Aug 30, 2016 · 7 minute read

By: Colleen Valles

I used to be a big shopper. Not really for clothes, but for purses or yarn. Or shoes. Or household organization containers. Or books.

When I had downtime and didn’t know what to do with myself, I’d wander the yarn store, picking up pretty skeins for nebulous projects sometime in the future. If you’ve ever knitted or crocheted, you know that’s a terrible way to buy yarn because you’ll either wind up with too much or too little when you finally figure out what project you’re going to use it for, and so you need to go back to the yarn store to solve that problem, where the vicious cycle repeats itself.

Shopping can be an addiction, a way to fill your time when something is missing from your life.

Lonely? Head to the mall and you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of people all doing the same thing you are. Maybe you’ll even talk to one or two of them.

Nervous for an upcoming job interview? You need a new suit to give you the confidence to nail the interview and the job.

Feeling inadequate? It’s nothing a new dress can’t cure — or so advertisers would have you believe.

We have been sold a myth about all the wonderful things shopping can do – fix our self-esteem, organize the house, win back the girl or guy, make us irresistible and fascinating, give us the tools to do the job even if we lack the skill … the list is a long one. In fact, if shopping really did all the things we expect it to, it would be the miracle drug of the modern world.

Instead, it’s the great sedative of the modern world, taking our minds off our problems while giving us a false sense of having fixed them without doing any real, difficult work. Why engage in the hard task of addressing your inner self-esteem issues when you have new shoes that you know will get you compliments Monday at work? Isn’t that just as good as a well-developed sense of inner self worth?

Um, no.

It’s not the same, because the high wears off. Sure, buy the shoes on Saturday, wear them on Monday and get a few compliments. A couple of days later, no one will notice your fancy new shoes, and you’ll feel just like you did before. You can keep buying new shoes every week for the rest of your life, or you can actually work on yourself, so that you don’t need new shoes or new anything to make yourself feel valuable.

I learned this not with clothes, but with household items like containers for organization. I would buy containers, furiously organize the house, brag about my accomplishment and then a couple of weeks later, realize my “system” wasn’t doing anything to keep piles of stuff off every available surface and that no one cared about my home organization. What’s worse is that I would then drag my daughter back to the home goods store, spend a couple of hours devising a new “system,” then drag her back home where she sat, waiting for me to finish implementing this new “system” so we could play.

No, I’m not proud of this. In fact, I’m ashamed. I mean, I know kids have to help around the house and be part of the chores we all do, but this was going too far. My daughter clearly hated shopping, and I knew it because she told me each time we headed out to the store. I know I’m not her entertainment, but as she gets older, our time together will get more limited. Right now, while we can, we should be having fun. Finally, after so long, it hit me:

We need to stop shopping to have time for the things we love.


How is it that something so obvious escaped my notice for so long? I don’t know, but I think many of us suffer from this. We fall prey to advertisements promising fabulous lives, so we head to the mall. But there’s nothing fabulous or interesting about hanging out at the mall. It’s mundane.

Once I realized this, I developed a few tactics over time to keep myself from falling back into that trap. I wanted my time with my daughter to be fun for both of us, and that became so much more important than buying something that it became easy to skip shopping to spend time with the most important person. Eventually, when she wasn’t with me, it became easy to stay away from shopping to focus on the activities that are actually important to me.

Here are the tactics I use to keep myself from shopping so I can keep focused on the important things in life:

Think about the time

It takes a lot of time and effort to hop in the car, drive to the mall, find parking, make your way through the crowd and hit up the various stores to check prices and compare items.

Ask yourself what else you could be doing in that time? Could you be creating? Could you be heading out to a picnic with your kids or significant other? Wouldn’t that be more fun?

Think about the waste

How much of our earth’s resources went into producing that thing that you just bought, that you had to have, that you might not ever use and then will throw away? Someone had to mine the raw materials, energy was used to form it into what it is and that same process generated waste and pollution. The whole production of that thing took up resources: the earth’s, and now yours. Is it really worth it?

Think about the other people who are affected

Do your kids or spouse really want to go on another trip to the mall? Wouldn’t they rather be playing outside? Even if you buy them something too, the same principle applies — they’ll play with it for a little bit, get bored, and then go right back to playing with whatever they played with before. We’ve all seen it happen, especially with kids.

Think about the money

Shopping gets expensive. Even if you’re just buying cheap things — especially if you’re just buying cheap things like fast fashion articles — the expense adds up as you have to replace those items more frequently. And think about the time you spend. Your time is worth money; that’s the whole premise behind your job, right? If you think about how much you get paid, translate that into how much you have to work to buy the thing you’re holding in your hand. Factor in the time you’ve spent shopping for it and the time you’ll spend taking care of it. Dude. That’s a lot of money. What else could you spend that on? A visit to a museum, a festival, a movie, a vacation?

Think about whether you really need the item

If, after all this thinking, I’ve still got the item in my hand or on my screen, I put it down or close up the computer and walk away for a couple of days. I’ll often put it on my wish list and see if the desire for it is still there in a week or so. If not, I don’t get it. If so, then, I’ll go ahead. But I’ll admit, my wish list is full of things I have forgotten to check back on. When I go through the list now, I wonder “how did that thing get on there?” We truly need less than we think we do.

Shopping is billed as a pastime, and it can sometimes seem like it has supplanted baseball as the national pastime. What it’s really doing is distracting us from the important things: creating, spending time with loved ones, experiencing the world. We’d all be a lot better off saving our money and heading out to the ballpark instead.


Colleen Valles
I'm Colleen, a writer, mother, knitter, pet mama and tiny house enthusiast who truly believes that everybody should slow down and simplify to make room for the things that are most important in their lives. I'm on a journey to do just that, to be able to spend more time with family and friends, riding my bike and working in the garden. Sign up to get awesome content right in your inbox, or follow me on social media.