We all love the feeling of a package showing up on our doorstep. But a pile of boxes arriving daily could be a sign that you are in the grips of online hyperconsumerism. You don’t need to have a full blown compulsive online shopping disorder to still feel crappy about your out of control purchasing. Whether you’re buying for yourself or mostly for your kids, it’s a slippery slope from convenience to an online hyperconsumerism habit.
What Exactly is Hyperconsumerism?
Basically, it means we are buying stuff just to buy it. We want more, faster, and NOW. Often times we are compelled to buy things in order to feel better about ourselves. Subconsciously we believe our own success and self-worth is tied into, and reflected by, the things we own.
Hyperconsumerism is defined by Wikipedia as,
The consumption of goods for non-functional purposes and the associated significant pressure to consume those goods exerted by the modern, capitalist society, as those goods shape one’s identity.Wikipedia
My Hyperconsumerism Story
Several years ago, my husband and I had moved into a smaller house and purged a ton of our clothes, knickknacks, furniture and gadgets. It felt really good to shed a bunch of useless stuff.
We embraced minimalism. We spent more time exploring the outdoors and our local eateries, and spent way less time hunched over our phones buying stuff to make our house look “Pinterest perfect.” For a while, I was no longer consumed by…well…consumerism.
Hitting Rock Bottom
Something major happened in our life: I gave birth to our son. Ladies and gentlemen, the purchasing floodgates burst open with a vengeance!
Suddenly, I had a real need to buy new things, and lots of them. Rocking, wrapping, and bouncing gadgets and accessories were a MUST. Heck, it was JUSTIFIED! It wasn’t for ME, right? It was for MY PRECIOUS CHILD! How could I deny my baby what he NEEEEEDS? (And, I mean, who can resist that pair of booties with the little teddy bear rattles sewn onto the toes…AND that baby beanie that says “Chillin”, and…and…AND!
Our Amazon Prime membership was certainly a gateway drug to hyperconsumerism for me. It started out harmlessly enough, ordering diapers and wipes because I was too exhausted to run to the store.
Then I told myself I deserved to buy myself something too (because, well, I had just pushed a damn baby out of me and furthermore, it turns out keeping a baby alive is waaaay harder than I had thought). So, yea, I deserve a comfortable nursing bra. And no one was gonna stop me.
But alas, the speedy free delivery process proved to be too easy of a dopamine fix for my sleep deprived brain to resist. The baby and I started to “deserve” a whole hell of a lot of stuff we really didn’t need.
Quickly my online ordering became a feel good habit. I’m pretty sure the FedEx and UPS drivers placed bets on how many times they were going to show up at our house per day. I’m not proud of it. Just from a purely environmental stand point, it was a disgrace. We amassed enough bubble wrap to start our own shipping business. (Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little…)
But often, whenever I had some time to myself, where I wasn’t feeding, bouncing, or consoling the baby, I would take a little break and buy something online. It was entertainment. It made me feel good. And in those early (sometimes depressing) months at home with a newborn, I really needed to feel good.
Couldn’t get the baby to sleep last night? CLICK.
Looked at my naked post-partum body a little too closely today? CLICK.
Spilled the freshly pumped bottle of breast milk? CLICK. CLICK. CLICK.
Shopping online and buying a few baby toys or outfits was like eating chocolate or going for a nice long walk by myself (which I was never able to do anymore).
Granted, sometimes I actually needed to purchase something essential, like diapers, and in those cases, online shopping was such a life-saver! BUT, it was the hyperconsumerism HABIT that had gotten out of control, and I needed to break the cycle.
Feeling Guilty and Sick of Wanting More
Fortunately, I wasn’t spending enough money to cause our family any major financial strain. But, I was certainly wasting our hard earned money. I knew it was irresponsible, and I felt really guilty.
My hyperconsumerism was many many years in the making, but I believed I could make a change for the better.
I did a little research and quickly began to understand why online shopping is so freaking addictive. Here’s some of what I learned.
Is Online Shopping Feeding Our Compulsion to Spend Money?
Definitely. Here are some scary stats to ponder. According to Statista, 96% of Americans now shop online, and 82% use a mobile device. Which means that over 270 MILLION PEOPLE have the power to purchase all the “stuff” and more of the “stuff” they want, instantly, from the palm of their hand.
This is kind of like giving regular people magic. It’s not gonna end well.
Furthermore, in a new study by eMarketer, more than half of U.S. households this year will have Amazon Prime memberships!
Just think: free shipping for all—and hyperconsumerism and irresponsible spending for more. No wonder Amazon has invested in drone delivery!
Why Is Shopping Online So Enticing?
Have you noticed that there always seems to be a sale going on at your favorite online store? When we see “40% Off PLUS Free Shipping!” our brain lights up like a Christmas tree on steroids (and online marketing teams know this). Humans have a hard time passing up anything that seems like a good deal.
In addition, the fact that we can do our shopping from a device we always carry with us and even receive instant notices from apps about special sales, only magnifies our hyperconsumerism.
Unlike a brick and mortar store, the internet NEVER CLOSES (perfect for 2am feedings), and you don’t have to wrestle your child into a carseat to get there.
But we can’t simply blame the evolution of shopping online for our compulsion to spend money. We have been unwittingly trained in the art of hyperconsumerism by living in our capitalist society.
Why Do We Always Seem to Desire More Things?
Our materialistic culture has been programming our brain to want to buy stuff since we were young. Remember those Scholastic Book Fair orders we used to get in elementary school? Remember how badly you wanted that “cuddly kittens” poster (and the elation you felt when your Mom actually let you order it)? How about the thrill of getting your hands on the “in” jeans from the Kohl’s catalogue during a back-to-school sale? You were gonna make stupid Jennifer L. sooooo jealous.
There was a promise in those catalogue pages of a better life. Some THING we were missing that had the power to make us more happy/beautiful/confident/interesting/admired. And maybe it really DID sometimes (like my first banana seat pink Schwinn bicycle with streamers). Thus, we trained our brains to believe in the power of material things to make our lives better.
Unfortunately, it’s not just magazines and tv commercials we have to fend off anymore. Now that we have online shopping available at our fingertips, the desire to buy things ALL THE TIME is REAL. It’s an endless craving for MORE.
Companies that sell products know that they must appeal to our feeling of “lack” in order to get us to buy. So we’re bombarded online all day with images of beautiful celebrities we should try to look more like, and a hundred different beauty and fashion products (which said celebrities are most likely hocking) that will help get us there.
Then there’s the Insta pressure for our home to look like a West Elm catalogue. Sadly we find ourselves on Etsy at 1am, buying little motivational words signs to hang all over the damn house.
And don’t forget the latest and greatest gadget we (or our kids) absolutely need to make our lives easier and save us time! There’s always something faster or better being churned out. And if you don’t have it yet, you’re missing out on a better life. And you suck.
No wonder we all buy way too many things for ourselves and our kids! The pressure we feel to buy more and more, is real and pervasive.
Can You Buy A Better Life?
Even as I write this, I have a Crate & Kids magazine (mom crack) sitting open next to me. I’m flipping through it’s perfectly designed pages on breaks as I write this article. Yes, I’m weak. But we are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.
There’s a certain kind of life that each of us wants to have, and we subconsciously feel that if we buy enough stuff which reflects that image, we will get that life. It feeds our compulsion to spend money.
If my child’s room looks just like the one in the Crate & Kids catalogue, will I be providing him a better and happier life? It sure is easy to buy into the hyperconsumerism fantasy.
BUT, I deep down know the answer is “no”! I’m increasingly aware now, as a full-on grown adult, after years of buying myself a great many things, that no THING ever makes me happy for very long. The “high” that I feel after purchasing a new pair of jeans wears off by the time I put them on at home for the first time, and start second guessing my ability to pull off this stupid mom jean trend. Sigh.
So why is it so hard to keep from buying more things online!?
What Science Tells Us About Buying and the Brain
I know I’m not alone in this addiction to the “click.” In fact, in an article in Psychology Today entitled “Shopping, Dopamine, and Anticipation” they talk about how it is the anticipation of receiving a reward that releases dopamine (feel good chemicals) into our brain. (Scientists figured this out doing experiments with monkeys.) And when it comes to online shopping, there’s quite a bit of anticipation as we wait for the package to arrive at our front door.
The Psychology Today article goes on to quote from a 2014 survey of 1,680 shoppers in which
“Seventy-six percent of people in the US, 72 percent in the UK, 73 percent in Brazil, and 82 percent in China say they are more excited when their online purchases arrive in the mail than when they buy things in store.”Psychology Today
Yup. We’re all addicted.
Now, go ahead and factor in the stress of being a new mom (or dad) or raising kids in general, and you’ve got an understandable reason to turn to online purchases for a feel good fix.
Even with a baby in one arm, you can squeeze in a few minutes of “me time” by browsing your favorite kids clothing site. Or maybe you just need to try one more toy, which your friend from your Mommy Group insists will keep your toddler entertained for more than one minute.
We click on the “Place Your Order” button and a wave of euphoria washes over our exhaustion creased face. It’s a moment of bliss in an often overwhelming day.
Naturally, our brain tells us that we need more of that good feeling–even if we aren’t experiencing lasting happiness as a result.
It’s easy to see how we moms, in particular, can fall prey to hyperconsumerism online.
How I’m Wrangling My Hyperconsumerism Online Shopping Routine
Determined to curb my hyperconsumerism, once and for all, I figured out some clever ways to trick my brain into thinking I was making a purchase, without actually wasting my money—and adding to the guilt that comes from overspending. I also tried some more thrifty ways to buy used, instead of buying new, when I absolutely couldn’t talk myself out of buying something.
Many of my clever tricks are focused on hyperconsumerism of baby and child items, but most of them can apply to you regardless.
I’m not completely out of the woods yet, but at least I’m aware of the psychology of WHY I’m buying so much stuff online, and that awareness is half the battle.
Here is my sneaky list:
7 Sneaky Mom Ways to Curb Your Hyperconsumerism Online
1. Add Items to Your Amazon Cart (Or Other Shopping Cart) but DON’T BUY THEM
This has worked wonders for me. If I’m really feeling a craving to click on something and get that purchasing rush, I just go ahead and do it. Then I check back later, maybe in a day or so, and ask myself if I really still want it. Usually I don’t and I delete it. Sometimes I do. If I’m on Amazon, I go ahead and add the item to my “Saved for later” list. Hopefully, it will stay there.
When I’m on Amazon and I decide–after waiting for several days–that I still want the item, I tell myself that I can only purchase it if I get a notification of a price decrease from Amazon. I know, I know, this is not as disciplined as just not buying stuff, but ultimately the goal is to insert more wait time between putting the item in the cart and actually purchasing it.
Now, if you want to seriously dial in your price drops, there are myriad Amazon price trackers and alerts that you can sign up for, such as camelcamelcamel. You can set how much you want the price to decrease before you’re notified.
Often, by the time I get the price decrease notification (if there ever is one) I’m more hesitant to buy it (especially if it’s a really big purchase that I deep down know I don’t actually need). It seems the more time I put between the first impulsive thought that “I want something”, and when I’m going to actually purchase it, the less I crave it. (Ironically, this applies to all categories of bad decision making in life—ha!)
I love to go back to my cart’s “Saved for later” items and check out all the crazy things that I stopped myself from purchasing. It makes me feel great to see the loads of money I’m saving by just waiting before I place an impulse order.
In addition, if you’re adding to a shopping cart in an online store other than Amazon, don’t allow yourself to buy anything on the first day (or maybe two). Hopefully you’ll miss whatever sale was going on that got you there in the first place, and you’ll just give up! More often than not, I just needed something to do for entertainment because I had a few minutes of downtime and my brain wanted a little dopamine fix.
There is even an app called Icebox, which you can install for Chrome, that FORCES you to wait before you buy. Icebox changes all your “buy” buttons to instead say “on ice”. You will not be able to purchase any items you put “on ice” until the waiting period (which you determine) is over. It’s like having a personal trainer making you do the work you know you’re supposed to do but really whine and complain about and never do if someone’s not watching you like a hawk.
2. Make A Budget and Use the “List” Function in Amazon
Kids’ birthdays and holidays are definitely triggers for me to overspend. For each of these occasions, I make a budget. Then, I create a list using the “list” function on Amazon. It’s like a little wish list you can organize by subject or event.
For example, for my son’s birthday I’ll start a list called “3rd Birthday Party”. Then I allow myself to scroll through Amazon with reckless abandon, and when I see something I want, I click the “Add to list” button (which you’ll find under the “Add to cart” button). The button is a drop down menu that allows you to select which list you want to add your item to.
I’ll gleefully give myself permission to enjoy doing this for MONTHS. It gets a lot of my impulse buying tendencies out of the way. Then, a couple weeks before the party, I sit down and start scrolling through the list. Most of the things I’ve selected, I can see clearly, are a total waste of money. I feel so smug knowing that in just a few short months I’ve matured enough to rescue myself from buying $30 worth of light up bubble guns!
Just make sure that no mater what, you stick to your budget! You may want to plan ahead by making your budget a little bit tighter than necessary, in case there’s a last minute emergency purchase you need to make.
Once I’ve deleted many of the items, I can really narrow the list down, and see exactly how much money I’m spending on the party (food excluded). When you do it this way, you are able to keep within a budget and avoid overspending. You’re also able to change your mind without having to return anything!
3. Text a Friend Before You Buy
Before you make a big purchase for another baby/kid item that literally every friend you know has purchased at some point for their kids, force yourself to send out a group text to see if anyone is willing to sell or lend you said item. Most likely your buds will be thrilled to have the opportunity to hand it down to a cherished friend, instead of storing it in their dusty garage–and they might offer to just give it to you for free.
By the way, don’t worry about feeling like you are always asking for a handout, because if you set the precedent of asking for old things instead of buying them, your friends will start asking you for stuff, too! Everyone can save money if there are enough new babies to go around!
You could also start a toy swap with your friends. Twice a year (or more!) organize a fun afternoon gathering where everyone brings their old toys and clothes so you can all trade and go home with new (to you) items. Doing this before the holidays would be a most excellently frugal idea!
The best part about this idea? Get-togethers with good friends are a wonderful way to enjoy life in the present moment. Spend your downtime planning events with friends, instead of planning your next purchase.
4. Delete All Shopping Apps
Shopping apps are the devil. They’re way too enticing and addictive to have right in the palm of your mere mortal hand. You will not save money by using shopping apps. I repeat, you will not save money!
The coupons, bonuses, etc., are all geared to suck you in and trigger your compulsion to spend money. Just like in Vegas, you will ultimately end up losing to the house.
5. Unsubscribe from Store Mailing Lists
One of the biggest reasons we start overspending online is the lure of a sale. If your inbox is filled with links to all your favorite stores, you are no doubt going to click. The promise of a good deal is just too tempting for us!
According to The Psychology Behind Sale Shopping, “People love sales because it makes them feel like they’re saving, not spending.” You might end up buying a product that is way out of your budget, or in contrast, a whole cart full of cheap crap you don’t need. Either way, don’t be fooled!
If you just can’t bring yourself to unsubscribe to all your favorite stores, at LEAST do yourself a favor and delete all your saved credit cards on these sites. It will throw up one last roadblock for you (like having to get off the couch and find your wallet), if can remove this way too easily accessible, one-click feature.
6. Shop at Consignment Stores for Most Kid Stuff
If you don’t have a lot of friends or family with babies or kids, get your “hand-me-downs” at a consignment shop. It may seem obvious to those of you who already know this, but when you shop mostly online, like me, or don’t think you have time to run around buying things off Craigslist, it’s easy to forget these nice stores are available. You’ll find that many of the toys, books, and clothes are in pristine and sometimes even brand new condition.
I find that if I have to actually drive to a store and pick something out, I’ll spend less money and buy fewer things. It feels like a bigger commitment to buy from a brick and mortar store than online, especially when you know that you can’t return an item with “free shipping.”
A smart way to limit your spending at the store is to only buy toys & clothes from the consignment shop with money you made SELLING your old toys & clothes. Many consignment shops will give you the option of cash or in-store credit when you sell them your old things. If you choose in-store credit, they will give you more money than if you were to take the cash back! BAM!
7. Make Toys Instead of Buying Them
Believe me, I’m not great with tools, nor am I a genius crafter person. Somehow though, I’ve been able to slop together a few DIY toys with my son that have become his favorites for many months. It’s really rewarding to build something with your own hands, even if it looks like a preschooler did it.
For example, my son went through a period where he was OBSESSED with the neighborhood garbage truck. The “Big Blue Ga-Ga” was all he talked about, and I was convinced that it was my sole purpose in life to find him a toy blue garbage truck that he would FREAK over.
Luckily, there weren’t all that many toy blue garbage trucks available for purchase online, and it deterred my impulse buy. As my compulsion to spend money started to dissipate, I had an idea to make a garbage truck out of some FedEx boxes and blue construction paper. My son and I did it together, and it became one of my favorite cherished memories.
I can’t imagine looking back fondly on him playing with some plastic toy that I bought him. He didn’t notice that it didn’t really look like a garbage truck. He just enjoyed the experience of making it together. Hooray for more connecting with our kids and less buying things for them!
The best part of the whole project? When he got sick of the garbage truck, we just chucked it in the recycle bin and that was that. No need to re-sell it or feel crummy about throwing it away. Win for me, win for Mother Earth.
I’ve Curbed My Compulsion to Spend Money Online But the Desire for More Isn’t Gone
I’ve used all these techniques to successfully curb my online hyperconsumerism. But lately, when I find I’m being drawn into clicking on another “sale” in my inbox, I know I need to take a moment to meditate or just breathe. Seriously. I’m not kidding. My latest technique involves simply spending more time thinking about and being grateful for all the wonderful people and experiences in my life, and what I already have. I really don’t need any more.
If you close your eyes and put down the phone for 10 minutes, your compulsion to spend money will most likely disappear. There are much more interesting and important things to contemplate in life than what to buy next.