With each passing year I find myself more and more attracted to the principles of minimalism. As I’ve mentioned before, minimalism doesn’t look to get rid of everything. It looks to prioritize those possessions or activities that are most valued and then removes the rest. Keep the flowers but pull the weeds is a mental picture I often use.
Yet…this tendency toward minimalism doesn’t mean I’m immune to the siren song of a new throw pillow or fancy storage container. While I appreciate the potential impact of small aesthetic decisions – I also know the subtle regret of coming home with stuff I did not really need (or want).
You know. Those little impulse purchases from Walmart or the DollarStore. Things that I thought I might like/want/need, but that very definitely hadn’t shown up on my shopping list.
Lately, I’ve been trying to curb some of that behaviour with a simple hack: I evaluate every item in my cart before checking out. As in I physically stop and assess each item in the cart (unless I’m at Costco and have one of those giant carts full of things in which case I might as well just drain my bank account and hand it all over to Costco because there is no turning back. When I see people leaving with one item in their giant cart, it blows my mind. How do they manage this sorcery? Costco, if you’re listening, I’m sorry, but I just can’t walk out without spending large amounts of money on giant quantities of things and I kinda, sorta always feel guilty walking through your enormous sliding doors. But I do love your jumbo bags of pumpkin seeds).
I’ve been doing this for a long time via online retailers – I’ll add items to my cart and let decisions simmer for a few days. I often end up moving items to “Save for later” or delete them entirely. But it can be hard to duplicate that delayed check-out experience when you’re standing in line at the pharmacy and happen to see an adorable pair of slipper socks or a festively wrapped box of Lindor’s.
When I take a quick inventory of the items I’m going to be spending cold, hard-earned cash on, I try to think through a hierarchy of questions, including some or all of the following:
- Was this on my list?
- Do I want or need this?
- Is it aesthetically pleasing or of practical use?
- Does it feed a passion or interest?
- Is this item built to last/of good quality?
- Do I want to handle rehoming this item (donating or selling or consigning or – perish the though – trashing).
- And finally, though we may all be a bit Marie Kondo’d out, I think it helps to ask if the item sparks joy – which can be a sort of umbrella over all the rest of the questions.
Here are a few examples of this reasoning in action:
- Abby bought a ukulele this summer, after months of saving up her allowance. It was a wonderful purchase but I knew it wasn’t going to be a long-term passion. Sure enough, aside from a week of near-steady practice when it first arrived, this item has largely stayed on her closet shelf. And that’s okay. At the time of purchase, it fueled an interest and we let it runs its course. It’s aesthetically pleasing, it’s good quality and will be VERY easy to rehome if she decides to completely abandon this hobby (sell or donate).
2. Usually, a plastic action figure selling for $3 that is bound to break in a week would not meet my testing criteria but years ago, when we were taking a long family roadtrip, I wanted to get the kids a few small toys for the drive. I try to avoid plastic toys like the plague and we’ve managed relatively well thus far. But Levi loves Transformers and we couldn’t find one at a local thrift store in time. So I bought one of the $3 variety at the DollarStore. I knew it was cheap. I knew it would break. But I also knew I needed this toy for a very specific purpose. I didn’t need it to last a long time. It was liable to get lost in all the chaos of traveling. I just wanted something, short-term, to fill a specific need. And so I bought it. It broke after about 8 hours, but he spent those 8 hours happily playing with it. I haven’t bought another DollarStore action figure before or since, but don’t regret the decision.
At IKEA last week I opted against buying the sock hanger dohickey for the laundry room (after it had found its way into my shopping cart) and set aside the desk organizer that wasn’t quite right. I made the decision to say “no” quickly and easily by running through the questions listed above in a matter of seconds (neither were on my list, I didn’t need them, they weren’t high quality, and I didn’t want to rehome them) – but it is definitely a muscle that builds over time.
When I’m wheeling toward the checkout I’ll ask myself if I really want to buy those price-reduced bananas (which means I’ll have to make muffins ASAP) or that new painting for over the couch (it’s nice, but do I really want to spend my Friday evening trying to find a stud behind drywall and fighting with drill bits). I still refer back to the concept from Fumio Sasaki of a Silent To-Do List: every single item in our house sends subliminal messages which can lead to physical and emotional clutter.
Sometimes I vote “yes” to the bananas and “yes” to the plastic action figure. But hopefully only after I’ve paused. Because bananas and action figures can morph into big new houses or shiny new cars and I’d rather test these value-driven financial decisions on $1.50 worth of bananas first.
What about you – any frugal hints to help with overbuying/impulse purchasing?