6 Tips to Stop Impulse Buying

Living with less waste is very firmly linked to the buying of less stuff. The less we buy, the less resources we use, the less packaging we invite into our homes, the less storage we need (don’t forget, storage is stuff), and the less we end up recycling or landfilling down the track.

But it can be very hard to stop buying stuff. After all, everywhere we look, there are adverts or people persuading us that the thing they have is exactly what we need. Whether it’s on the TV, billboards, printed magazines or newspapers, social media feeds, internet banner ads or somewhere else, we are exposed to a lot of adverts.

And everything can be posted everywhere.

Not to mention, there is a lot of beautiful, useful stuff out there in the world.

With all this in mind, it is really not surprising that we keep buying stuff. But most of us have more than we need, and would rather decrease the clutter than add more to it.

If we want to live a low waste lifestyle, and save resources, we really need to buy less stuff.

But how?

Here’s 6 things I did to get out of the habit of impulse buying.

1. Unsubscribe from ALL Shop Email Lists (and anything else that is way too salesy)

I used to sign up to store mailing lists as they promised me discounts and to be the first to know about all their special offers. Turns out, pretty much everything is on offer pretty much all of the time. But by keeping their stuff in my face, they were wearing me down, and encouraging me to buy things I didn’t even know existed until I saw the ad.

I wasn’t saving money by being on these mailing lists, I was spending more.

The truth is, I know when the big sales are on. I don’t need the stores to tell me. Black Friday, Boxing Day, the end of the financial year. If I want something from these stores, I can go to their websites at these times to see if they have offers. They don’t need to come to me.

And if I forget? Well, that just means I didn’t really need anything in the first place.

As well as unsubscribing from store email lists, I also unfollow any businesses or people I feel were too salesy. I don’t block everyone who ever posts an ad (but you could!), I just weigh up the balance. If I enjoy the feed, find the content useful and don’t feel under pressure to buy or constantly exposed to “stuff”, I’m happy to stay following.

But as soon as the balance tips and I realise I’m just seeing a bunch of covert (or not!) ads, then I’m done.

2. Don’t Browse Catalogues or Websites Out Of Boredom

I remember a couple of years into my minimalism journey, receiving a catalogue from David Jones through the mailbox (for those outside Australia, David Jones is a fancy high-end department store). I flicked through it and saw all the purple kitchen accessories and nautical themed clothing, with cute anchor accessories and smart blue-and-white striped everything.

I didn’t own any of those things!

Immediately I felt inadequate, and a small voice in my brain started to tell me that I needed to own a blue nautical stripy jumper, and really, wasn’t it time to upgrade the kitchen spatula?

At the same time, my experience of minimalism told me this was absurd. Luckily I’d been on the less waste, less stuff journey for long enough that the stern, don’t be so ridiculous voice in my head was louder, and won out.

I put the catalogue in the recycling, and vowed never to flick through another catalogue again. (Oh, and I got a “No Advertising Material Accepted” for my mailbox. It works wonders.)

As someone on the less waste, less stuff journey I didn’t think I’d be tempted, but I was. The pull of these things can be pretty strong.

Don’t put yourself in temptation’s way. Don’t go to store websites unless there’s something you absolutely need. Don’t browse out of boredom. Don’t browse for “inspiration” – you’ll end up spending money you didn’t mean to.

Don’t open the shopping catalogues. (If they arrive in the mail, strikethrough your address and write “Not at this address, return to sender” on front, then mail it straight back where it came from.)

Instead, find another way to alleviate your boredom. Read a few pages from a book, go for a walk, play a game, message a friend, whip up some tasty treat in the kitchen.

The less we expose ourselves to “stuff”, the less tempted we are to buy stuff, and the less we buy.

3. Don’t Go To The Shops Without A Reason

If we are trying to stop buying stuff, browsing and window shopping are not reasons to go to the store. Unless there is something we need, and we have a list that we are prepared to stick to, we must resist the temptation to head to the shopping centre.

What you don’t see you won’t buy.

When it comes to writing lists, more specific is better. Rather than “a top for work”, think about what you really need. “A short-sleeved top, preferably green or blue, that will match the skirt and trousers I already own” is a much better instruction. Rather than “stuff for dinner”, look in the fridge and pantry, figure out what is already there and what would be most useful. “Potatoes, tomatoes and chickpeas” might allow you to use up what’s already in the fridge, and create less food waste.

If we are vague about what we need, we will end up with things we don’t need.

If friends want to meet at the shops, try to suggest meeting somewhere else. If that is not an option, consider opting out, especially if the purpose of the meeting is to go (window) shopping. There are plenty of fun things to do with friends that do not involve buying stuff. Try to steer future meetings away from the mall.

4. Learn the Difference between “Useful” and “Necessary”

So much stuff is beautiful, and so much stuff is useful – but that doesn’t mean we need to buy any of it (and definitely not all of it). Often we confuse “useful” with “necessary” when it comes to making purchases, and the two are very different.

The question isn’t “how will the item be used” so much as “how will I use it”? Or even, will I use it? Not once or twice, but consistently, regularly.

Stuff doesn’t just need to be useful. Stuff needs to be used.

Necessary can mean different things to different people. Good reasons include making our life easier, making us less stressed, saving a noticeable amount of time or anguish, providing entertainment, and helping keep the peace at home.

Here’s a few questions to ask to decide if something is actually necessary, or merely useful.

  • Do I need it? I mean, do I really need it?
  • How will I use it? Where will I use it? When will I use it? How often will I use it?
  • Will it still be useful in three months time? Six months time? In a year?
  • Is there anything else I already have that can do that job?
  • How will it make my life better?

If in doubt, go without.

5. When You See Something You Want, Don’t Buy It – Let it Simmer

If you see something that you want, or even something that you think you need, resist the urge to make the purchase. For now.

Put down the purse, walk away, and let it simmer.

(Unless the item has been on your “I absolutely must purchase this if I ever see it because it is so inherently useful and necessary” list for at least 6 months – but I’m betting you don’t actually even have a list like this.)

See how you feel about the item later that day. See how you feel about it the next day. See how you feel about it in a week.

This is hard when there’s stuff in the sale, or on the “when it’s gone, it’s gone” rail, because marketers use scarcity to encourage us to buy stuff. We’re not sure if we want it, but if we don’t buy it, we might make a mistake! It might not be there tomorrow! Someone else might snaffle it instead!

But that’s not our brain doing a rational assessment of whether we really need or will use something. That’s our ‘fear of missing out’ talking. Since when was that guy in charge of our purchasing decisions?

In a week, if you are still adamant that you need and want the item, buy it. Worst case, you wait a week, decide you want the item, and it is gone. I’m betting that you’ll still be able to find the item somewhere else, or wait for it to appear second-hand online in no time.

Absolute absolute worst case, that doesn’t happen, and you miss out on the thing forever. The good news is, it is only a thing. There will be plenty more things that we want to buy over the course of our lives.

Life will go on.

6. Find a Way To “Reward” Yourself That Isn’t Shopping

If buying stuff is what you do when you’re bored, miserable, dejected or struggling with life, and you want to stop buying stuff, then you need to find a new way to make yourself feel better. Because trying to stop impulse buying, only to buy stuff as a means to soothe ourselves, is counter-intuitive. (It’s like going on a diet, and rewarding ourselves with chocolate cake. Tasty and satisfying in the moment, but it undoes all the good work.)

The good news is, there are plenty of other feel-good things to do. If you need cheering up, think of something that you enjoy that doesn’t involve shopping. Watch a movie or comedy show, bake a cake, stroll around the park, or make time for a cup of tea with some friends. Join an exercise class, learn a new language, or take up a new skill.

There are much more rewarding and enjoyable things to do than shop, and much better ways to use our money than buying “stuff”. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but each time we say no and resist the urge to open our wallet, we get a little closer.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you an impulse shopper? Did you used to be an impulse shopper? How did you learn to change? Is it something you’re currently trying to change? What are your biggest tips for not spending? Do you have any impulse shopping weaknesses? (Chocolate, hello!) Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

6 Tips to Stop Impulse Buying
21 replies
  1. Sally
    Sally says:

    Thank you for this wise post. Too true, particularly the browsing out of boredom. I do allow myself to impulse-buy in my favourite charity-shop, Oxfam, because someone else benefits from it and I can think of it as a donation. But I need to learn how to give stuff back if it doesn’t get worn/used/read!

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sally! I try to see charity shops also as a loan service. If I buy something and later realise I don’t use it or need it, I return it and as you say, feel like I paid to loan/borrow something (and yes, it is going to charity so no reason to complain)!

  2. Abigail Haddock
    Abigail Haddock says:

    I counted up the catalogs around my home after the holiday season and was horrified to find 25. Some had even been delivered in my mother’s name and she passed two years ago! I spent a couple of hours a day over a week and called each one and requested that the mailings and emails stop. What was interesting was that each one had the same story. Mailers are printed up at least 3-4 months in advance and so the catalogs will continue to arrive for that long. I do recycle all the glossy junk mail, catalogs and magazines (all of which I never subscribed to) and the plain paper junk mail is used for fire starters in my wood stove.
    I have taken a pledge to not purchase any new clothing in 2019 and not being tempted by advertising is helping me fight the urge. One month down and no slip ups so far!

    • onefamilyoneplanetblog
      onefamilyoneplanetblog says:

      Hi Abigail,

      Good luck with your pledge!

      I spent 2018 being especially conscious of clothes buying. I made sure I only bought things I absolutely needed and then bought the best I could find. If I wanted something, I pressed the pause button (what Lindsay called ‘letting it simmer’).

      I wrote a blog post about my year of conscious clothing: https://onefamilyoneplanetblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/25/conscious-clothing-wardrobe-manifesto/

      Unsubscribing from sales emails and not ‘going to the shops’ without a specific purpose was actually a huge relief! It’s so easy to get sucked into the marketing ‘dream’ if you’re around it all the time.

      Sally at One Family, One Planet blog

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Hi Abigail and great job for taking the time to cancel all those catalogues! A few minutes of pain will be worth it in the long run. A “no advertising material accepted” sticker also works wonders, and if I receive catalogues addressed to me (as opposed to flyer drops) I cross out the address and write “return to sender” and put back in the mailbox.

      Good luck with the no new clothing challenge! Be sure to check back in and tell us how it is going! :)

    • juliamaurus
      juliamaurus says:

      Last year I committed to buying nothing new (other than groceries). I love stationery and my most effective strategy was not to go into any gift shop where I may be tempted to buy stationery. I also unsubscribed from all commercial email lists. Having a “buy nothing new” rule really helped me avoid impulse purchases, and I could still find things I absolutely needed second-hand.

      • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
        Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

        I love this Julia – congrats to you! And yes we all have a weakness. I am undecided what mine is, but I find it hard to walk past a shelf of seed packs without buying seeds… And I suspect there are others. As you say, keeping away from stores stops the temptation before it hits!

    • Georgie
      Georgie says:

      I took the same pledge in 2017 & have never looked back! It was amazing how cutting out buying new clothing reset my perception of what I need & where I source it from.

  3. Jen
    Jen says:

    Hi Lindsay, thanks for this advice. I’m on track with your mission, but still I learnt a few things…unsubscribe! Okay!!! Wait a week!yes!! Have already stopped looking in catalogues & shop windows. Museum gift shops are my downfall thanks again for inspiration.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Thanks Jen! I actually read something the other day that I thought was interesting and hadn’t come across before. I don’t remember exactly (should have written it down) but it was something like, if you see something you like, don’t buy it. If you find yourself thinking about it at least 10 times / on 10 different occasions, then buy it. I know that works for me because occasionally I see something, and then I start to think about it and obsess over whether it’s a good decision… and I figure when it takes up that much brain space, it is worth it. Probably happens twice a year, so we aren’t talking often! Maybe another one to add to your arsenal…?!

      • juliamaurus
        juliamaurus says:

        A couple of times when travelling I found something I loved but thought “Well, I’ll think about it and I’m sure I can find it online” and then couldn’t get it online. But like you said, it is only a thing. I still wish I bought that beautiful cushion and that fine teapot, but it’s better not to have so much stuff and that regret is a total first-world problem! One item I regretted not buying I did finally manage to find in another shop – it’s from overseas, it’s the best quality and I use it regularly.

        • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
          Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

          Hi Julie, ahhh yes it does sometimes happen! But as you say, it’s only things. There will be plenty more things. I remember finding a People Tree dress in a store, I loved it and it fitted but I didn’t buy it. I kept thinking about it and decided to buy it online, by which time it was sold out. I checked eBay for almost two years hoping that dress would come up, and it never did. I eish I’d bought it, but hey, I managed to remain clothed without it Life went on. I might just go and see if it is on eBay though… I haven’t checked in a while!

  4. onefamilyoneplanetblog
    onefamilyoneplanetblog says:

    LOL “(Unless the item has been on your “I absolutely must purchase this if I ever see it because it is so inherently useful and necessary” list for at least 6 months – but I’m betting you don’t actually even have a list like this.)” Well, I do!!! :)

    I have a few specific items I’m looking for – clothing (specific descriptions like you suggest!), knitting needles of particular sizes, swingtop bottles for homemade kombucha – and I keep this list on my phone for when I’m in an opshop so I know what to look out for. Not all these items have been on there for 6 months yet, but I’m close!

    Sally at One Family, One Planet blog

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Hi Sally and hurrah, that’s great! Love it! I don’t have an official list as such, well – not a written one. But I usually have one or two things in my head that I want to find second-hand. Happy to wait it out! As you say, its often clothing (a specific style of colour of something) or a specific tool. I’ve had these specific stools on my second-hand buy list for almost two years… really don’t want to buy them new…

  5. Rose Teal
    Rose Teal says:

    Hi Lindsay

    Great advice on your site – thank you. I’ve been using the ‘let it simmer’ thing for a few years now – I found I’d usually gone home at the end of my shopping trip and had forgotten all about going back for the item I’d seen at the beginning! Might just be my age…
    Keep up the good work. Cheers Rose

  6. Everything Bags Inc.
    Everything Bags Inc. says:

    ‘Let it simmer’. Will definitely take a while to ace that.
    This post is a good start for shopaholics out there! Thanks for sharing. Love to read your posts.

  7. Lori Kneisly
    Lori Kneisly says:

    Thank you so much Lindsay! I am a costume jewelry shopping addict! Unfortunately my husband is no help as he never tells me no and always encourages me to “buy it in every color if you like it!”. However, he doesn’t see the credit card bills! I actually asked him to block the shopping channels on TV and not to tell me the code.

    I usually go thru a vicious cycle of buying and waiting excitedly for it to arrive in the mail, then feel guilty and send it all back. A vicious cycle. Its mostly out of boredom and the love of shiny things!

    You’re article is very insightful! I definitely need to find a better and cheaper way to alleviate my boredom!


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