There are few things more euphoric than a fantastic shopping trip. You pop into your favorite store “just to look around,” and the mesmerizing sights, sounds, and smells cast a spell on your senses. You can’t wait to see and touch everything.

Why do I keep buying stuff I don’t need?

So you happily fill up your cart, breeze through checkout, and relish in all the amazing deals you scored.

Except, as you’re unloading your items at home, you suddenly realize that you probably didn’t need half the stuff you bought. Cue the buyer’s remorse.

Did I really need another decorative pillow or face cream?

Why do I keep buying stuff I don’t need?

Unfortunately, that answer isn’t as simple as swiping your credit card. And this problem is only getting worse as more shopping takes place online.

Retailers tap into the psychology of buying to perfectly tailor product recommendations just for you — as if they can read your mind.

But you CAN outsmart these tactics. When you understand your specific triggers, you’ll be able to resist the uncontrollable urge to spend money on things you don’t need.

So let’s explore how to overcome this ugly side of consumerism to find more meaning and financial freedom in your life. We’ll start with five reasons why you buy things you don’t need and then provide you with tips to overcome those urges.

Five Reasons Why You Buy THings You Don’t Need:

You’re not alone if you find yourself asking, “Why do I always want to buy something?”

As it turns out, there are five big reasons why most people shop when they don’t need to. And we’ve all been guilty of these reasons at one point or another:

1. You’re looking to fill emotional voids

There’s a reason shopping is also known as “retail therapy.” Experts from Psychology Today say people often buy items in the hopes that they’ll make them feel better about themselves or their situation¹.  

Decluttering and organizational expert Tracy McCubbins actually identified seven “emotional clutter magnets” that may explain the underlying reasons why you constantly want to buy things.²

The seven emotional clutter magnets identified are: 

Clutter Magnet No. 1: True Connection, which is our primal need for a tribe and community.

Clutter Magnet No. 2: Strong Self-Confidence, which is our belief in our inherent attractiveness, both to others and ourselves.

Clutter Magnet No. 3: Free Time, which is the knowledge we can move through life with ease and calm.

Clutter Magnet No. 4: Big Love, which runs the gamut from romantic to familial, and where some of our deepest wounds lie. 

Clutter Magnet No. 5: Self-Respect, the knowledge that we bring unique attributes into the room, even without any status symbols to telegraph them.

Clutter Magnet No. 6: Real Purpose, meaning our craving for professional or vocational fulfillment. 

Clutter Magnet No. 7: Lasting Wisdom, the confidence in our ability to implement all we have learned. 

So if you’re struggling to find your purpose or passion or looking for love or self-confidence, you may buy things you don’t need to get closer to those goals. 

However, those purchases only provide an illusion of taking the first step. They won’t give you the deeper emotional fulfillment your psyche craves.

Buying things when depressed, stressed, or lonely doesn’t make you feel happier, more fulfilled, or connected to others. They’re only a temporary band-aid for your unmet emotional needs.

If you find yourself in this boat, you must identify what you’re truly searching for. 

financial competition homes joneses

2. You’re keeping up with the joneses

The phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” refers to a subconscious desire to have what others around you possess.

Social media makes this reason for buying things incredibly difficult to ignore.

Whether it’s a new car, a bigger house, or just having nicer things, it’s hard to look at your peers and not feel like you want or deserve the same (if not better).

But keeping up with the Joneses is a recipe for disaster. 

You may feel pressured to spend more than you can afford just to keep up with appearances, racking up loads of debt in the process. Even worse? Odds are you’ll never actually feel like you’ve caught up. Once you’ve started down the road of thinking this way, you’ll constantly feel less than your peers rather than feel happy about what you already have.

3. You’re trying to shape your IDENTITY and personality

What is it called when you buy something without thinking?

People in the biz refer to this knee-jerk reaction as an impulse buy

Take, for example, the ever-so-popular stainless steel cups that are all the rage on Instagram. Whether Stanley, Yeti, Hydro Flask, or countless other name brands, everyone seems to be toting around these expensive water cups.

Sure, they’re an upgrade to your basic water bottle, but is that the reason you bought one? What really hooked you was probably the message that owning one of these sends.

These stainless steel cups tell people you’re sporty, outdoorsy, healthy, and care about how much water you drink. They also convey that you value having the best cup on the market.

Yet, at the end of the day, it’s just a cup, right?

The saturation of influencers pushing these products tricks your brain into associating them with “gotta-have” status. So when you see one, you immediately buy it without thinking.

You may want to subconsciously associate yourself with people who also use that item. Or you may be using that product to tell people who you are and what you’re about. Buying one can also be a way to fit in and find your tribe.

But, deep down, you know the things you buy don’t shape your identity and value. 

4. You want to feel in control

Sometimes buying things you don’t need is simply a way to feel more in control of your life. Having money to buy what you want, whenever you want, is an empowering feeling — especially if you were unable to do this growing up or as a young adult.  Rather than worrying about money like your parents, for example, the ability to purchase anything that catches your eye may provide a sense of self-assurance and stability you never experienced. But you’ll dilute this feeling of control the more you give in to the urge to buy things you don’t need. Then you may feel trapped by all your possessions instead of being proud you can afford them.

5. You can’t resist a seEmingly good deal

Retailers strategically design their products and their discounts to entice customers. They know how to make prices convey a “good deal” and bundle items to trick you into buying more than you budgeted for.

For example, something priced at $19.97 seems more attractive than something marked $20, even though there’s only a three-cent difference. 

You may unknowingly fall victim to clever, psychologically backed pricing tactics like these that encourage impulse buys, especially if you’re in a hurry. 

Though this reason isn’t entirely your fault, there are things you can do to mitigate how you respond to your desire to buy stuff you don’t need.

How to overcome the urge to buy more things

So how do I stop myself from buying things I don’t need? We think the following tips can help you learn what to do instead of buying stuff:

1. Identify and Address Your Emotional Triggers

 Check out the emotional clutter magnets we highlighted earlier, and try to think about which ones resonate with you most.  Once you do, work to address those issues head-on rather than using retail therapy as your solution.  You’ll likely need to dive deep into your emotional trauma or uncover hidden triggers at the root of your unnecessary buying to stop it altogether.

2. Avoid Your Exposure to Triggers 

Whether avoiding tempting stores and aisles (hello, Target’s dollar section) or setting time limits on social media, you must steer clear of the triggers that set you off.

If you’re an online shopper, you may need to unsubscribe to mailing lists, so you’re not lured by every sale that lands in your inbox.

3. No More Impulse Buys

Give yourself at least 24 to 48 hours to consider a purchase before pulling out your wallet.

Once that time has passed, you can better gauge whether you really need the item in question or if it was just another impulse buy.

As you consider your future purchase, ask yourself whether you’re justifying the buy as a way to deal with a deeper emotional need. 

If it’s the latter, spend time addressing that instead of covering it up with another useless purchase.

4. Make A List And Stick To It 

Create lists of things you need and stick to buying those items anytime you shop. Don’t let the allure of the store, website, or weekly ads tempt you into buying things you don’t need. Stay laser-focused on the items on your list and within your set budget only.

5. Be More Charitable 

Curbing your shopping habits will take time. So if you want to know what to buy when you feel like buying something, consider your favorite charity.  Soup kitchens, animal shelters, homeless missions, and more can all use items you’ll feel good about buying.

6. Practice Gratitude

It’s easy to lose sight of all that you’re blessed with. But when you take a step back, it soon becomes clear that you have everything you need and don’t need anything more.

So start a simple gratitude practice where you list ten things you’re grateful for each day. You’ll realize that being materialistic isn’t the path to happiness.

Stop buying things you don’t need once and for all

Now that you know why you might be buying things you don’t need, it’s time to use the tips we discussed to break the cycle. It may be tough at first, but it’ll become easier with practice.

Follow through on this task, and we know you’ll be much happier and more financially free in the future.

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