Stop Buying Stuff: How to Stop Buying Things You Don’t Need

When I was pregnant with my boys, I nested like crazy. I spent countless weeks moving and sorting things from one location to another. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. When life feels overwhelming, I often clean my house and sort my belongings. It helps me clear my mind.

But each time I moved things from Point A to Point B, I couldn’t help but wonder why I had so much stuff in the first place. Why was my closet filled with shirts I didn’t wear or dresses that never saw the light of day? Why was my kitchen counter filled with gadgets I never used?

How to Stop Buying Stuff

After my children were born, I began to feel overwhelmed by all of the baby stuff that came with them. I bought bright, colorful shelves to hold my children’s toys and large, square boxes to store the oversized mounds. Yet, every new storage system failed. The piles still multiplied. The puzzle pieces got lost. The bin meant for one set of blocks ended up full of fake, plastic food instead.

As they grew, so did their toys, and these larger playthings were too large to stack neatly. The low hanging shelves were easy for my older child to use but contained toys too dangerous for my little one to reach. So I arranged and rearranged over and over again. I convinced myself that the perfect system would solve all of my problems. But, of course, it never did.

The same is true of my possessions. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time reorganizing my stuff, but I probably use less than 1/3 of my things.

For years I kept clothes in my closet that I never wore. My dresser burst with shirts, but I only wore four or five of them. The others never seemed to make it out of the drawer. The same goes for dresses, skirts, pants, shorts, workout gear, and so much more.

Then, one day, I realized I was spending excessive time moving things. Sure this should have seemed obvious right from the start, but I became disheartened by the amount of time I’d wasted reorganizing my home.

I’ve written a lot about mindful spending and thinking carefully before buying something. But over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever detailed the process I went through to convince myself to stop buying stuff!

How can you convince yourself not to buy something? Follow the process that worked for me. A few simple steps helped permanently curb my impulse purchases and overspending.

How to Stop Buying Unnecessary Things stop buying stuff. man holding up a stop sign

So here it goes.

One day, when I felt anxious and overwhelmed, I decided to rid my house of clutter. I didn’t have any particular guidelines to follow. I hadn’t read Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Sort Your Stuff Into Piles

I wasn’t exactly sure what to do or where to start, so I did the only thing that seemed to make any sense at the time. I yanked everything out of my closet and dresser and plopped it onto the center of my bed. The mound was huge, and as soon as I saw it there, I wished I hadn’t dumped it all out.

I stared at that pile and couldn’t believe how many things I’d crammed into the deep recesses of my furniture. The task seemed overwhelming, but I pressed on.

First, I moved aside all of the clothing I could easily discard. Many of those items were shabby, worn, or didn’t fit. Others were unwanted impulse buys. That stuff was relatively easy to donate or throw out.

Next came the items I loved in my not-so-distant past. A soft shirt my dad gave me from a trip out west. A tee from my first concert. A dress I never wore but looked damn good in when I did.

The last pile included the stuff I knew I wanted to keep: my go-to shirts, favorite pairs of jeans, and the comfiest sleep pants.

At this point in the decluttering process, most people grab a plastic bag and send their unwanted items to trash or donation. That’s how we declutter. We grab everything and send it right out the front door.

Make a List of the Stuff You Bought

But that’s not what I did. I grabbed a pen and a spiral notebook and wrote down every piece of clothing I planned to donate. Line by line, I filled the pages of that notebook. First, I wrote down the name of the item. Next to it, I wrote down a rough estimate of the price I paid. Then I placed a star next to the things I’d worn, used, and loved a lot.

Documenting my purchases was a painstaking process. It looked a little something like this:

  • Colorful t-shirt – $5
  • Blue dress – $20*
  • Concert t-shirt – $15
  • Necklace – $12
  • Fancy dress – $50

If I had thrown everything into a bag, I would have finished the task in 5 minutes. Instead, it took me over an hour and a half to journal my purge.

After spending hours sorting and processing and another ninety minutes documenting and pricing items, I found a comfy spot on my bed and read through the list.

Add Up The Costs of the Stuff You Bought

I added up the cost of all items together, and separated the cost of the starred items. I was shocked to see how much money I spent on stuff I rarely used and how little I spent on stuff I loved.

When we declutter, we often think about getting rid of things that no longer serve a purpose. We gather everything and feel proud to look around at a more spacious and well-organized space.

That’s all well and good, but calculating the amount of money I wasted set off a lightbulb in my brain, and it made me realize once and for all how much money I was frittering away in the first place.

How to Stop Shopping

To convince myself to stop buying stuff and shopping, I had to see the financial truth. Sure it helps to look at the bags stacked on the floor, but staring at the total in that spiral notebook helped me equate those piles with the money I spent.

I dragged the bags off to donation, but I kept that spiral notebook open on my dresser for months. It helped me stay accountable to myself. Every morning I looked down at the list as I pulled clothes from my drawers. I circled the total in bright red marker to serve as a visual reminder of how much money I wasted.

Stop Buying Stuff You Don’t Need

And you know what… As a result of that process, my shopping habits changed dramatically! Every time I visited a store or thought about buying something online, I paused. The more I waited, the more I stopped buying stuff I didn’t really need.

I was and still am tired of reorganizing my house. I don’t want to waste precious hours moving things from Point A to Point B and back again, but more importantly, I don’t want to waste the money.

I’ve purged many times, but seeing the costs brought the truth to light. The experience convinced me to stop buying stuff I don’t need.

How to Stop Yourself From Buying Things

If you need extra help, try these simple ways to stop buying.

1. Declutter Your Home

Have you ever heard of the woman with fifteen white button-down shirts in her closet? Every time this woman went out to the store, she convinced herself she needed a white blouse. Why? Her wardrobe was so full of stuff that she didn’t realize how many white blouses she already owned.

As you clean out your closets and dressers, make sure to weed out everything you don’t need or want. Then find a neat and orderly way to store the stuff you want to keep.

You can cut down on purchasing new things by keeping an inventory of all the things you already own.

2. Unsubscribe From Mailing Lists

Call the catalog companies that send beautiful brochures to your home and ask to be removed from their lists. Turn off all email notifications from stores. 50% off sales and Buy-One-Get-One offers will tempt you to buy stuff you don’t need. The best way to avoid temptation is to stop those glossy advertisements from coming to your front door.

Mercilessly unsubscribe as soon as you buy anything new. Each new purchase adds you right back to those endless mailing lists. Buy less, and you’ll receive fewer catalogs urging you to buy more. If you want to spend less remove the temptations.

3. Don’t Use a Shopping Cart

Don’t take a shopping cart when you go to a store like Marshall’s, Target, or Walmart. Carry a basket if you intend to buy a handful of items. If you only intend to buy one or two things, don’t use a cart or a basket at all.

It’s super easy to throw everything into a shopping cart. Make the shopping experience more difficult for yourself. If you want to buy something, you’ll have to lug it through the store. As your hands get full, you’ll begin to question your spending choices and put things back on the shelves.

4. Play the Waiting Game

Stop impulse buys with the save for later function at Amazon and other stores. If you shop online, don’t purchase items as soon as you place them in your shopping cart. Instead, wait a day or two to decide.

After twenty-four to forty-eight hours, assess whether or not you need them. You are less likely to waste money if you take the extra time to pause.

If you still feel the urge to buy new stuff, you can add these items back to your cart and checkout. But, doing so will be an intentional decision.

5. Tape a Picture of Your Financial Goal to Your Wallet

Make a plan for your money before you ever step out the door. Begin by taping a picture of your financial goal to your wallet. It can be a photograph of a tropical vacation, a car, or a new home. Take a good, long look at this photo before pulling out your credit card and buying more stuff you don’t need.

Very few people turn away from a purchase once they’ve reached the checkout counter. Think about that as you approach the belt. As you stand in line, think about your purchases, because this moment is your very last chance to change your mind.

If you want to buy the stuff in your cart, you may need to delay your other financial goals. Remember to keep the big picture in mind. Are the items in your cart worth delaying your goal?

6. Remember That Saving Money Means Not Spending It

Our consumerist culture focuses on shopping sales. Save 50%, Buy-One-Get-One-Free, and other ploys trick us into spending.

Remember that the real way to save money is not to spend it. That doesn’t mean you should live like a miser and never spend or that you shouldn’t look for bargains on the items you buy.

We need to be aware of the tactics stores use to convince us to buy more than we need.

7. Practice Gratitude

Sales culture urges us to buy more, but what if we learned to be content with the items we own. Every day, you can choose to be grateful and learn to appreciate what you already have. Happiness does not exist in an Amazon box or at the end of a Target aisle. It resides deep within.

Practice gratitude and redefine enough for yourself. Don’t search for joy among sales signs and high-price advertising.

8. Figure Out Why You Buy

Many people spend when they feel tired, stressed, or lonely, while others shop to boost their confidence or overcome low self-esteem. If you want to stop buying stuff, you have to understand why you are shopping.

When you find yourself browsing the Internet for new stuff, ask yourself how you got there. Do you really want this new object, or are you feeling bored? Be clear about your spending decisions and understand the emotions that drive them.

We often shop to fill a void in our lives. While our carts may be full, our hearts and minds remain empty long after the shopping high has worn off.

How can you alter your spending habits?

To stop buying unnecessary items, you need to ask yourself why you buy things you don’t need. Once you discover your pattern, you can search for ways to mitigate it.

For example, if you spend money when you feel stressed, meditate, take a bath, or find another calm way to remove stress instead.

What can you do to fill the void without spending money on stuff you don’t need? How can you feel about yourself without spending any money at all?

The next time you feel the urge to buy something, try out a different activity instead. Reach out to friends, take a walk around your neighborhood, or write in a journal. Search for a way to feel better without the short-term shopping fix to help you.

If you have any other tricks or suggestions to stop buying stuff, please leave them in the comments below.

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6 thoughts on “Stop Buying Stuff: How to Stop Buying Things You Don’t Need”

  1. Not buying stuff (especially full price stuff) has been easier for me, but turning down free things from friends and family has been so much harder. Now, unless it’s exactly perfect, it’s not coming into my house. That said, I still have a four year old, so we have a looooong way to go yet.

    • Oh the free stuff. Yeah, that’s tough. Thankfully we’ve always been given stuff and told we can do whatever we want with it. So if I get a huge bag of toys and kids clothes I pick out the best of the best and donate the rest. I also take the opportunity to purge the excess or to replace the toys my kids aren’t playing with. We don’t receive hand-me-downs anymore and I must say it has made things a whole lot easier. I do have a three year staging area though. My kids are three sizes apart. At the end of the season I pick the very best from my 7 year old’s stack and send the rest out of the house. I only keep one small bins worth of clothing. If it can’t fit in the bin then I let it go.

  2. this is a very interesting and new way to purge one’s closet. thanks for sharing! i rarely buy clothes but i buy a lot of makeup, and i am working on buying less or at least paying less (so i can continue to experiment with new makeup looks).

    • It’s great to buy items you enjoy as long as you enjoy them. A lot of places take back makeup if you don’t like it, so that’s always an option if you find items don’t spark joy for you the way you hoped they would.

  3. Reminded me of when I was a kid . We past by something and said it was on sale , it’s only such and such price and my Papa said good we saved that much money. That still rings in my head. I haven’t adhered to that much in my life of collecting (hoarding) everything I think I may or may not need. I’m in the process of dehoarding lol. I don’t hoard trash just pretty things of all sorts. Thanks for reminding of what my papa said that day.

    • It’s easy to fill your house with a bunch of stuff you don’t need just because it was on sale when you bought it. I did this for years. Now I avoid the end of the aisles at target and stay away from clearance sections. If I don’t need it. I don’t need it. Good for you for clearing out the clutter and making more space in your life for the things that really matter!


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