How difficult is it to pare down your belongings so that they all fit inside a Honda Element? I can tell you that it’s not so easy, but as hard as it was, I didn’t anticipate the challenge of continuing to maintain that downsized lifestyle. It’s not like you just declutter once, and then you’re set. You constantly have to remain vigilant to avoid the slow accumulation of stuff that the vast majority of us know all too well.
What makes it more difficult is that many of us shop for reasons that have very little to do with need for a particular object, and more to do with filling a psychological or emotional need. We have all engaged in a little retail therapy at one time or another. As much as I have reduced the amount of stuff I have, there’s still a lot that I don’t need, but can’t quite let go of. For now, I’m allowing myself a little self-indulgence on that front, while working hard not to grow my collection of things I want but don’t need.
For example, I recently saw the most gorgeous picture of skirt on Instagram. I immediately knew I needed to have it. The poster mentioned that it was from J. Crew, so I managed to find it on the website and saw that it was $118, but they had a 25% sale going on. That would make it only $88.50 (plus tax and shipping). But something made me pause. How often do I wear skirts, especially now that I don’t have a job? And as I thought about it, I realized that what I really liked was the photo. Luckily, I was able to slow myself down and recognize that what I really wanted was the feeling the picture gave me, and that wasn’t for sale. In the end, instead of buying the skirt, I bookmarked the picture. I can look at it whenever I want for free.
I go through that process a lot. Somehow, I managed to stop buying on impulse and think a lot about every purchase. The more expensive the object of my desire, the easier it is to talk myself out of it. But I don’t let myself off the hook if I only want to spend a dollar. Sometimes I consider it and spend that dollar anyway, but much of the time I don’t. It isn’t about depriving myself, it’s about making sure that the things I buy are things I will truly use and enjoy. If it would only end up in the closet or a box, then not buying it won’t be a deprivation
So how do I slow myself down when the impulse to buy hits me? I pay attention to key phrases that are red flags for me. These are:
I deserve this
I usually tell myself this either when I’ve had some unexpected extra cash, or when something has me particularly stressed out. Neither of these are good reasons to go shopping. Although I generally save/invest the bulk of any surprise income, it has been hard for me to let go of the idea that at least a portion of it should be spent on something frivolous. That’s okay once in a while, but it shouldn’t be a rule. And it should probably go without saying that making spending decisions solely because you are down or stressed is not a recipe for making smart choices.
I need this
Sometimes, it is very easy to confirm that I need something. A paper planner has been the only time management tool that works well for me. So when I filled up my current one, a new planner was a need for me. I still did a lot of research on what kind to buy and how much to spend, but I didn’t apply my usual level of scrutiny to whether or not to make the purchase at all. But with the J. Crew skirt, after I initially decided I needed it, it didn’t take much for me to realize it wasn’t actually a need. I do need some new clothes, but I didn’t need an expensive skirt I probably won’t wear.
It’s not very expensive or it’s on sale
This should really only matter when I’m purchasing something I’ve already determined is a need (or at least a reasonable want). But as a sole reason to buy something, it’s not a good one. Instead, I try to determine if it is something I would consider even if it was full price. I’ve been wanting to buy some cute stickers for my planner, but although I’ve been browsing them on Etsy for a couple months, I’ve resisted. They’re not incredibly pricey, but 3-4 sheets start to add up. Then a seller I follow on Instagram offered a coupon for 75% off. I checked out her store and turned an $18.20 purchase into a $5.06 purchase, and I felt that was an expense I could justify (and the seller decided to throw in some extra goodies too!).
One thing I’ve discovered is that I enjoy the process of shopping without actually buying anything. I can spend time shopping on a website, even adding stuff to my cart, then decide not to make any purchases. I suspect I enjoy looking at the photos about as much as I would enjoy owning the items pictured. I also find it pretty easy to go into a store without buying. I can have a good time browsing without opening up my wallet.
Besides this continual process of analyzing every potential expense, I also try to remind myself of why I want to save my money. For me, there are basically two reasons. One is that I want our savings to last us through retirement. The other is that I want us to have money to do the things we really want to do – like travel or take a class once in a while. I’m not willing to trade our security or those amazing experiences for a pile of stuff I don’t need.