“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” Epictetus
There are numerous reasons you may feel the occasional urge to splurge. In and of itself, treating yourself every now and then is not a fundamental flaw. The issue is when your spending leans towards compulsion and means that you’re unconsciously accumulating things on a semi-regular basis. If your goal is to set yourself up for a successful minimalist lifestyle, you clearly need to examine your spending habits, set some clear limits and put strategies in place to allow you to curb your acquisition of material goods. Luckily, there are a lot of effective techniques out there that can help you do just that.
7.1 Disarming Your Spending Triggers
“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” Ayn Rand
First things first. In order to be the boss of your spending habits you need to figure out what exactly triggers your buying reflexes. Think about it. Are there specific emotional or psychological states that make you more vulnerable to impulsive purchases? Some people deal with stress by compulsive shopping while others may have a habit of trying to cheer themselves up by buying something that makes them temporarily “happy” when they’ve got the blues. Only you can diagnose the circumstances that send you sprinting to your favorite store. Once you identify the states of being when you’re likely to give in to internal shopping pressure, simply don’t put yourself in environments where you have the option of buying more stuff when in those types of moods.
Speaking of environments, you may also just be triggered by specific types of places. Maybe you’re susceptible to a specific type of object, like shoes, or maybe you can’t say no to craft fairs where local artisans are peddling their unique, oh-so-charming wares. If you know your weakness you can avoid places where your theoretical resistance is futile, or only go when you have a very specific goal in mind (e.g. your mom’s birthday is coming up and you saw this great card last week…then again, if you want to take minimalism to its fullest, you might choose to not buy it and make something instead!).
There are also certain times of day when you may be more easily triggered to buy things. This is usually related to how much energy you have and how well your rational mind is working as a result. Basically, don’t put yourself in shopping environments when you’re too tired to make decisions you’ll be happy with later. Also, pay attention to peer pressure. This can be one of the biggest triggers for a lot of people. When you’re tired you will definitely have less resistance to peer pressure, so avoid being with people or in groups with whom you will feel obliged to spend.
This is a good general rule, but if you must hang out with people who enjoy shopping, at least do it when you have the energy to say “no” when you know you don’t want to participate. There are some people who feel guilty or judged for their own habits when someone with them makes different choices. Maybe you have a friend who loves thrift stores but feels embarrassed to be buying tonnes of stuff when you never get anything. It’s now your responsibility to make them feel at ease with their consumption habits however. If they are truly uncomfortable with your choice to not buy unnecessary stuff then it’s likely time for them to find a new shopping buddy. Try and come up with alternative activities you can do together!
7.2 Self-Defense Basics For Recovering Shopaholics
“Frugality includes all the other virtues.” Cicero
Since it’s likely you won’t be able to 100% avoid all your spending triggers all the time, here’s list of very useful tricks for keeping yourself on the minimalist path.
7.3 Gratitude, Presence and Sharing As Effective Consumption Antidotes
“If you live for having it all, what you have is never enough.” Vicki Robin
Consumer psychologist and author Kit Yarrow, PhD, has several additional profound yet practical tips to keeping unnecessary stuff at bay. She talks about the importance of gratitude saying that “an attitude of gratitude is also a proven antidote to impulse purchasing because it creates a sense of abundance within the individual. When you’re feeling full of gratitude, you’re less likely to subconsciously try to fill emotional holes by treating yourself with gifts and accumulating more stuff.”
Yarrow also speaks to how focusing on the present moment can help curb our shopping habits as when we stick to our immediate needs we stop buying things we “might need” at such and such future date. As with many other experts on the subject he suggests waiting 20 to 30 minutes before buying something when you feel like doing so. This gives your rational mind time to kick in and think through whether you actually need whatever it is. Finally, Yarrow talks about how sharing can act as yet another antidote to accumulation. The idea is that if you need or want something that you’ll only really use sometimes you should start by trying to find someone else who also needs or wants the same thing. Makes sense, right? Yet so many of us have completely cut sharing out of our lives! Sure you may not be ready to share your home or your car, but you might want to try sharing certain tools, appliances or luxury items that can benefit you and your friends without causing any kind of inconvenience. Start there and work your way up to more substantial sharing if it seems like a model that makes sense for you.
7.4 Focus On Experiences, Not Objects!
“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” Henry David Thoreau
The idea of focusing on experiences instead of objects is a central pillar of any successful approach to minimalist living. And it’s pretty simple to apply. Basically, whenever you’re feeling tempted to buy something that you don’t really, reeeeallly need (and make sure you’ve taken the time to clarify the difference between your true needs and your “wants”!) think of an experience you can put the funds towards that you would have spent on whatever object you were going to buy. This may mean saving up over a few times, or you could just decide to call up an old friend and have coffee or take a long walk instead of spending your time and money on unnecessary junk.
Either way, you’ll come out better off than if you keep falling for the short-lived excitement of acquisition. There are sloughs of research showing that people are happier and more satisfied with their lives in the long term when they focus on experiences over objects. Not only because they accumulate less useless stuff to clutter their living environments and minds, but also because experiences usually involve strengthening social bonds and/or learning and personal growth of some sort. At the very least new experiences create worthwhile memories for ourselves as we get older.
7.5 Recognizing and Reaching Out When You Need Support
For some of us it’s not enough to be accountable to ourselves. We need to feel like someone cares what choices we make. While ideally you’ll get to a place where you can just count on your own self-discipline, if you have some very deeply entrenched impulsive shopping habits you may well want to reach out to someone close to you to be of support. One simple strategy can be to ask a close friend or family member if you can call them whenever you’re having “the urge to splurge,” so that either they can talk you out of it, or you can simply have a replacement activity you enjoy to take your mind off shopping.
You may also want to look into seeing a financial counsellor. There are plenty of organizations that offer certain services for free if you don’t have any extra budget available at the moment. Many people find it incredibly helpful to have professional support in making a clear plan for concrete changes in their spending habits. Make sure to find someone who has good ratings or ask around your network and get a recommendation you can rely on.
In an article published in 2006 by the American Journal of Psychiatry it’s stated that about 5.8% of Americans suffer from “compulsive buying behaviour.” While it’s likely given global consumption trends that the numbers have risen since then, in either case there are still a significant number of people (approximately 190,1322 given 5.8 % of the current population) who have extreme difficult not buying stuff whenever they hit an emotional low. If this is your case you may also want to consider consulting a personal therapist or joining a support group in your area such as Debtors Anonymous which helps people dealing with these types of issues.
7.6 Here’s How You Can Get Started Today!