No, you DON'T need to buy that...

Within ten minutes of arriving in the Miami airport last Christmas, on winter break from teaching school in Bolivia, I coveted at least ten thoroughly non-essential, yet mind-bogglingly tantalizing items: among them, a giant teddy bear made out of the same material as a snuggly blanket, a pocket mirror with art-deco-style cats plastered across its lid, and a $4 Cinnamon Dolce latte from Starbucks. I had been living in a country where the supermarket might just run out of aluminum foil or kidney beans, and if it did, oh well— you adjusted. Now I was standing slack-jawed in Consumer’s Paradise, and panicking.

It wasn’t just the marketing; the price tags made me blanch. We might not have had as many material choices in Bolivia, but the dollar stretched pretty far there, and we rarely obsessed over a budget. Back home in Michigan, we have to think much harder about what we buy, and when, and what we’ll give up in order to purchase a certain item. I actually think this is a positive change. Money easily tossed around can be mind-numbing; thinking harder about it forces me to consider what’s necessary instead of what’s just desirable. I also enjoy the sense of accomplishment I feel when I resist buying or when I hit on a particularly savvy sale. My husband and I truly savor dinners out when they happen, and experiment more with cooking creatively at home. We have also re-discovered the wonders of the public library and the beautiful woods and beaches in our hometown.

To adjust to the onslaught of “stuff” marketed to me in the U.S., and to gain a little perspective on what I really needed, I often apply the same technique they tell you to use when eating. Rather than plunge into buying something, I wait fifteen minutes to see if the urge to purchase it has subsided. Usually, it has. Fifteen minutes gives me enough time to contemplate what I do have, at which point I give simple thanks and move on.

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Myscha Theriault's picture

I'm with you. I always get reverse culture shock when I get back to the states after being abroad. The stores here are enough to make your eyes cross when you've been hard pressed to find more than one brand of shampoo on the road. Welcome back to the States, Sarah!

Andrea Karim's picture

Oh, the things I could buy.... I have an armoire that is full of stuff that I need to get rid off - stuff that seemed like a good idea at the time. I try to remember it whenever I'm faced with a highly adorable cell phone charm that I totally don't need.

Guest's picture

There is something strangely oppressive about having too much choice. I am currently trying to reduce clutter in my life, and the first place to do that is not buying stuff in the first place. It is really difficult. I probably have a year's supply of soap, shampoo and the like which I am working my way through at the moment.

Guest's picture

I avoid buying stuff by thinking about how cluttered my place already is. I think after a certain point, it's better to indulge in experiences, if you can afford those, rather than material goods.

Nora Dunn's picture

I found the same thing in Canada! That´s why I had to sell all my crap and move on with my life. It`s a constant battle though - believe me!

Guest's picture

the trick is to just NOT buy anything on impulse! When there is something I want to buy, I search around for the best option, make a decision, and then wait a week before actually buying it. It works too well really. I stopped buying goods that I realized I liked at the time but didn't really need.