Scratching the Shopping Itch Without Shopping

Where can I get a teal coat like that? pinterest pinterest pinterest

On the recommendation of Debbie Roes from Recovering Shopaholic, I've been reading April Benson's To Buy or Not To Buy, a self-help book designed to help you get over a shopping addiction. I don't think I actually have a shopping addiction, but I'd say I do have a shopping habit. I habitually shop beyond my budget and rationalize purchases to myself in ways that betray slips in my self-control. So the thought exercises in the book have been an interesting and helpful experience.

One exercise has you explore the benefits you personally get out of shopping, and other ways you could get the same benefit. I've thought about this in the past, but the book pushes it a bit further and offers some additional reasons hadn't thought of. Using Benson's list as a jumping-off point, here are the attractions of shopping that I personally relate to, and some alternate ways to scratch the same itch.


I've always loved color. Since the Color Revolution, my shopping has been quite singlemindedly centered on color, but my wife pointed out recently that I have always been excited about color when shopping. I usually have a pretty rational approach to wanting or not wanting things that only come in utilitarian colors, but I only have an emotional reaction "want it!!!" to items that come in a color that makes my heart sing. How else can I work with color?

  • Making art in color; working with colored pencil, marker, crayon, or paint. I have a tendency to stick with black & white because it's quicker and I'm better at it, but I have to remember that I love color and will really enjoy the result better when it's in color!
  • Taking photos/Instagram. I wasn't into Instagram until I got a phone with a decent camera, but now I love it (even though I'm not that good at it compared to any random 16-year-old!)
  • Looking at art including surfing Instagram, going to museums, getting graphic novels out of the library, watching classic films, and even doing jigsaw puzzles (which lets me engage with visual art in a very close way).
  • Going into nature to see flowers, sunsets, and other natural "paintings."
  • Decorating my environment. I usually think of decorating as a shopping activity, but it can often be done just by moving things around so that I see them in a new way or make better use of them. I recently hung up some of my scarves in my office, partly for utilitarian reasons (I like to wear scarves at work but often forget to put them on in the morning), but it also just makes me happy to have color surrounding me when I work. Similar reliable quick fixes include rotating the art I have hanging up, making reference charts and notes-to-self in pretty colored pen, and getting fresh flowers for the windowsill.

Thrill of the Hunt

A modern-day form of hunting, shopping allows you to search and find some elusive goal: the perfect item to fill a gap in your wardrobe, the perfect-condition brand-name item in a thrift store. It's incredibly satisfying to make a "find." Here are some alternate activities that I enjoy:

  • Taking photos/Instagram. Seeing something you want to take a picture of is a "find" moment, and the more you do it, the more photo ops you "find." It's about opening your mind.
  • Birdwatching gives you those "find" moments, especially when you see a new bird. Which happens a lot at the beginning! By the time new birds are rare, you're hooked.
  • Playing Pokemon Go leads to similar "find" moments - gotta catch em all!
  • Identifying wild plants. Benson's book actually suggests foraging for wild edibles, which I was briefly super into for similar reasons until I realized I don't actually want to eat any of the things I could forage (anyone for burdock root soup?) But it's still enjoyable to learn about plants (edible or not), and to identify that small subset of plants you know, and try to learn about the rest. It's endless because there are so many wild plants!

Problem Solving

Similar to the thrill of the hunt, shopping is often an intellectual exercise, allowing you to take a problem in your life and solve it with a product. I worry about carving too deep of a groove in my mind: problem = product. Many problems can't or shouldn't be solved by new products; other solutions can be just as satisfying! Here are problem-solving exercises which don't involve buying a new product.
  • Doing puzzles, including crosswords, Sudoku, word games, trivia, math and logic puzzlers, and jigsaws. I love all these things!
  • Learning something new. Benson's book suggests taking classes and going to lectures, but I hate anything that smacks of school, so realistically I'm not going to do that. What I do like, though, is reading nonfiction books. Or watching how-to videos. My wife and I have recently been enjoying Tony Zhou's Every Frame a Painting video series about film editing, something I knew nothing about. I can feel my mind expanding.
  • DIY home improvement. Part of what I like about shopping is going from "I have a problem" to "that is no longer a problem." Even if it's a small thing, it's just super satisfying. I can get the same effect from tiny fixes around the home, even things that cost little to no money, like tightening a drawer knob, hanging a picture, or organizing a shelf.


Activities that would satisfy more than one of my shopping motivators should be the most satisfying to me, and indeed, they are.
  • Birdwatching gives me the thrill of the hunt like nothing else. It often involves color directly (observing brightly colored birds like warblers and orioles) or indirectly (brings me into natural environments). It also dovetails [GET IT?] nicely with other activities, like:

  • Taking photos satisfies my drive to find and discover, and also allows me to work with color. My Instagram feed is filled with beautiful nature and bird images, many of which also please me, color-wise.
  • Jigsaw puzzles have everything: problem solving, thrill of the hunt (finding the right piece!), and working with color. The puzzles I like best are brightly-colored and allow me to get up close and personal with pretty art.
  • In another self-help book I'm reading, Marjorie Hillis's Live Alone and Like It (a charmingly dated 1936 manual for the single lady about town), she suggests having at least one hobby you can enjoy at home and one that takes you out, so I'm covered.


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