help me buy less stuff
November 30, 2019 3:49 AM   Subscribe

I enjoy buying things for myself... and I hate this fact about myself! For me, retail therapy really is therapy. How can I change this around and become more thoughtful about my purchases? I don't want to be a slave to capitalism, but acquiring new 'stuff' makes me feel good. How do I stop wanting things?

TL;DR: Buying and owning good-quality stuff makes me happy. But at the same time I feel very anxious and guilty about spending. How do I stop wanting to buy things?

I don't work in a well-paid sector but after many years of toiling for peanuts I am finally at a level of seniority where I make good money.

I have a really contradictory attitude towards buying things. I love to buy nice things (after lots of research). My life has actually been improved by acquiring more expensive, better quality things because they're, well, better quality and last longer and do the thing they were made to do better than cheaper versions of the same thing. Owning good-quality things makes me feel like an adult. It makes me feel like: yeah, I deserve to have nice things! I wish I could only buy the good-quality stuff I absolutely needed. The problem is, I feel like I want too much.

I should give some context: As a younger person my spending habits were very much informed by family attitudes to money. My (late) dad didn't want me to get a credit card for ages, because he felt that I should live a zero-debt lifestyle. He was a sensible spender, but I inherited from him a sense of vague anxiety and guilt about spending on anything that wasn't necessary to my actual survival as well as a fear of getting into debt. I also had family members who spent too much on unnecessary things and DID get themselves into debt, so that was quite a logical fear.

I no longer live a zero-debt lifestyle. I don't think my credit card debt is unmanageable, but as you can imagine, being in credit card debt at all gives me a lot of anxiety and guilt.

I feel like a lot of my problems and guilt about money would go away if I were stronger in the face of marketing and only bought what I absolutely needed. But I am easily swayed by ads on social media. My friends in general are slightly better-off than I and also own nice stuff, so I am influenced by them ("Oh, Martha recommended this brand of lipstick, I should get it because Martha always looks great"). Where possible I do buy things second-hand, but it's not possible with everything.

So my question: how do I stop wanting things? How do I separate the sensible, valid purchases that will truly improve my life from the rush of acquiring stuff which I don't need? How do I remain stronger in the face of social media marketing, or seeing my friends acquiring things that I also want to own?
posted by unicorn chaser to Work & Money (35 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
If you feel yourself wanting (not needing, but wanting) to buy something, tell yourself to wait a week. If you still really want it after that, you can buy it. In many cases, you'll find that you don't care anymore or have already forgotten about it.

(For some people a week is too short. In that case, try two weeks.)

Try to find a good replacement for the 'therapy' part of retail therapy. Make it an experience rather than a thing. Something that you enjoy and is good for you. Maybe a cup of your favourite tea, or a walk outside.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:09 AM on November 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

I have this same impulse. I use a three prong approach:

1) I never buy anything without thinking about it for a while. When I want to buy something, I add it to my Pinterest shopping list instead, it gives me that buzz of shopping and searching and collecting without spending money. After a cooling off period I normally forget about it, I remember very few of these things a month later.

2) I spend less time looking at stuff. Unsubscribed from the marketing emails, little to no social media so no adds, no recreational shopping. I find other hobbies to scratch that same itch - DIY ideas, fancy baking, looking at interior design sites (I just like looking so it doesn't prompt me to want to own any of it).

3) A strict budget for "unnecessary" purchases, so I have to think carefully about what I do want to get each month. Buying lots of small miscellaneous stuff means no nice new sheets. Everything I buy means I can't have something else. It encourages hesitation and waiting.
posted by stillnocturnal at 4:09 AM on November 30, 2019 [15 favorites]

It’s not so much the stuff that’s the problem, that’s more about where you get it, how expensive, how often.

Consider cultivating an interest in thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales etc. You can get really nice stuff for a lot less, but it takes a lot longer, and maybe like many you can learn to enjoy the process and the hunt. I have a $100+ pair of boots I scored from the thrift store for $6 and I am inordinately proud of that .

Also consider learning to make things. Knit, crochet, woodwork, soldering, clay, wire work, etc. many of these have simple kits and plans for common items, and again you can end up with stuff that is nice if you enjoy the process.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:31 AM on November 30, 2019 [9 favorites]

As someone who doesn't buy very much, I tend to ask a few questions when I see something I like:

Am I just glad this thing exists in general? Is it funny, or amazing, or beautiful? If so, I don't have to own it to appreciate that. I can take a photo of it, or send the link to people to show them how great it is.

Do I like the way this thing looks here in this shop (eg. How it is displayed, or alongside other things in a set, etc?) If so, I remind myself it would look different at my place in a different context. But maybe I can learn some general design lessons that I can apply to my own stuff.

Is it a thing that I might want or need in some specific context at a later date (like more than a couple of weeks from now)? If so, I can take a picture, or save the link, and buy it then. Even if the price is higher then (not often the case), I save enough money from the things I turn out not to need that I don't buy, that this approach is one I can afford.

Most impulses I have to purchase something turn out to be the first or the second of these, though. It's just neat and I want to show it to someone. Or it is displayed really nicely in this specific context but would look different in my house / on my body etc.
posted by lollusc at 4:35 AM on November 30, 2019 [23 favorites]

Best answer: My life has actually been improved by acquiring more expensive, better quality things
Owning good-quality things makes me feel like an adult.

I would try to figure out what other areas of my life I’d like to improve on. Deeper relationships? Spirituality? Fitness goals? Note that none of these, other than exercise, may give you the quick “feel good” hit that shopping night. I’d try to frame these long term goals the same way you frame shopping: you’ve successfully built yourself a nice nest, slowly and piece by piece. Now continue to tackle other goals slowly and piece by piece.

For me, retail therapy really is therapy.
No snark- have you tried actual therapy?
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 4:37 AM on November 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

I no longer live a zero-debt lifestyle. I don't think my credit card debt is unmanageable, but as you can imagine, being in credit card debt at all gives me a lot of anxiety and guilt.

I would lean into this. We also like nice things and spend in our household but the one line we don't cross is that we never carry a balance on our credit cards because that interest payment just increased the cost of whatever it is we bought that month.

The way we get around this is to only buy things out of a bucket of money that's designated for unnecessary, but makes our quality of life better expenses (after all other required budget items). We budget for it monthly, and if the bucket doesn't have enough money, the thing goes on a wishlist until we do have enough money. More often than not by that point the thing is no longer is a thing we want, or is supplanted by more important things.

After a couple months of discipline in this way we found the little high of buying the thing in the moment because you want it is dulled a bit because none of the reasons you come up with to buy the thing overcomes the fact that we don't have the money for it at the moment. You also start looking at that bucket of money more closely and really questioning whether the thing is worth buying compared to other things.
posted by Karaage at 5:11 AM on November 30, 2019 [17 favorites]

Every time you see something you want that isn't something you need, put it on a list (I use the notes app for this). Have a set monthly budget for treats/non-essential items. At the end of the month, assuming you have sufficient money left in your bank account, pick an item/s off the list that fits the budget and buy it/them. You can roll money over if you want, but you can't borrow from future months. Don't buy anything off the list until the end of the month, this is a once-a-month practice.

I've had a list of 'Wants' for about 18 months now, and it's fascinating to see the stuff I put on there a year ago, didn't buy, and no longer give a shit about owning. And the other things which I did buy and am so glad I own. I sometimes move stuff up and down the list to create priorities, drop things off the bottom onto a list of 'stuff I used to want but don't any more', keep track of which items I bought each month. All of that slightly scratches the itch of wanting to buy right now. And the anticipation of knowing that I really might get to buy something I want at the end of the month, rather than endlessly turning over in my mind whether I ought to buy it or not, is kind of exciting.

It makes it all feel much more like conscious spending rather than pointless impulse buying, and I really appreciate it when treat day comes around and can look at the list and wonder what I'm going to get myself.

(I'm not sure how to square this with being in credit card debt - I generally pay my cc off each month and treat money only happens if I have actual liquid cash of my own, which also helps me feel Not Guilty about treating myself).
posted by penguin pie at 5:12 AM on November 30, 2019 [23 favorites]

Any credit card debt at all is a slippery slope, and you're wasting money paying interest on that "manageable" debt that you could be putting into a short term whim spending account.

First thing: pay your credit card(s) down to zero, and get into the habit of paying the full statement balance every month. There is no reason outside of a true major emergency to ever carry credit card debt.

Then once you're back to zero owed, direct deposit a small amount of your paycheck (I do $50 a month, this number may be different for others) into a separate "spending" account. This is my follow my whims, whatever the heck I want money. It's not for regular purchases. It's a planned amount for dumb shit just to make me feel better about life.

Sometimes I spend it, sometimes I don't. But since I've specifically deferred paycheck money for whim spending it's planned in budget, and I don't have to beat myself up for buying a silly t-shirt from an Instagram ad.
posted by phunniemee at 5:19 AM on November 30, 2019 [19 favorites]

I found that Pinterest almost completely eliminated my impulse/therapy buying. Turns out just being able to acknowledge liking things, “own” them into folders, and occasionally revisit is enough. Like Penguin Pie, I also find the things I liked but did not buy fascinating in retrospect. Once in a great while I will break down and purchase something that I’ve loved for years, but usually I’m relieved to have not bought it.
posted by apparently at 5:25 AM on November 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Listen, you’ve gotten lots of advice on how to manage debt and keep from buying stuff you don’t need, but I need to come in and say that being very anxious about spending money is not necessarily a good or healthy place to be in. People like to laud it as “you’re so money smart and anti-consumerist” or what the fuck ever, but if you are truly feeling anxious and guilty over buying high quality items that improve your life, that’s not money smarts, just plain old anxiety and feeling undeserving. My partner is like this. They grew up poor, with very frugal parents, and deeply internalized the idea that spending money is Bad and spending money on things just to enjoy them is even Worse.

You need limits, but you shouldn’t go to the other extreme either. My partner will put off buying things that will improve their life for YEARS because they feel anxious and guilty about it. Once they do buy it, though, they almost never regret it, because these are things they really want. They just feel like they aren’t “allowed” to spend money on things just to make themselves happy. People on Metafilter like to talk about how stuff can’t make you happy, and that’s true—stuff ALONE can’t make you happy, but it can improve or work with other areas of happiness in your life. The purchases I have found most valuable are things like:

- Craft supplies to let me foster my creativity
- Clothes that make me look good for my partner
- Board games to play with friends and family
- Blankets and slippers and things to make me feel more comfortable and therefore better able to focus because I’m not busy being cold/having bad sensory times
- Cooking tools that make food more efficient leaving more time to spend with my partner after a long day at work

Etc. It’s not bad to buy things to make yourself happier. I think it is important to think about how those things connect to what you value in life—creativity, romance, relationships, whatever—and how they will help you in those areas. But also, sometimes it’s okay to just buy the lipstick because you like it and it makes you feel good. It’s your money and only you get to decide whether you should feel guilty about spending it or not. I think you should spend some time thinking about whether you actually regret the purchases you’ve made, or just feel like you don’t deserve them. Because those are two different beasts.
posted by brook horse at 6:04 AM on November 30, 2019 [44 favorites]

I used to be like you. Here's what helped -
1. Make a list of things you really want to do that you need to save money for. For me it was a trip to Asia and a move out of state. I gave myself a year to save for these things and whenever I went to spend money I thought about whether I wanted to have the item or go on my trip. Sometimes the item won out but usually not.
2. Put your credit card in a safe place that you don't have easy access to. Delete saved credit cards from phone and computer.
3. Make a Pinterest board of things you want. Someone upthread suggested this too and I really recommend it. It scratches that itch like you acquired it.
4. This is not really advice obviously just a comment - I married an extremely cheap person who earns below poverty line money but has deluded himself into thinking he's rich and wants for nothing. Like he's bought a new pair of fishing boots at walmart and that's it for new clothes in like 3 years. But he has an attitude like he is living large because he saved all of his money and bought a house with 25% down. It's a major major MAJOR attitude shift than the one I had and the one you are describing. I have mostly come around to his way of thinking and it's honestly freeing.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:21 AM on November 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm on Team Dad, so I'll try to channel that. I think you had some deferred spending to do. Maybe you needed a good bike, quality household goods. Honestly, I wish I'd spent more on music most of my life. But being in debt for consumer goods is expensive, even if it's nice to have a new down comforter. Being debt-free feels better than most possessions. Having an emergency fund feels great. I'm in the process of retiring, and it would not be possible if I hadn't saved or had debt. The American desire for consumer goods and perceived luxury is a significant driver of Climate Crisis.

Retirement planning and saving is a critical adult task, as are having and following a budget, having financial goals, having an emergency fund.

A lot of buying stuff to feel adult is inculcated by marketing and peer pressure. You have nice stuff now. Consumer spending and accepting debt is a habit. You primary question is How do I stop wanting to buy things? along with being in credit card debt at all gives me a lot of anxiety and guilt
Shop less. Put stuff in your online cart, but don't pull the trigger. When you are on Instagram and see an influencer, unfollow them unless they're a real friend. Maybe take up a new hobby that might require some initial spending, but will be a good alternative to buying.
Use the stuff you have and enjoy it. Cook more; that's a genuinely adult skill. Being able to make a great cake for Martha's birthday is good friendship.
Read the Marie Kondo book.
I have a (small)house full of books, projects and stuff. Not gonna declutter. But I try to follow her Shinto sense of appreciating the stuff I have. And I try to organize it and store it sensibly, not easy.
Do Stuff that isn't shopping. Go hiking, learn to play guitar, learn French. Skills have huge value. Making beer has costs, might break even if you get good at it, and you make new friends who make beer, or whatever other hobby.
Think of being debt-free as a gift to yourself. Things feel nice, but that's a treadmill - there will always be nicer things to want. Read some Personal Finance blogs

Don't feel bad about where you are right now, but do try to set financial goals, make a budget, pay down debt, and spend meaningfully. My parents grew up in the Depression. I saw people's finances ruined by the great Recession. There's a balance between being hyper-frugal and spending too much. You can find it.
posted by theora55 at 6:37 AM on November 30, 2019 [8 favorites]

I, too, was you, and still am to a degree. Such excellent advice given above!
I'll add:
Do like the Europeans do. Concentrate on owning fewer things, and better things. Sounds like you've got the better things part down.

Practice one-in, -one-out. Oh, you love that fine handbag with little feet on the bottom! Fine, but give away your current handbag. I say give away, not "sell"' because if you can afford to buy a fine red leather doctor's bag-style purse with beguiling tiny brass feet (not that this means anything to *me*, you understand) then you can afford to pass your beloved current fine handbag on to someone else. You don't need to profit from it.

Also, there's this basic thought: the less you own, the less you have take care of and keep clean.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:11 AM on November 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

I am currently downsizing, getting rid of things I don’t need to simplify my life. One real shocker is that my “nice things” are close to worthless on the second hand market. I’m mostly giving things away instead of selling them because selling them is just not worth it. If you’re spending money you don’t want to, check ebay sold listings to see what your things would be worth if you ever truly needed the money you’re spending now.

Also, don’t feel ashamed about your credit card debt, but try to get rid of it as soon as possible. Are you putting anything away for retirement? Are you saving in case you lose your job or become sick and can’t work? Would you like to own a house if you don’t already? Can you feel good about taking care of yourself with more financial security instead of things?

And are there non-things you’d like? Do you want to travel? Do you want to take lessons of some kind? Do you want to give money to causes you care about? You don’t mention children. Do you want them someday?

Remember also, you live in a culture designed to get you to want more than you have. There are whole careers devoted to getting people to spend more money. It’s so easy to fall into that trap. It’s great that you’re thinking about this now and working toward finding your way out.
posted by FencingGal at 7:40 AM on November 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

I've struggled with this kind of thing myself. I'm the child of hoarders, married to a child of people who spent fairly freely, living in a consumer age. I've gone through so many phases, so first, be aware that you don't have to get this "right" forever. I do think though, if shopping is for you about the pleasure of shopping/acquiring, and not about actual points of need, then it's a good time to look at that.

Here's some of the thinking that has helped me at various points:

- calculate your real hourly wage and calculate the cost in your life hours. (This calculation stopped me eating at restaurants/doing takeout often, especially with a family of five.)

- Figure out how many of X thing you need total. I worked in women's magazines which resulted in at one point me having a bin full of nail polish, which was...disgustingly wasteful. One thing I love about Marie Kondo's method is that you gather all the X things from everywhere and put them in a pile and look at them. I decided that in my life, the maximum number of shades of nail polish I need in my life at any given time (in my new industry) is...5. I currently have 8 thanks to gifts, but I won't buy any more until I'm back at 5.

- The One Product To Change Your Life does happen, but less often than you think. For me, upping the quality of my shoes has been life changing (I grew up in bargain-basement sneakers), but it also means I don't buy them as often because I don't have 4 pairs that give me blisters in the cupboard, never mind that they last longer. But sweaters, I buy cosily used at the thrift shop.

- Declutter regularly. Do not tolerate things at the backs of closets that don't get touched for over a year...this will teach you a lot, right away, about what is really happening to the things you're buying.

- Don't shop. This will depend on where you live, but I have substituted a habit of shopping as visual/artistic input with actual attendance at galleries and museums and shows and I have seen so many amazing things now. I also go for nature walks. Similarly, now that my social media is my own again, I mostly follow artists, writers, and photographers on Instagram, not influencers.

- This last is kind of weird but here goes. When I decided to try to stop what had been a slow weight gain over 15 years, I realized I was very uncomfortable with the idea of feeling hungry. Like, for the last 10 years or so, I had treated feeling hungry like a national emergency and I was investing actually a lot of effort into never feeling it, including food and snack preparation and carrying. So for a few months I experimented with letting myself feel hungry for 2, 10, 20 minutes. It really made me realize that I needed to contribute to food banks, because feeling hungry for 30 minutes is fine...for a day is not okay. I feel like letting myself feel hungry is an important experience to staying a responsive and moral human being, because it connects me to the parts of the world -- and indeed, the entire planet we are plundering -- physically.

For things, I realized that I also was operating from a strange scarcity mentality...buying and hoarding so that I would never be without 2 raincoats, 4 pairs of scissors, bowls in the Right Shape for every serving that I would never betray my vulnerability by serving olives in a cereal bowl, or having to put plastic bags inside a wet pair of boots. In other words, I was insulating myself from the reality of millions if not billions of human beings, and making sure I both was and looked like someone who was Not Lacking. Lacking in really, every sense.

Now, I have kids and a house and I still have dishes for serving olives, but at the odd moment when I don't have X or I have a Not The Best X, I try to welcome that experience in order to deepen my commitment to social justice, anti-poverty, and environmental...I won't say activism, but awareness and at least support. When my son's boots were wet and I realized I hadn't bought a back up pair, and that made me look like a bad mom (but luckily I have been poor enough as a kid to know about the bag trick), the result was that I bought three additional pairs - one second-hand for him, two brand new ones for our local shelter.

Wow that got ranty but...I guess what I'm saying is, you can also enjoy the feeling of not having the best/right thing.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:03 AM on November 30, 2019 [53 favorites]

I also love shopping, but I find that decluttering (like the Konmari Method, or the method in this book that predates Marie Kondo) actually gives me some of the same kind of satisfaction.

When I shop, I focus on getting a good deal on high-quality items as part of the hunt...when I started wanting a set of Heath dishes, for example ($36+ a plate), I put an alert on Craigslist and just waited until I found an absurdly low price from someone who was moving. I still go to stores and do support local businesses when I can, but for more expensive items, I almost always buy used or on deep sale. There are also environmental reasons to buy used.
posted by pinochiette at 8:07 AM on November 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

I like browsing in shops. Instead of buying I will take a picture of the item with my iPhone. So in a way I’m bringing it home but not using it or purchasing it.

If the item is still nagging at me a week later when I look at it in my pictures folder I will return to the shop to buy it.

The “photo trick” saves me a LOT of money when I travel. I snap a photo of potential souvenirs, artwork, architecture, landscapes. I bring home photographs, not clutter.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:31 AM on November 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm wondering if you can scratch some of the satisfying itch of Having Quality Things via maintenance on the items you actually own. Reseason that cast iron, mend that tiny hole in your favorite wool sweater, sharpen that chef's knife? I spent several hours on Black Friday sewing an elbow patch onto a really well loved Merino wool hoodie I bought 7 years ago, and have painstakingly repaired from dog chewing, moth attacks and now my pokey pokey elbows because it is The Perfect Jacket. I'm not even particularly skilled at sewing, tbh, I just don't want to give up on this item of clothing because it fits so well.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:34 AM on November 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Here are a few ideas that helped me a great deal:

1) We worry so much about what we shouldn't spend money on. Instead, ask yourself what you buy that you rarely regret. For example, for some it's books, others it's art classes or home improvement projects. Then you can steer your funds rather than just putting on the brakes.

2) When you see something in a shop you really want to buy, make yourself exit the store. It will still be there, and if you really want it you can always go back in. However, you may find that once you're outside the place you no longer feel as strong a pull.

3) Reframe savings and investments so they are also a thing that you possess. Chip away at the credit card debt and set up an automatic savings plan that you can watch grow. Cultivate and care for your investments just like you do for your physical stuff.
posted by belau at 8:36 AM on November 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

I don't know. It sounds like you have a hobby that you enjoy, that brings you pleasure and improves the quality of your life, and that isn't negatively impacting your finances. Hobbies cost money. Why don't you just give yourself a monthly allowance to enjoy your hobby?

You don't have to make yourself wrong for this or feel horribly anxious and self-flagellate over it. Fwiw I don't know if it's possible to stop wanting to buy things. Most people like buying things. That's why things get sold.

I do tend to make a lot of amazon wishlists that scratch a bit of that "gotta have it urge" and later forget I ever wanted the thing so if you're really set on this maybe that will help you.
posted by windykites at 8:42 AM on November 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There is nothing wrong with wanting things. Objects and clothes and accessories can be beautiful and fun. I second the idea of cultivating a very selective master list of items you want (such as 10 things that are in a realistic price range) and give yourself years to acquire. Be more discerning (it sounds like you are) and your objects might satisfy you for longer.

Just for fun (and practicality) maybe you could adopt the "old money" way of spending and style. Be frugal. Wear the nice things you have to death, while at the same time keeping impeccable care of them -- such as having your shoes resoled. Be smart and pay off your debt and acquire more money so that when your fine leather loafers cannot walk another step you have the money to buy a new pair and wear them again for years. Wear your cotton cable sweaters or khakis or lace up boots (or whatever) year after year. New can be gauche. New can be too try- hard.

My aesthetic has always been "nothing too flashy or showy or trendy" so it's easy not to want a lot of the things I see in fast fashion or fashion blogs, although the things I want are usually more expensive because they last. I have to wait because I have a middling income.
posted by loveandhappiness at 8:48 AM on November 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

Best answer: A couple more thoughts -- nothing profound. A new lipstick, or any product or object, cannot transform. They can beautify but that's where it ends. They cannot deliver us belonging, personality, or even sex-appeal. If we are looking to enhance ourselves (our personality of "self") with objects, or products, as soon as we buy something, we start wanting again. Knowing that objects are fun and are nice too look at while also knowing they can never give us the things humans want --connection, love, and interesting lives.

An interesting life comes from cultivating your mind and going out and doing things and being with people or working on your hobby or art or new enterprise with passion.

On cosmetics:

Cosmetic companies are very smart in their marketing. New launches and products come at lightning speed. It's basically all the same colors and formulations in new packaging. There is nothing new under the sun. The reason people want the new Dior lipstick is because a beautiful girl is wearing it and it looks so gorgeous and if we have that color on our lips we will be gorgeous too. We are being fooled by a fantasy. You can find all of these colors, more or less, in CVS. Most makeup junkies already own all the colors they will ever need in a palette they purchased five years ago.

Cultivate a look and stick with it. Find one shade of lipstick that flatters and stick with it -- at least for a while. Give yourself a year. Make it a game -- an experiment. Audrey Hepburn wore one lipstick color and brand. Maybe you don't like lipstick. Maybe lipstick doesn't suit you. Maybe you like chapstick.

If you don't have the budget, buying expensive cosmetics (excluding perfume) is one of the dumbest ways to spend money (I have been lured many of time by packaging and fragrance). Go for the tried and true grooming products that aren't expensive. Like Dove soap, Loreal Voluminous mascara, Palmer's cocoa butter lotion, and Rose salve.

I am speaking for myself -- Instead of watching YouTube or Instagram or influencers get a new obsession. My obsessions are reading, audiobooks, cooking, podcasts, magazine articles (not about stuff) and sometimes exercise. Find something that you can focus on and enjoy that doesn't cost much money. I was never into Instagram (I'm old) but years ago I was on a YouTube and fashion blog kick and many of the YouTubers I liked to watch were fashion and beauty channels. Watch these videos and read these sorts of blogs long enough and you're going to want. I stopped watching. Give yourself a break from Instagram or any social media that promote products.

Now I like to read about ideas or current events. There are certain contributors I love at my favorite online magazines. Instead of browsing on Nordstrom searching for the perfect pair of black pants that will transform me, I'll read a couple essays or articles online or go for a run outside while listening to my favorite podcast and my life is enriched.

On clothes:

Sometimes we are always wanting new clothes because none of the items we have match or we don't have the right shoes or whatever. I love colorful sneakers and shoes but sometimes I just need a plain white or black pair. Build a classic wardrobe in solid colors and you always have something to wear. Be discerning in your fabrics, colors, and cuts. What will last and still look good five, ten years from now?
posted by loveandhappiness at 10:18 AM on November 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

I found that when I stopped hanging out with friends that were always dressed in new clothes, wanted to go to fancy bars, etc then it became a lot easier for me to hold back my spending. This was especially true because I found myself insecure about our friendship and that I need to keep up with the Joneses to fit in. (Alternatively, asking them to come over for a bottle of wine rather than going out, etc).

This is not true of my friendships that I am secure in. They know that I will come over with no makeup and looking a mess and it doesn't matter what I look like or if my apartment is fancy. This is even despite the fact that they themselves (and sometimes myself) like fancy interior decorating or stylish on trend items.
posted by raccoon409 at 10:34 AM on November 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, also that it's really draining to live on the cusp or counting every penny for years at a time. It's understandable that is taking you a moment to "find your level"
posted by raccoon409 at 10:34 AM on November 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

I love to shop, and look at things, and I scratch that itch by letting myself put things in my cart, or try things on, and then I don't actually buy them- I put everything back where I found it. I also have a couple of thrift shops I go to, but I have a narrow group of things I let myself purchase- vintage napkins and tablecloths, interesting boxes or baskets, and clothes for myself. When I have the urge to shop, I might take myself to one of those thrift stores, and spend $20 on things I want/need.
posted by momochan at 10:40 AM on November 30, 2019

50/30/20, needs/wants/saving, is a practical framework to divide your expenses.
posted by clew at 11:18 AM on November 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

YMMV but the crushing guilt of where the packaging/plastic/micro-plastic particles/carbon emissions of whatever I consume has done a lot to curb my spendy impulses, the whole ‘there is no away’ thing. Basically I imagine some poor fucking seabird eating the crushed plastic casing of that new lipstick when I’m done with it.
posted by stray at 12:07 PM on November 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

Something that has changed my entire stance on consumerism is becoming more aware of its negative impacts. I now know more about sweatshop labor, the desecration of ecosystems all over the world just to make the pretty products we buy blissfully at Target or Ikea, the cultural genocides that are taking place at the hands of economic globalization. It has put me off buying stuff so hard.

Not only that, but I HATE the idea that I might just be a measly, impressionable pawn in the psychological game of advertising and marketing. Being manipulated by some big, selfish, faceless, immoral company, just to get me to buy something I don't need or want, in the pursuit of some lifestyle or mood that either doesn't exist or that can be achieved without consuming and without the subsequent moral crisis, robs me of my sense of dignity, and I want no part of it.

It's not a matter of denying myself the things I want. It's become me not wanting to be part of all of that mess. I no longer have any desire to throw money at the companies that are doing things I don't agree with.

I have also become fiercely minimalistic, for a lot of reasons - it's a reaction to growing up in a cluttered household, I move around a lot and having less stuff to schlep around makes my life easier, and having Too Much Stuff stresses me out. Having stuff DOESN'T make me happy, it makes me more stressed out.

Over the years, my life's guiding philosophy has become: Is this the world I want to live in? Do my choices support that world?

That said, I do buy things I actually need. Work clothes, food, stuff for my hobbies. But I do so deliberately, putting a lot of thought into every single thing. Before buying something, I have to have thought to myself, "Gosh, I really could use ___," at least FIVE TIMES, and only then do I think about buying it. A lot of my stuff is hand-me-downs and stuff from Goodwill. I also scour Craigslist, Trash Nothing, Offer Up, garage sales, etc before actually buying things. I refuse to shop at Amazon, partly because I hate their business practices, and partly because I don't want to live in a world without local stores that is ruled by Amazon; I buy stuff in brick-and-mortar stores unless I absolutely cannot find the item locally. I am loyal to a few local stores. Making it harder to buy things forces me reevaluate whether I really want them or not.

I also do not subscribe to catalogs, store emails, etc. I try to avoid exposure to ads at all costs. The marketing tactics make me sick to my stomach.

I also try to balance my own philosophies with the expectations of others - for example, holiday shopping, wedding gifts, etc are what they are, and there are people in my life who expect that stuff. Giving yourself that leeway is important.

So, anyway, I don't think it's a matter of just saying, "No, I don't want things." Denying your own desires doesn't make dieting easier, nor does it make anti-consumerism easier. To me, it's important to reframe the situation entirely to make ourselves appreciate how our consumerism is negatively impacting the world around us.
posted by aquamvidam at 12:27 PM on November 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I asked this almost identical question a few years ago and got A LOT of great answers:

How to stop wanting things: practical advice
posted by nightrecordings at 1:01 PM on November 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Imagine you drop dead tomorrow and your house is full of beautiful things that sell for pennies on the dollar. Imagine strangers rummaging through your carefully cultivated items at an estate sale, sort of meh about everything.

Shopping isn’t therapy. It’s a hit of “woo-hoo!”, a bandaid, but not therapy.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:55 PM on November 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

As I've gotten into my 30s, I've started to think having a responsibility to the things I acquire. That it's my duty to make sure they are well used, or else passed on to a new home. Buying something cheap or unnecessary and then throwing it out is horribly wasteful. There is environmental cost to creating pointless things, and disposing of them. Buying things that I might use someday but actually sit in a cupboard for years (e.g. a slow cooker I've used like twice) isn't great either. Better for it to find a new owner that wants it.

This has led to me to buy second hand in some cases, to get rid of items via thrift stores, Freecycle and Craigslist, and to try to get higher quality stuff that lasts, when I can. But it's also tempered my joy in accumulating stuff. Because immediately I think "what am I going to do with this, or else how will I get rid of it?"

Now of course this kind of optimization can also be a source of stress if you take it too far. I'm definitely not a minimalist, and I still let myself hoard a few things (books, mostly). But I do get satisfaction from making sure that I don't have too much stuff in my house that isn't actually useful to me.
posted by serathen at 2:37 PM on November 30, 2019

Don't buy anything for a while, and when you start to feel uncomfortable because of not shopping, pay attention to how that feels. Next, you will need to figure out non-shopping ways to relieve that feeling. This part can be very hard, and take lots of trial and error. You may need to find several things that relieve the uncomfortable feeling.

My sister has loved to shop all her adult life, and for her it was a problem. She found that after she got a couple of dogs, she was able to resist the urge a lot better. I'm not saying you should own pets! But something needs to take the place of can't just cut back without something to sooth, occupy, and satisfy you.

Besides paying off your credit card debt, you need to plan for retirement. It's never too early to do that.
posted by wryly at 2:49 PM on November 30, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks for all the thoughtful answers. I've best answered the ones that are immediately relevant/spoke to me the most, as there are lots of circumstances I didn't include in my original question for the sake of length. But thanks to everyone who took the time to respond.
posted by unicorn chaser at 2:55 PM on November 30, 2019

Best answer: Do you have stuff? If you've been a good little consumer for years, doesn't that imply that you have stuff you bought in previous years?

If you don't have stuff, then it looks like you don't over-buy and probably have nothing really to feel unethical about. And if you do have stuff.... shop from what you have squirreled away in your cupboards and storage areas. Say you are tempted to buy make up - then run home and dig through your make up collection and have fun sorting out how many unopened mascara wands, and how many eye liner tubes you have, and what colours they would go with.

Feeling the impulse to get a new music album? Go look at the albums you have already got. Are there any of them you have never listened to at all? Any of them that you don't remember what is on them? Time to put light some candles, put on some headphones and lie back and bliss yourself out.

Sorting and gloating over the stuff you already have and choosing what is the best out of it, is often quite as good as retail therapy. And if sorting your stuff leaves you aware that you don't have anything in some particular category that you are coveting, then it at least results in strategic spending the money, because you are not buying unnecessary duplicates. But better yet, if you find you have no mascara or eye-liner, mainly because you never actually wear it and hadn't noticed that you were out of it, make a mental note that you probably would never wear it, so buying it would probably not make you feel good, and go sort some similar category of possession, such as scarves, which you do have and which also fill the function of making your face look nice so that you smile complacently when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Maybe you have lots of scarves, and instead of buying mascara you will find a treasure there and can put the blue one with silver sparkles in it on your dresser and wear it tomorrow morning and get that happy feeling that retail therapy might bring while wearing the new-to-your-memory blue and silver scarf.

Retail therapy is often a cure for anxiety about shortages, but spending money results in shortages. Instead of buying, focus on the amount of savings you have and what you could buy, or if there are no savings the amount of credit still available. If you feel poor list all the different but mutually exclusive things you could buy. You could afford a flight to Europe and six days in a bed and breakfast - or you could afford some major car repairs - or you could afford a spiffy new winter wardrobe - or you could afford to take one of those courses - or you could take a week off work, unpaid - or you can afford to go out to dinner at a nice place 57 times.... as long as that cushion is available, in some sense you are getting ALL those desirable things. You just haven't decided which yet. Money in the bank is a much better antidote for anxiety about shortages than spent money.

Retail therapy is often a cure for things like feeling inadequate. In that case focus on building your competence. If your money is all going to make up and clothes so that you look competent and high status, find an activity to do that will increase your competence. Watch some videos on how to do things and do them. Instead of buying that new tech toy, take the time and effort that would have been required to buy it and learn to repair the lock on your front door and fix it, or learn to use a function on a tech toy you already have, or learn how to make a fancy cake and make one, or learn how to do part of your manager's job. Three years from now the new tech toy will be an old tech toy that only people who can't keep up with trends are using, but you will be walking around with more confidence and have gained status as the person who can cover for the manager, is good at small repairs - Unicorn Chaser will know! - and who casually brought a four layer black forest cake in for the office birthday, instead of buying a sheet cake. As well as working on developing competence, work on improving your social position by networking. Send a note of congratulations to someone who just did something impressive, ask someone to tell you about that thing they are an expert in, stoking their ego so they feel positive about you and learn a bit.

Check when you are committing retail therapy and figure out if there is a physiological need going on when it happens. Do you buy stuff when you are hungry and tired? Buy stuff when you are lonely? Buy stuff when you are bored? Whatever is going on sometimes taking steps to prevent those feelings before they overwhelm you is the way to go. So instead of stopping after work at the make up counter, stop before work to pack crackers and cheese to eat just before you leave work. Instead of shopping on the home shopping network as you sit alone at home in the evening, text a friend and ask if they want to get together and both do weekday evening chores with company. Instead of waiting until you are bored swing past the library and take out a few books and start a new project.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:47 AM on December 1, 2019 [8 favorites]

When shopping for clothes that you are trying on, try to look your worst when you check the fit in the mirror. Put a miserable exhausted expression on your face, let your belly stick out and slump your shoulders.

If you still look good, buy it. If you don't look good... well, this piece isn't magic and now you know what you are really going to look like when you wear it and won't be tempted just because there was one angle in the right light that made you look like a fashion model.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:00 AM on December 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

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