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Why Do We Keep Buying Things We Don’t Need?

Serotonin, dopamine and other fun stuff.

The Rush.

Feeling a bit down? Bored? Anxious? Lonely? Angry with someone? Shopping will make you feel better!!!! (For a little while).

That gorgeous sweater! It’s your second favourite look and will go so perfectly with those pants you’re eyeing up. You can see yourself living the life of that look and it makes you feel so good. Click! Pretty coloured chopping boards for the kitchen! And they’re on special. In the excitement of shopping you forgot you already have a set.

As with most things in life there’s a spectrum of shopping behaviours, whether online or in real life.

At one end is the Super Frugal Person or Minimalist or Sustainable Lifestyler. Whatever their motivation, shopping does not interest them. They might even hate it with a passion and would rather have their teeth pulled than go to a mall.

At the other end is the person who is dependant on shopping. People with this behaviour used to be called Shopaholics or addicted to shopping. If you need to know more, Google it, it’s a devastating issue and no laughing matter.

That warm feeling, the satisfaction, contentment, however brief, those positive feelings we feel when we buy something new… that’s a wee injection of some feel-good biochemicals released by our brains. We are all human, that’s just how human brains work. It’s just that for some people the source of those feel good chemicals is mostly or only from shopping.

So they keep doing it, because it makes them feel good. This does not mean that everyone who shops for fun and pleasure has a dependency, we are all somewhere on that spectrum.

It’s A Habit.

We’ve been trained to shop. Once upon a time our parents and grandparents would Go On A Shopping Trip. It was exciting! An Adventure! But those trips were infrequent, they happened only when something was needed, because most things were expensive and mum or dad could make it at home or had something that would do.

As more and more cheap products became available, and our standard of living rose and pay along with it, these shopping trips became more frequent. Malls appeared, like the biggest departments stores EVER. They meant fun! There were lots of people and so many choices and there was easy listening music and events and glamour!

Even if all you or your family could afford was $10 a week, there were $2 shops! Remember being given a shiny gold $2 coin, to spend on anything you wanted? Riches! Then we got our own money and that meant we could buy EVEN MORE STUFF!

The memory of shopping with our parents or older brothers and sisters, or aunties or grand parents often brings with it feelings of happiness, excitement and love. Even if all they did was give you the $2 and have a cup of tea and a scone at a cafe there’s a feeling that goes along with Going To The Shops.

There’s the opposite too of course. You may have been raised in a frugal family, watching your friends at school waving around the latest backpack style, showing off REAL gold earrings, going on holiday overseas. Then one day, you had your own money. And you went shopping!

Now it’s so easy, it’s a way of life, it’s social, it’s the ritual of modern Recreational Shopping. We Can, Therefore We Will. Even if we don’t need it.

Marketing, advertising and other lies about how we could be or should be if only…

If you buy this thing, are loyal to this brand or identify with this look, you will:

  • Be Happy
  • Be Skinny
  • Be Beautiful
  • Be Successful
  • Be Loved
  • Be Exciting
  • Be Good Parents
  • Be Popular
  • Belong

This message saturates our lives, our friends lives, our family’s lives, the lives of strangers elbowing us out of the way at a sale.

It comes at us from the side of buses, the movies, TV, social media and billboards as we sit in our cars at the lights. It comes at us from friends and family, competitive gift givers, people who tell us we have to keep the economy alive by… Shopping.

It hides in ads showing kindness and generosity because it’s OK to spend money on other people.

It seduces us by telling us we’re the Smart Ones because we’ll be saving money/buying top quality/taking advantage of the business… that’s trying to sell us something.

And we believe them. Advertising is a science. The psychology of human behaviour is used by marketers to make us buy. So we buy. More than we need.

So… What can we do about it?

It’s all about feelings! We all want to feel good and everyone has a thing that makes them feel better. A go-to thing that cheers them up. The trick is to make it something that does not cause you harm in the long run.

  • Do you have WAY more things than you could ever possibly need?
  • Do you keep impulse buying more and more? Even if you’re buying gifts?
  • Is it becoming overwhelming managing all those things, the unopened boxes, clothes with the tags still on them?
  • Spending all that money makes you feel guilty or you’re really worried about your credit card debt or overdraft because of your spending?
  • Are you hiding your spending?

If you know you are unhappy with your behaviour and you want to change it start by paying attention to your triggers. What makes you reach for your credit card? Awareness is half the battle but not an excuse.

You can start to make changes to your own behaviour and your family’s expectations.

More Stuff Doesn’t Make You More Happy ~ Well, Duh!

Change the treat of shopping with your kids to something else. Make experiences a treat that they’ll remember, not purchasing things.

Start limiting your exposure to social media advertising, cancel catalogues, unsubscribe from sale emails, avoid the mall, limit computer/device time.

Change your social habits, instead of having coffee with friends in a mall or near your favourite shopping places go somewhere else, do something else. Go to each others homes, pick up takeaway coffee and go to the beach, or just try a different cafe that has few shopping opportunities around it. Ask your friends for help with this.

Stop Before You Swipe! Limit your access to your credit cards and bank accounts in any way that works for you. Talk to your bank about debt reduction. For help – Debtors Anonymous NZ

Start gifting. Stop buying. Get those good feelings by being generous and giving away the things you have accumulated, without spending on more things.

Maybe it’s time to talk to someone.

Talk to your GP or medical centre, they can refer you to appropriate people and services who offer various types of therapies aimed at resolving dependencies.

Take advantage of your employers EAP services.

Find a counsellor or other medical professional who specialise in changing unwanted behaviours. Talking Works -/- NZ Association Of Counsellors -/- Find a therapist or mental health professional (scroll down the page for more resources).

Contact free services that can help with dependency on shopping, even if you don’t think you have a serious problem but you’re worried, it can’t hurt to reach out. Debtors Anonymous NZ -/- Need To Talk?

For other free counselling services check out this handy resource – Free (funded) counselling/help in Auckland & NZ

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