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 Post subject: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 19, 2012 9:50 am 

Joined: Tue Aug 07, 2012 7:47 am
Posts: 30
I have a bit of a problem.

I am filled with longing for stuff. It kinda doesn't matter what it is. I just want things. I go to online websites and fill up wish lists and carts full of stuff.

Intellectually, I know that this stuff won't make me happy. I've read all about the hedonic treadmill. I also know that it will derail the hard work my husband and I have been doing to get our financial house in order.

And yet. It's like I just can't turn off the longing switch.

I don't know how to appreciate all that I have (and I have plenty) without pining away over the things I don't have.

Has anyone out there experienced this and overcome it?


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 Post subject: Re: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 19, 2012 11:39 am 

Joined: Fri Jul 29, 2011 8:38 am
Posts: 187
I don't really want much stuff, but wanted to throw out a few ideas for you. Did you mention in your journal that your mom shops a lot/buys a lot? So maybe this is part of your childhood, which may make it a behavior that's really hard to control.

--You can call and ask to be removed from the mailing list of catalogs. This helps reduce junk mail and maybe reduce temptation for you.
--Maybe you could give yourself a shopping allowance that's just enough to satisfy your desire to buy things?
--I used to buy a lot of clothes after college. When I stopped going to the mall all the time, I wasn't even around clothes and my purchases went way down. Not as easy to control if you're browsing online, though.
--Fill your time with other things. Do you have some hobbies you enjoy to keep you busy and away from shopping online?
--Have you read The Millionaire Next Door? I read it years ago and it really opened my eyes about behaviors and how they affect our wealth.
--Set some concrete goals (not too big) and reward yourself as you meet them. Then you can look forward to buying something as you make progress. It helps me to have my goals and my progress prominently posted on the fridge, in a spreadsheet, etc so that I see them often and they aren't so abstract.
--Maybe check out some resources about shopping addiction. It doesn't sound like you have a severe problem, but there might be some tips you could try.

No real experience or brilliant ideas, but I hope you can find something that helps you!


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 Post subject: Re: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 19, 2012 11:50 am 

Joined: Wed May 30, 2012 11:56 am
Posts: 132
The question is, why do you crave stuff? There are several ways to change your attitude, what works best depends on the why and what motivates you.

Force yourself to stop. Ban yourself from any shopping sites. When you go holiday shopping set a reminder on your phone to go off every couple of minutes to remind you that you're shopping for gifts, not yourself. Take a friend or your husband, someone who can help keep you focused on what you're doing. Make a "browse" jar where you have put put in $X every time you browse a store or website. It's possible that looking up and wanting things is just a habit that you need to break.

Start focusing more on "doing" than "things". Get a hobby, something like hiking, music, web design, or even start a side business. Make a list of things you want to do, both things that can be done right now and things that are more for the future. Start doing the things on your "now" list and make at least one thing on your "future" list a solid goal. If you're low on ideas use the internet to research actions rather than things.

Volunteer to work with the poor. If you're at a food bank and see what it takes for people to come asking for food you might realize how ridiculous your urge to collect stuff is. Become a big sister to a kid, work in a soup kitchen, or help out a shelter.

Calculate how much work it would take to pay for whatever it is. If you're filling up a wish list or cart online, take the total and divide it by your hourly take home. Then add on more time to pay for your bills- if it'll take you 160 hours to pay for it and you need 80 hours a week to pay for necessities, then it'll really take you 320 hours (160+80=240, but that's a second month so add 80 again - bills come first each month). Don't include your husband's earnings since these are things you want. I'll often do this at the store, even with small items - if someone offered to pay me with this item for half an hour of work, would it be worth it? This gives you a different view on the value of things

Alternately, figure out how much your stuff - and the stuff you want - costs you per month. If the couch was $600 and you'll keep it for 5 years, that's $10/month. Then add in the tv, sound system, computer, other furniture, kitchen appliances, etc. It'll take some work to figure out, but if you like to replace large items every few years (or just want to) you'll see how quickly these items can add up. Even replacing small items like dishes and decor frequently can be surprisingly expensive, another view on value.

Look at the things you've already bought, has each item fulfilled the purpose you intended for it? If you buy things with grand visions of how they're going to improve your life, how's that worked out so far? When you look at new things and think "Ooh, I want", realize that the past does repeat itself and that item - or set of items - is not going to turn your living room into a palace, or make your cooking fantastic, or whatever. Instead, start to associate those "wants" with previous mistake purchases.

Spend time reading personal finance blogs, especially those that focus on non-necessary spending as opposed to the "oops, I did it again" type blogs. Reading about the frugal point of view could help sway your mind towards the "yeah, I don't need that stuff!" attitude.

If your craving is so deep seated that you just can't stop, lookup a local shopaholics anonymous meeting or other counseling.


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 Post subject: Re: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 19, 2012 12:27 pm 

Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2012 4:34 pm
Posts: 471
Fiddlefaddle and Catchingup have offered great suggestions to help get out of the over-consumption mindset. For me, I've come to realize my "want" meter starts pinging in the red when I compare myself to others. In fact, I've pretty much had to stop watching HGTV because at one point seeing all the fancy house upgrades actually made me feel sad about my house (which is a very nice house, IMO). So, removing myself from situations that triggered those comparisons has helped.

Also, reminding myself that I don't know the situation of the other person helps. For instance, I noticed my next door neighbor driving a new Beamer that is different from the previous (new) Beamer she was driving before. Bottom line is I don't know her situation. It could be a company car. It could be a lease. She could be making much more money than me. Or, she could be in a lot of debt. Reminding myself of these possibilities helps me feel good about my (newly-paid off) Honda.

Finally, when all else fails, I go watch an episode of "Hoarders." I have found nothing more effective for getting rid of my want-itis than watching this show. In fact, watching "Hoarders" often inspires my hubby and I to go through a round of do-we-need-this in the house, and get rid/donate things we don't use anymore. It's also helped inspire a new rule we adhere to, which is that we don't buy things unless it has a specific use and a specific place.


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 Post subject: Re: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 19, 2012 12:37 pm 

Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 5:15 pm
Posts: 1120
margerie wrote:
I have a bit of a problem.

I am filled with longing for stuff. It kinda doesn't matter what it is. I just want things. I go to online websites and fill up wish lists and carts full of stuff.

Intellectually, I know that this stuff won't make me happy. I've read all about the hedonic treadmill. I also know that it will derail the hard work my husband and I have been doing to get our financial house in order.

And yet. It's like I just can't turn off the longing switch.

I don't know how to appreciate all that I have (and I have plenty) without pining away over the things I don't have.

Has anyone out there experienced this and overcome it?


Have you considered seeing a shrink?


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 Post subject: Re: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 19, 2012 2:39 pm 

Joined: Mon Apr 25, 2011 7:37 am
Posts: 446
I looked at your blog, and it looks like you are busy paying off debt, which means you probably are having to defer purchases that you normally would purchase. It takes awhile to "reset" the thermostat.

We as Americans are surrounded by an all time high of ads and other methods to try to make us buy. Maybe you can search out where this feeling is coming from. When you hang out with a particular group of people? See something on tv? When you are bored?

Don't watch tv (and the attentant consumer oriented programming and commercials). Get catalogs and email sales out of your mail and inbox.
If you can create a list of the last 5 years or so of stuff you have bought, you can reflect, on how much stuff you HAVE bought and how much money you have spent.

Watch documentaries or movies that depict a different way of life (pretty much anything other than American/first world). Heck even just European movies have a different focus than most of our culture. If I read about disasters or simply how some have to survive, it makes me grateful for all the things I do have.

Do allow yourself to purchase, but do it mindfully. If it is something you need, plan the purchase. Don't use as excuse for yet further purchases. Simply going to the grocery store to look at all the beautiful food, and then picking out some things to make something homemade gets my shopping urge out. Thrift stores can be good for that as well.
Keep yourself busy. If there is something you want to buy but can't right now, have a goal that you need to accomplish before you buy a certain thing, or save it for a holiday or birthday. Then you have both motivation, and a greater sense of accomplishment when you do buy it. In this way you understand. That now is not the time for a, b, c. But under these conditions I can get a, b, c.


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 Post subject: Re: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 19, 2012 2:59 pm 

Joined: Sat Jun 16, 2012 2:11 am
Posts: 192
Try to offset the consequences of buying all that stuff. What would you have to sacrifice?

Personally I might want "stuff", but knowing that part of the cost is the stress of empty savings accounts and keeping track of credit card debt I find it is not worth it. The tranquility of a sound economy and lack of financial worries is priceless.

Besides, I can buy stuff. If I need it I budget for it and buy it when I got the money.


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 Post subject: Re: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 19, 2012 4:41 pm 
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Joined: Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:01 am
Posts: 5293
This probably is not too helpful in your case but I'll throw it out there just in case -

About 3 years ago we decided to retire early and gradually set a date that is now about 3 years off. When we retire we'll be moving right away. I know that anything I buy will either have to be thrown away, sold, or moved at that point and that is a very strong motivator not to buy anything.

You might avoid buying things by changing your attitude so that buying or owning things becomes a burden. Think about what a hassle it will be to store, clean, care for or otherwise deal with what you buy. It's easier than you think!

Also, "Your Money or Your Life" should be required reading for this forum and is very relevant in your case. Force yourself to write down how many hours you are working for each item you buy...and then force yourself at work to start thinking "now I start working for that X I want." If you have a little self-discipline to do that I bet you'll be thinking a lot more consciously about what you buy very soon.


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 Post subject: Re: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 19, 2012 5:21 pm 

Joined: Tue Aug 07, 2012 7:47 am
Posts: 30
I appreciate the insights. I know this is something I have to work on in service of the big picture in my life.

- We have no more consumer/student loan debt as of just a few days ago. Our attention turns to saving and we have some finite goals for the next few years. But whatever we were paying towards the debt is now going to savings, so it's not like my disposable money is going to change.

- I see a therapist for depression, and anxiety issues. We use CBT. We talked about this stuff today.

- My husband has decided he wants to retire early and I want to support him in that endeavor. The more we save, the better. So that's the big picture.

- I'm pretty good (not always, but still pretty good) at walking away from temptations, the problem is the longing HURTS and the temptation is hard to resist. I feel like my willpower reserves are not infinite and I just want the wanting to stop.

- The more time I spend on hobbies, the more I want to spend money on supplies. I feel my creativity going strong and sense the possibilities, and what I have never quite looks as good as what I might have. That's always been my biggest source of buying too much and overspending.


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 Post subject: Re: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Tue Nov 20, 2012 7:22 am 

Joined: Tue Jun 05, 2012 9:42 am
Posts: 15
I used to buy a lot of little things and realized after a few years....why did I buy all this stuff.
Now I focus on bigger things. Like buying the house of my dreams, early retirement, etc. Those are the things that are very important to me. And with focusing of those things causes me to focus more on the big picture of savings and investments and how to do it correctly and effectively. It's a mind shift, and that's my point. Just focus on bigger, more important things.
I've wanted a big screen tv for years and can easily afford one, but it would take away from the big picture. Especially where I don't "need" one. Maybe I'm just wishing my current tv breaks so I "need" one. :)


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 Post subject: Re: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:28 am 

Joined: Thu Apr 05, 2007 3:05 pm
Posts: 1321
There's a saying: "the less that you ask for, the more you don't mind."

Consumption is a habit. If you break the habit and go for a period of time without buying anything, chances are very good your desire to consume will weaken. There are lots of ways to make this happen; perhaps the most extreme is to go on a "buy nothing" spree for several days or a week. See how long you can go without buying anything (other than groceries and other necessities), and then buy one thing and give yourself a cooling-off period of another few days or weeks before you buying something else.

Spending can be like mindless eating: you eat a piece of candy and it tastes so good that you end up eating the entire bag even though you weren't actually hungry to begin with. Sometimes you have to go cold turkey and simply avoid eating candy for a while. When you go back and try a piece of candy after not having eaten any candy at all for a few weeks, it might taste sickly sweet and you won't actually feel any desire to eat more.

Similarly, the more you spend, the more you want to spend. If you stop spending you will get out of the habit of spending.

I've successfully reined in my own spending that way; I'm now perfectly content to buy one or two articles of clothing per year, for example. I used to buy 20-30 music CDs every year; now I buy at most 1 or 2, and some years I don't buy any.

For "what I have is never as good as what I might have," I address that issue by going online and looking at the original reviews of older products I have, which usually makes me realize that what I already have is quite good and I've far from tapped into its potential. Yes, it's not perfect, and something better might be available, but it's amazing what people have accomplished using technologies, tools, and other materials that would be considered primitive by today's standards. This works especially well for things like digital cameras (I successfully put off my desire to upgrade my camera for four years by going back and reading reviews, plus looking at photos that other photographers had made with the same camera I owned) and computers, phones, tablets, etc., but it can also work for tools and equipment for a large range of hobbies.


Last edited by brad on Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:39 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:36 am 

Joined: Thu Jun 23, 2011 3:24 pm
Posts: 87
Full disclosure: my mother was a hoarder. I am not but definitely have to be "aware" of stuff to avoid major unwanted clutter (not to mention unwanted spending). The hoarding shows are painful for me to watch but the online board Children of Hoarders helped me a lot.

margerie wrote:
...it's not like my disposable money is going to change.
...
- I'm pretty good (not always, but still pretty good) at walking away from temptations, the problem is the longing HURTS and the temptation is hard to resist. I feel like my willpower reserves are not infinite and I just want the wanting to stop.


Sounds like you have already made a lot of progress. Yay!

I agree with the other suggestions to avoid stimuli focused on buying stuff - basically, much of modern media. Luckily there are lots of websites to help reinforce non-buying behavior, I like zenhabits and unclutterer and also postconsumers and earlyretirementextreme.

One habit that might help is to be aware of when you are "longing" and then purposefully interrupt your "longing" interior monologue to remind yourself that you *have* paid down debt and *have* changed your spending habits and *are* preparing for early retirement and actually your life is now better - even use a catch-phrase like "longing passes soon" or "more stuff isn't what I want" or "stuff isn't me" or...whatever captures it for you. Won't stop the longing right away but could help short-circuit it.

partgypsy1 wrote:
...It takes awhile to "reset" the thermostat.


How true!

alohabear wrote:
...In fact, I've pretty much had to stop watching HGTV because at one point seeing all the fancy house upgrades actually made me feel sad about my house (which is a very nice house, IMO).


We have a game in our house where we call out each time someone says "need" or "must have" on an HGTV show. Because, you know, humans can't survive without a master bath the size of my living room ;)


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 Post subject: Re: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Tue Nov 20, 2012 11:06 am 
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Joined: Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:01 am
Posts: 5293
margerie wrote:
- The more time I spend on hobbies, the more I want to spend money on supplies. I feel my creativity going strong and sense the possibilities, and what I have never quite looks as good as what I might have. That's always been my biggest source of buying too much and overspending.


Can I ask what your hobbies are? You could explore variations on your hobbies that both build your creativity and reduce costs. If you are an artist for example you could prepare your own paints using natural pigments you collect and prepare yourself.

The folks here are very ingenious at saving money. If you give us a little bit of a hint you might get some great ideas.


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 Post subject: Re: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Tue Nov 20, 2012 11:39 am 

Joined: Tue Aug 07, 2012 7:47 am
Posts: 30
DoingHomework wrote:
Can I ask what your hobbies are? You could explore variations on your hobbies that both build your creativity and reduce costs. If you are an artist for example you could prepare your own paints using natural pigments you collect and prepare yourself.

The folks here are very ingenious at saving money. If you give us a little bit of a hint you might get some great ideas.


I knit and quilt. And I like to read online blogs about both of those things for ideas, patterns, and inspirations, but they are very consumer oriented. People are always talking about the new lines of tools or supplies, reviewing them, trading tips, talking about it. It clearly gets to me.

One thing that has helped a bit is that some friends have commissioned knits from me. They buy the yarn and tip me for the labor (no one could pay minimum wage for handknits, it would quickly become the $1000 sweater) and that gives me something to work on with a little bonus. They've been very popular at work.


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 Post subject: Re: How do you learn to want less?
PostPosted: Tue Nov 20, 2012 11:54 am 

Joined: Wed May 30, 2012 11:56 am
Posts: 132
There's a whole line of companies who make their wages selling stuff to crafters that the crafters don't need. Scrap bookers seem to be the hardest hit, but I've seen their influence in many other markets. Seriously, people have been knitting and quilting for years, and they've produced some really great things, all without any fancy machinery or tool that cuts the perfect square or whatever! In fact, I'd bet at least one of those sites was started by a manufacturer to market their stuff. Ugh, don't get me started...

There have to be quilters and knitters online that focus on the traditional methods, where all you need is a sewing machine (or needle and thread) or a pair of knitting needles. That's how my sister knits, the fanciest tool she has is a pair of needles with a wire on the end for doing tubes or something like that. And quilting was started using old scraps of fabric, there's no reason you can't take on that same mentality of using leftovers.

If you can't find a site promoting traditional crafting, maybe you should start the movement yourself on one of those sites! You can't be the only person unhappy with the consumerism in the community. In the meantime, keep your focus on what you want to create, not what others are using to create with. I'm rather proud of the basic tools I use in my craft hobby, I don't need no fancy stuff to make my works of art!


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