Last week, I bought a Kate Spade tote bag. I didn’t need it, but I wanted it. It’s in my favorite pattern — the black-and-white polka dotted one that matches my planner, laptop case and the accessory bag I just got for my birthday. It had been on sale for about a month but, last week, an additional 40% off code landed in my inbox and the need/want line blurred into oblivion as I reached for my credit card.
I have a weakness for Kate Spade — mostly the bags, but I’ve also been known to buy shoes, jewelry, and Christmas pajamas. My collection isn’t excessive by most standards, but I’m definitely living on the “I want it” side of the line.
Consequently, I felt guilty and a little worried. Maybe my Kate Spade collection isn’t excessive, but can I say the same for my shopping habit?
Like so many other people, I replaced my in-person shopping with online shopping during the pandemic. Though I still buy from Amazon, I also try to buy from small companies, to purchase things I can’t find in stores, and to patronize local businesses by buying online and picking up in-store.
But I’m still buying stuff. Rarely does one receipt go over the top, but the pile-up is typically larger than it ought to be, especially for someone who pretty much has everything she needs.
So I decided to cut myself off for the rest of the month: to abstain from unnecessary purchases. Granted, the rest of the month was only about a week, but it was long enough to move myself in the direction of more thoughtful purchasing. For the remainder of August, I would purchase only necessary things.
Great! So…what are necessary things?
Food. I’ll purchase only food.
Great! Does that include eating out, or just groceries? And what about that daily Starbucks?
Hmm…okay. Starbucks is in. Eating out is okay if it’s unplanned and done with someone else so there’s a social element involved. No fair making plans that involve spending money, at least until September.
Good. This is good. I’m thinking about spending. That’s part of the larger goal. Also thinking about spending vs. accumulating, that is, spending for stuff or spending for the experience (dinner out with my husband).
Just as I was starting to feel virtuous, more questions arose. Household items? Home improvement projects? Donations?
But the biggest challenge arose when I innocently dug into my inbox on Saturday morning.
OK. That’s easy enough. My TBR pile is quite tall. I recently renewed my library card. There’s no need to buy any more books, no matter how good the price, until at least the beginning of September. Delete unopened.
That was a little painful, admittedly, but it wasn’t like I was telling myself I could never buy another book.
But the book emails were just the tip of the iceberg. When had everything in my inbox become a solicitation? No wonder my online shopping habit (not to mention the number of items in my inbox) had loomed. Everywhere I looked there was a sale.
And I didn’t even leave need to leave my house.
Suddenly, I realized that I hadn’t arrived at this destination alone. I had been “helped” along the way by a burgeoning group of retailers who came to my door, so to speak, on a daily basis. This was bigger than a weak moment. This was subliminal coercion.
What I realized in the space of just a couple of days was that “stop buying stuff” or even “spend less money” was both untenable and unrealistic. But, that didn’t mean it wasn't a goal worth pursuing.
What I really wanted to gain from this experience was twofold. I wanted to stop buying unnecessary stuff, so I could stop contributing to an unnecessary accumulation of stuff. Doing this would enable me to enjoy fun purchases because I'd made sure to think before I reached for my credit card. Admittedly, this is something I already do, but a week (or maybe more) without superfluous spending could sharpen that healthy spending habit.
Putting my not-quite-impulse purchase (I'd been eyeing that tote bag for over a month) into perspective put the joy back into my decision to buy it and allowed me to look forward to it showing up on my doorstep. While it was true that I didn't need another tote bag, I would make sure to use this one and, before I hit buy, I'd made sure I knew I was spending within my means.
Will I miss coming home to an emptier-than-usual front step for the foreseeable future? Maybe. But having fewer packages to open will give me more time to enjoy the things I already have.