlying cause that will solve the problem. Hope you get to grips with it and can find the answer that helps you best.
posted by Michele1606 at 9:33 AM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

@Michele1606 - hugs and hugs and hugs to you, we are definitely not alone! If you ever want a "say no to buying things" accountability partner, I'm serious when I say: please MeMail me.

I wanted to stop by and say THANK YOU to everyone who answered. I did mark Best Answer to the responses with information that I found especially surprising and challenging, or that served as a good reminder to act or think in a way I'd maybe tried before but had since neglected.

(But, if I could only mark only one Best Answer, it would be Lyn Never's. I read that and, well... shiiiit.)

This has been one of my most eye-opening AskMe's, by a long shot. I have ahead of me a lot of hard, but worthwhile, work. You guys are the best.
posted by nightrecordings at 5:09 PM on June 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

« Older Can I still plug a mouse into a laptop with broken...   |   how do you make the jump to self employment? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.