Covid Consumerism
May 13, 2021 6:25 AM   Subscribe

Like many people working from home during the pandemic, I've used online shopping to provide the occasional injection of serotonin into my otherwise humdrum repetitive working-from-home days. Not only are my purchases excessive (way too many pairs of shoes), they're just not cutting the mustard in terms of longer-term pleasure centers. I may have to make 2-3 small purchases just to incentivize myself to keep going.

I don't think I'm alone here - and frankly there's an ethical/moral dimension that is also making me queasy to think about: I'm doing exactly what billionaires want me to do. As long as I'm shopping quietly, there's no reason for pandemic world to end. There's no need for me to contribute to a growing struggling class of delivery people who aren't getting paid with my "prime" membership.

When I'm not selecting things to buy online (let's face it, through Scamazon), I'm idly refreshing my "orders" page to see what will be delivered today.

I realize morally, politically, intellectually that I have got to stop all this online shopping. It's the right thing to do. I know I don't need the things I'm buying. I don't want to replace one vice with another (my cigarette breaks used to be the "fix" I needed every few hours when I worked in an office for so long). I need a solution to stop this behaviour.

Are you struggling with the same? What have you done to curb your pandemic spending?
posted by Dressed to Kill to Shopping (32 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I hear you!

I got super tired of all of the packaging and admin around returning things, and also ran out of things to buy! So that kind of solved it - after around 6 months of excessive visits from the postman every day.

I will say though that once I stopped, I didnt miss buying things at all. So, maybe try cold turkey, and write down things you want - then have a monthly review. If you still want or need them, then buy them. If you don't, donate the money to charity. You'll feel way better and actually be doing some good instead of lining scamazon's pockets!
posted by starstarstar at 6:34 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Not a total solution but buying things for friends has given me more of a reward than buying for myself. Past that, keeping close watch on my budget and checking, knowing where I’m supposed to be and then saving to make other goals happen. I also love travel so saving $25 for a future ATV ride in Iceland is way more appealing to me than $25 on a pair of kind of crappy quality shoes.
posted by raccoon409 at 6:35 AM on May 13


It's not a perfect solution, but I have mostly been getting that serotonin rush from buying used (or "new with tags" that someone is reselling) stuff on Poshmark/Mercari/Ebay (brands that I know fit me, mostly.) I'm still working on finding the right bra fit after my last perfect one stopped working for me, and there's a brisk (underground?) trade in bras in various online communities for people on the same hunt.

Another thing I found useful was starting to use Pinterest (never thought I'd see the day, yikes) and pinning things I like instead of saving them to an ebay or amazon favorites list or shopping cart. I never understood Pinterest and still don't, really, but someone explained it to me as like a digital visionboard and that sort of helped.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:37 AM on May 13 [9 favorites]


Depending on where you live, can you refocus buying less, and getting curbside pickups or even mail order from local shops?

One neat thing about the pandemic is so many local shops now have decent websites and ship. And you can support 'local' smaller shops even if they aren't near you! I've ordered coffee from a worker-owned co-op in WI and boutique toys from a cool shop in TX. All delivered by USPS, whose employee-treatment status is light years better than Amazon. Also shopping is a bit more difficult this way, so you'd spend more time researching and maybe buy less for that reason too.

This changes the ethics considerably, and you may find the stuff more rewarding so you may buy less items to get the same kick. This of course doesn't really help you stop shopping for fun, but you don't mention financial duress, and it does change the impact to a positive one bc these businesses need customers now more than ever ( imo, ymmv, etc)
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:39 AM on May 13 [9 favorites]


Check if you've got a local buy-nothing group? Your reason isn't the reason we joined, but it still ends up giving a lot of that same excitement - something new (to us) is coming*! Hooray! It could also help you offload all those shoes you don't need.

*Some folks will drop stuff off, but much more often we go to their place where they've left it on the front step for pick-up. So it's also an excuse to get out in the world (in a way that maintains physical distancing from others)!
posted by solotoro at 6:49 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure if this is the kind of thing you're looking for, but I get a similar kind of serotonin boost from online shopping at my grocery store (for curbside pickup) for more interesting sauces, fruits/cheeses, snacks, etc. I might be spending more than usual on food but at least I'm not ordering more stuff that'll end up in a landfill. Similarly, I like to explore local farm/cheese/other food producer websites for what tasty things I can order.

Your local food options (and interest in fancy foods) may vary of course.
posted by randomnity at 6:51 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


I'm pretty bad about "Moonlight Madness" shopping (a/k/a insomnia-fueled fun). I've found that if I just leave stuff in the shopping cart of whatever site and then re-evaluate in the morning, nine times out of ten, I will delete everything. Or, if it's Amazon, I will wish list it and just wait on it.

We do have a monthly Dharma Drop (known to the rest of the world as Subscribe and Save) of stuff that we really do find cheaper - or just can't find elsewhere. Stuff like the CBD Scooby Snacks that keep the dogs from going insane, etc. It really stings that Amazon hits your account with each item rather than one solid bill. Jeff Bezos, do I really need to see eleven items at $5-8/ea?

I absolutely echo above that Poshmark is a definite win. I found an, ahem, trick where if you like something by clicking on the little heart, sometimes the seller will privately offer you a discount on the item *and* shipping! Just keep checking your messages on your account.
posted by dancinglamb at 6:51 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


I'm still buying things, but I've switched to big stuff infrequently instead of small stuff all the time. Like a piece of furniture, or some art, or a few weeks ago I got a whole dog. Things that make me happy but that last, that serve a purpose in my life, that I see and interact with every day and can feel good about.
posted by phunniemee at 6:57 AM on May 13 [8 favorites]


Ugh I feel you on this. In my case it was "justifiable" because I left a live-in relationship and moved into essentially an empty apartment, so I legitimately needed to buy all sorts of things to get up and running. But then it went from essential stuff to nice-to-have (still fine, right, you still want to live in a pleasant house with art on the walls and stuff, right?) and now some months later I'm just buying, like, earrings shaped like pizzas.

My cousin taught me a trick where he uses scamazon to FIND the thing he needs but then goes and buys it elsewhere, and then emails Amazon to tell them so. It's his rule for buying stuff: gotta email Amazon to tell them they suck & you bought it elsewhere.

It's both very satisfying to do and a giant pain in the ass that has cut down on my idle shop-scrolling a LOT.

Oh also try to unsubscribe or filter to spam all those emails from retailers that are aimed at sucking you back in.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:59 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


You say you don't want to replace one vice with another, so this is probably not what you're looking for. But, if you're mostly interested in keeping money in your pocket or away from billionaires, here are some alternatives:

- downloading music or videos from youtube and other places using youtube-dl (or, let's face it, torrents) often hits this note for me. As does occasionally looking through, and organizing, the vast digital library I've amassed (I know, I know).
- using your spending as a force for (mild) good, buying from local places, used bookstores, places owned by people you want to support, etc.
- microlending (through kiva, for example)
- documenting the things in your house that you own, with pictures, in some kind of database (maybe even going so far as to set up a digital "storefront" you can browse through). I forget the link but there was a nice post on the blue around the start of the pandemic about someone quarantined during an earlier plague who took a "journey around my room" and wrote about all the object in it, what memories they had for him, etc.
- tracking your daily savings towards some big purchases
- taking up a hobby where you work on making things for yourself (this might involve spending too on tools and materials, so you can either watch out for that or consciously decide to incorporate it as part of the hobby
- planting seeds (that you buy, trade for, or collect from plants you come across outdoors). Like a few seeds every day or week. There'll always be new stuff sprouting, or putting out first branches or flowers, that you can track (or eat - microgreens can be good for this)
- writing daily postcards to friends or penpals and anticipating replies

Some of this depends on what aspects of shopping speak to you - the pleasure of browsing and planning, the anticipation, the feeling of having accomplished something, the thrill at being able to spend, the idea that when you possess X life will be better, etc. But I've found these things scratch some or all of those itches.
posted by trig at 7:14 AM on May 13 [9 favorites]


You need a replacement behavior that ideally gets you away from screens for a bit. So: walk, bike, dance party, make an elaborate snack, dote on houseplants (there are houseplant trade groups in addition to buy nothing/freecycle), make a card/ embroider something cute, play with your hair/ makeup/ skincare/ manicure, pick a theme and make outfits...

It helps to write a list of things that appeal to you so it’s easy to choose something when it’s shop o’clock. You can also give yourself permission to shop if you still want to once you’ve done the other thing for 10-15 minutes, so you don’t feel deprived and resent the new habits you’re trying to build.
posted by momus_window at 7:24 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


A few thoughts that moved me along similar lines:

-Attempting to KonMari and recently facing potential evacuation orders or disasters made a lot of things shift from "nice" to "burden" for me. If there's a fire in the middle of the night and we need to go NOW, almost all this stuff isn't coming with.

-Feeling the sheer waste of money. A lot of this money I might miss further down the line. There's got to be a more worthwhile purpose for it. A bigger purchase of something I truly want? Emergency fund? Early retirement fund? Charity? I don't know yet, but it'd be nice to have it when I do know.
You could try to "game-ify" it: every time you stop yourself from buying the Scamazon thing, deposit the price in a savings account.

-Feeling the UGH of the exploitation of resources and labor rights abuses that go into these purchases. That takes a lot of the temptation of clothes shopping out for me.
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 7:24 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


If this doesn't work for you it's totally fine, but I have substituted walking for shopping. I hope to keep this habit the rest of my life. Bored? Go for a walk. Stressed? Go for a walk. (I did buy a really good raincoat. I had good winter gear already.)

I am now like the nosiest neighbour on the block when it comes to learning all the dogs' names, checking out the flowers in people's borders, and I know the location of three birds' nests in the park across the street.

I also have been KonMari-ing parts of the house (I know, I know, that's not the method) and it makes me touch/place/be aware of all the things I have and it helps a lot.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:27 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Anne Helen Petersen just wrote something about this.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:36 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


Seconding the buy-nothing groups if you want the thrill of acquisition. Plus - having access to it may inspire you to do a purge of things of your own and give things away, which could build up to being more of a reward ("holy crap I finally got rid of that big pile of books I haven't had the energy to drive to Goodwill! ....Ooh, let's see if there's anyone else who wants those flowerpots I haven't used in forever").

...Although, for me, the big thing that stopped the online purchases has been the fact that all my money has had to go elsewhere thanks to an injury, but that might be a bit of an extreme measure.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:40 AM on May 13


Buy only things that you can make things with or learn from, things that open doors for your heart/brain. Seeds, art supplies, a harmonica, stuff like that.

I am unjustifiably proud of the big old thrift store canvases on my walls that are now covered in leftover paint and glitter - they cost me practically nothing and if the joy of seeing them wears off, I just take them down and get messy splattering a new layer over them. I'm also growing corn this year which I know zero about but for $2, who cares. And I just finished a book my son recommended that I would never have chosen, so that's another little door opening.

None of this stuff is obligatory. I won't starve if I don't grow corn, but I've learned among other things that slugs are beer drinkers, so it's a win already.
posted by headnsouth at 7:45 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Seconding just going cold turkey. I decided to stop shopping at Amazon after a major life event last fall. I used up my remaining gift cards and credits, and then I let my Prime membership lapse. I haven't had anything delivered from Amazon in about six months* and I do not miss it even a little bit (this is surely the longest I've gone without buying something from Amazon in 10+ years). I'm very much a "cold turkey" kind of person, though - abstention is much easier for me than moderation.

I'm finding I make fewer dumb purchases, and the dumb purchases I *do* make are different from the easy-come-easy-go stuff I used to buy on Amazon. Like, I've bought vintage glassware from an estate auction site, and fabric and patterns for making clothes (one babycord dirndl, coming up), some beat-up chairs from facebook marketplace and cane to make repairs to said chairs from an online cane and rattan supply shop.

* I do still buy kindle books on occasion and I have seriously like 15 Alexa devices in my home, so I'm not exactly what you would call Amazon-free.
posted by mskyle at 8:25 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Hobbies that include “hunting” for things scratches this itch for me.

Rockhounding, mushroom hunting, gleaning fruit from alleyways, even identifying types of clouds all hit the mark.

Collecting without owning is a nice shift. I’ve only kept a few rocks that I’ve found out in the world, but can ID quite a few interesting things. Same with mushrooms; I only harvest a few types but my brain catalog is modest but growing. I always find something new I haven’t seen before (and do enjoy taking pictures of them).
posted by furnace.heart at 8:31 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


My solution may not be broadly applicable, but...

My letterbox is tiny, and I don't have any secure, covered outdoor space, so if I'm expecting a delivery, I have to be home to receive it. That means I can't go out for a walk first thing if there might be a delivery that day: I might be the first delivery on the route, in which case I won't have enough advance notice to get back in time. And taking a countryside walk before work at this time of year is something I really enjoy. So that's giving me a strong incentive to avoid unnecessary online purchases.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:09 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I also came in to strongly recommend the Anne Helen Peterson essay. It's a great read and hits precisely on the phenomenon you're talking about, buying lots of little things to fix small (usually not real) "problems" that create an ongoing maintenance burden yet has the welcome secondary effect of feeling like you're taking action or moving your life forward in some way when everything else has ground to a halt and you can't figure out what else to do in the interim. I've been musing on it ever since I read it a few days ago. You're not alone.

This is going to be so very individual but what has helped me personally is a broad mix.

- I keep running lists of what I need/want ahead of time so I'm almost never purchasing in the moment. Clothes, groceries, kid stuff, home decor, vacation purchases, all of it. Fun or cute stuff I see in store emails or social media ads or whatever can be added to cart, sure, serendipity is awesome. But it's not allowed to be purchased on the spot.

- I only submit orders once a week or so, I add things to my carts throughout the week and then review and hit submit on all my orders at a single time. More often than not, I take most of it back out once I've seen all the totals tallied up in the same sitting because daaaammmnn.

- I don't actually look at the trackers once I place the orders so when my stuff does show up, I'm surprised anew by what I've bought! Yay novelty!

- The admin burden is real! I desperately needed new clothes so for awhile I had lots of packages coming but man, all the trips to the post office and the mall to return stuff really ground me down. After a couple months, I was very glad to be in a place where I could stop and no longer needed to be running all those extra errands.

- I upped my retirement contributions and so artificially constrained the amount of money I have to play with. Also created a travel fund so that post-Covid I can prioritize a trip to the hot springs resort of my dreams.

- I haven't actually tried very hard to find something else to scratch the same itch. Like everyone else, I crave the dopamine (or is it serotonin?) hits of something new or novel, whether it's purchases, something new to read online, email newsletters, texts from friends, etc., but I find it more worthwhile in the long run to TRY to just sit and manage the discomfort of withdrawal. Yeah, I hate it. Yeah, it's a huge bummer/sad/boring. That's okay. I can be bummed/sad/bored for awhile. It's not like the shopping was actually curing the sadness/boredom, like you said, it's a patch. I think of it as a skill or a muscle that needs to be continuously developed, kind of like how my children don't have tech in the car because I consider the ability to manage boredom in the car to be a life skill. :)

- I journal through the feelings. I read a lot more. I take more walks. I started following a bunch of hiking groups on Facebook and their updates remind me that parts of the larger world is actually available to me now, and have given me a nice checklist of places to explore. I reach out to my friends more even when I have nothing much to say. I know that what I actually ache for right now is the natural high that comes from connecting with people.

It's hard. Good on you for recognizing this.
posted by anderjen at 9:19 AM on May 13 [8 favorites]


Could one part of this getting a website blocker for the sites you're mostly likely to visit? And then just adding additional sites as you navigate to them? So you can get to those websites, but you'd have to manually remove them from your website blocker, and that extra layer of hassle might be the reminder you need to give yourself.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:04 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I had a similar thing and I kicked it in a few ways.

1. I transferred my compulsive shopping behavior from buying ebooks to buying for a local food bank. They have a wish list that gets updated monthly. Just going absolutely ham on something like canned beans or toothbrushes or whatever else they needed was nice, and it was a bright spot in my week to be the person who showed up with tampons just as they ran out, etc. (Food banks can get a lot of bang for the buck so donating money is often better but like. I was donating to get serotonin. it was still a win/win) I did end up stopping the compulsive buying because buying beans is not as fun as buying widgets, so the habit's grip was looser.

2. Konmari, as above. I now think about things as items for which I am responsible. Yes I will enjoy purchasing this scarf, but is the responsibility of finding it a new home after I get that good good brain boost something I want to deal with? Will I actually use it, or will I let it languish in a box until I am ready to send it onto its next home? Do I want a boxed item that comes with responsibility, or would I rather keep that value fluid (eg, as money)? Do I want to go through the hassle of trying this out and returning it if I'm not perfectly pleased by it? I find I frequently do not want more responsibility relating to material items, and saying no to purchases, and even browsing online, even easier.

Finding a replacement for the "browsing online" habit has been a bit hard too. I have a notebook I keep by the computer explicitly for acknowledging I am anxious/whatever, and then I try to go vacuum or scrub a toilet or something else that improves my physical space (and my mood, beyond the momentary injection of novelty of 1-clicking something on amazon).
posted by snerson at 10:10 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


I do exactly what needs more cowbell does. Often just *finding* the thing and saving it for later gives me that sense of achievement, and if I really want it I give myself permission to come back later if I'm still thinking about it. I almost never go back and buy it. I also buy almost everything second hand, either from eBay or real life auctions, so at least the money is going to individuals or small businesses, which feels a lot more worthwhile. Plus if it doesn't work out I resell it and send it back into the world, no harm done.
posted by stillnocturnal at 10:13 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


While I have been working continuously throughout this whole pandemic (in a supermarket, no less) I have wanted to help small businesses. So I've been checking out Good Morning America's Steals and Deals - they showcase small businesses in the morning news segment.

I've found some really neat items that I've purchased as future gifts for family members, or used myself, and I feel better helping someone else during these times.

Otherwise, I've been scouring flea markets and thrift stores, because the thrill of the hunt is what I seem to crave, ha ha.
posted by annieb at 10:26 AM on May 13


Yep, let me cosign the idea of saving things. I always have a ton of shopping/wish lists going; a lot of this behaviour for me seems to stem from the searching, not actually buying things. It also makes it obvious to me that when I am buying something, I'm putting a bunch of other purchases off.

And I've definitely gotten joy from finding free stuff on our Canadian Craigslist alternative, Kijiji, and FB Marketplace, and hauling it back to my apartment.
posted by sagc at 10:50 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


I'm not perfect at this, but I can second (nth) use of two tactics mentioned above, which have SUBSTANTIALLY reduced my actual purchases, despite the same habits of COVID self-soothing stacked on top of moving into a first house and constantly finding other things I need or want for it.

1 - Shopping list. If there's something that I legitimately need/want (from "we're out of eggs" to "I would like a bookshelf that meets these precise dimensions to go in that particular corner"), I put it on our household shopping list in Google Keep. I do NOT order it when I think of it unless it's something MISSION CRITICAL (and at that point the solution is probably to run to the in-person store anyway because by the time things are mission critical here, we're talking hours and not days until it's an emergency). It's not PERFECT, but it means we usually wind up with the groceries we need, and sometimes that means I incorporate getting those things into Saturday errands or a larger, single order from somewhere.
2 - Amazon wish list. If it's a particular thing, or I just see something while clicking around and really like it, I add it to a private Amazon list (so that I don't risk someone buying it for me). Periodically I go back and decide that yes, I do actually really want that thing still, and I get it, or I delete it, or it's no longer available and the decision has been made for me. This is more where I keep things I didn't know I wanted until I saw them, future gift ideas for people, or multiple options for things that I haven't settled on (for example, I knew I wanted a coat rack but wasn't sure which one, so I socked a whole bunch of different types into a wish list, dithered for nine months, and then finally pulled the trigger on one I still liked after all that time). This is also SUPER HELPFUL with books, because I use a browser extension to check if said book is available through my local library systems or Hoopla before buying. That alone has saved me tons of spending. I am sure there are other wish list tools, the important thing is that I am able to add items from any source. I actually add things from non-Amazon sources much more often than Amazon.

I don't feel guilty at all for the amount of virtual window-shopping I do, but the above two things really help with impulse control and making sure that the spending I'm doing fulfills a legitimate need beyond, like, boredom or loneliness or anxiety or whatever. I think you just really have to give yourself some time and space between the "ooh, shiny!" and actually spending the money, and making lists is a way for me to enjoy the hunt and the anticipation without committing to anything unless I've given it some actual thought.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 10:55 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Microlending, charitable donations, or investing in mutual funds all kinda scratch that itch for me when I feel like spending money.

It's better for me to make it go away by redirecting, perhaps aided by apps or lists or games or online communities, that make me feel satisfied upon completion of tasks. Cooking, creative work like writing/art/music, exercise, cleaning, finding things in my house to donate, gardening, etc.
posted by music for skeletons at 11:15 AM on May 13


My rule is that if I still want it on Black Friday, I can get it then. This gives me a specific date to look forward to when the thing will most likely be at a reasonable discount. I change my mind about most things before ever buying them, all my returns are concentrated in a few weeks, the prices are maybe not the best of the year but usually pretty good, and I can still engage in "mental shopping" during the rest of the year. Obviously not all purchases can be deferred that long, but it's surprising how many can. And then on Black Friday, you only get to buy from your list--no impulse buys.
posted by HotToddy at 1:01 PM on May 13


+1 for saving things somewhere and then coming back later. I have a folder on my bookmarks bar called "Buy" and I just dump things in there. I circle back when I've gotten a gift card or cash present or around mega sale times... often I'm like "ew why did I even want that" or the item is now unavailable, and I rarely if ever feel bad about that. When things line up perfectly (I still like the item, it's available AND it's on sale) it feels like a triple win.
posted by thebots at 1:37 PM on May 13


Most of this feeling, at least for me, is the Thrill of The Chase.

So now I “shop” for things I clearly can’t afford right now, but help me get a feel for what I might want in the future. Big, potentially life changing things like houses, off-grid cabins, once-in-a-lifetime trips, cars and trucks, weird and interesting jobs, little campers, and such.

And then I just hit save.

The knock-on effect is that it helps me narrow in on what I actually want in life, and potentially (POTENTIALLY) set a goal, which I’ve had massive trouble doing during the pandemic. (Goals? Life? Planning? Fun? What even is that?!)
posted by functionequalsform at 4:22 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Do the pleasure centers in your brain kick in when you click on the "buy" button, or when said items show up in the mail? Or both?

Not sure if music is among the things you spend $ on. But if it is, then Bandcamp is a more ethical place to buy music (both physical and digital) than Amazon (i.e. far more of the revenue goes to the band/label. Especially if you buy on the first Friday on each month, when Bandcamp waives their revenue share). Granted, how useful you'll find the site will depend on your musical tastes (you'll find far more Lydia Lunch and Sleater-Kinney than Taylor Swift), but if you have a music jones and want to support the artists...
posted by gtrwolf at 11:07 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I get a similar feeling from placing and getting holds at the library. So if you're somewhere with a good library, see what books, movies, music, or games they have and get excited each week about what's waiting for you.

The other part, where it's hard to motivate yourself without little rewards-- I give myself short breaks to play phone games or longer breaks to read a book periodically. (I wish I could give myself some time on Ask Metafilter, but that has to be an end of day thing, so it's okay if it goes in for hours.) It's also interesting to me that some days I'm really low on motivation and need lots of little breaks and other days I can power through with just a lunch break and afternoon walk. So maybe pay attention to if your needs vary and what works to feed them with.
posted by blueberry monster at 5:33 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


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