Can Buying Less Make You Feel Better?
Most companies will tell you that the way to feel better is to buy more. Buy yourself some new clothes, cosmetics, or gadgets, they say, and you’ll be a whole new person.
But instead of making you feel better, buying a lot of stuff you don’t need can leave you in debt, and worse off than when you started.
A new study found that buying less can make people feel better. People who practice “reduced consumption,” reusing items as long as they can, rated their well-being higher than people who bought more stuff.
Buying more won’t make you happier because of the Diderot effect. When you buy items, you’re tempted to keep buying, and these purchases can snowball. But it never leaves you satisfied. Ever bought something and then thought, “I need to buy something to go with this…?” That’s the Diderot effect.
I’ve known for a long time that less is more. A few years ago, I “konmaried” my home, decluttering by the book: Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, that is.
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For me, this reduced consumption, or what I call minimalism, saves me both money and time. Money, obviously, because avoiding extra purchases keeps my bank account healthy.
But it also saves me time. I can keep my home organized, so I don’t spend a lot of time searching for stuff. And I spend less time working to pay for junk, and someday, getting rid of it.
Recently, I was helping someone sell off old gadgets he doesn’t need anymore. It took a few days, off and on. That’s a lot of time and effort just to relieve yourself of extra possessions.
I take care when discarding items. Old clothes in good condition can be sold or donated; worn-out clothes can be used as rags. Electronics at their end of life, like an expired smoke detector, go into a box for electronics recycling.
Paying attention to the stuff I discard makes me pay more attention to what I bring in. I shop far less than I used to.
Making this change wasn’t easy. A few years ago, I checked shopping apps on my phone whenever I was bored or stressed. To buy less, I deleted the apps and started blogging instead. I unsubscribed from those endless “deals” emails. It worked.
Ads bombard us with temptation to buy, but how much stuff do we really need? Do I need a new phone every year, or can I replace it every three years? Will my coworkers really notice if I wear a new blouse, when I already have a dozen?
I try to only buy clothes to replace what wears out. Today, I wanted to buy more clothes, just to have something new. Instead, I did some laundry, sorted through my closet, and discovered that I have plenty of clothes to get me through the next few months.
But this is the time of year when temptation grows. The winter holidays go hand in hand with gift-giving. And new “holidays,” like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, have sprung up to organize society’s buying sprees and sales.
Last year I asked for no gifts, and if people felt that they really needed to get me something, I asked them to donate to a charity. Still, people couldn’t resist getting me a “little something.”
They would feel bad, they explained, if they had nothing to give me. And it’s no wonder that people feel pressured. We see countless ads telling us that the perfect Christmas gift is an SUV with a bow on it, or diamond earrings, or whatever. Buying, companies say, equals joy.
Buying their stuff benefits them, but not you. I didn’t feel bad receiving fewer gifts. On the contrary: after all the holiday festivities, it felt great to go home and relax, instead of finding a place (which is sometimes the donation box) for all the new gifts.
You can splurge on the people you love. You can buy things you need. After all, items hold value and can help us. But you shouldn’t feel like you have buy the newest stuff, just because society says so. More stuff won’t make you feel better.
As the old saying goes: you can’t buy happiness.