Buying new stuff feels good. But it’s not always good for our finances or the planet. Here are three things to do instead of shopping that still give you that good feeling from ‘acquiring’ new things.
Buying new things feels good.
A new dress. Some throw pillows for the lounge. A new gadget for the kitchen. Acquiring all that new stuff is fun. At least until the novelty of it wears off.
In fact, getting new stuff is a primitive instinct. Evolution has wired our brains to seek out novelty and stimulation because it gives us a survival advantage.
Those who noticed the prowling predator entering the vicinity lived. People who explored new territory received the advantages of new hunting grounds. And those enterprising ancestors who tried new tools and new ways of doing things also gained a survival advantage.
And just to make sure we stay primed to notice new things, novelty triggers the reward system in our brain. Novelty sets off a cascade of dopamine, which makes us feel good. Our brains have evolved to reward novelty with a dopamine-fueled feel-good high.
Which brings us back to buying new stuff.
A consumer culture feeds right into that primitive need for new things.
It’s a potent and dangerous mix: a primal need for novelty, reinforced by our brain’s reward chemicals, shopping centres that span suburbs and easy credit for an immediate novelty-fix whenever we want.
It’s hard to overcome primal instincts, especially if aren’t aware of them. And living in a world that caters to and exploits these instincts? Well, it becomes close to impossible.
So how do we overcome this need for novelty?
Instead of denying our primal needs, we look for constructive ways to fulfil them that don’t involve destroying your credit rating or the planet.
There are many ways to satisfy our desire for novelty without buying new things, here are just three.
Three Things To Do Instead of Shopping to Get ‘Buyers High’
Acquire an Experience…by Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
While buying new things might make us feel good, studies show acquiring experiences give longer lasting happiness than purchasing more stuff.
That’s because buying something gives you a momentary high that quickly fades. But an experience gives you the pleasure of looking forward to something fun. Then you feel the pleasure of actually doing something fun. But it doesn’t stop there. Later, you can bask in the warm afterglow of happy memories.
By experience, I don’t mean you have to spend a fortune on skydiving or an exotic holiday to Thailand. It can be as simple as taking a picnic in a national park you haven’t been to before. Or going to a free local festival. It might mean a walk on the beach with a friend or a coffee in a different part of town. Or an epic game of D&D with the family on a rainy afternoon (true story).
So when the urge hits to hit the shops, consider what you can experience instead.
Acquire a New Skill….by Trying Something New
Learning a new skill or taking up a new hobby has multiple benefits.
First, of course, there is the novelty factor. New things are fun.
Second, learning a new skill is a great alternative to shopping to pass the time.
Third, accomplishing something gives you a feel-good high and sense of pride and satisfaction. ‘I made this‘ far outstrips the satisfaction of ‘I bought this‘.
Finally, developing new skills can save you money or potentially help you earn money on the side.
A few years ago, we needed new curtains for our bedrooms. I wanted heavy block-out curtains to keep the hot summer sun out. But to buy them would have cost me a fortune. For custom made, I was looking at nearly $3,000!
Instead, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos, bought the fabric on sale and learned to make hand pleated curtains for less than $300.
There are lots of ways to learn a new skill. YouTube is awesome, but I also love Craftsy for professional lifestyle tutorials and if you’re not sure what skill you want to learn you can browse Blueprint for free. Blueprint is like Netflix for craft and lifestyle tutorials.
Acquire Knowledge…by Taking a Free Course
In the book The Art of Frugal Hedonism, the authors talk about indulging your curiosity to acquire knowledge instead of stuff.
They suggest learning about the plants in your garden. Or getting curious about the history of your local area. Or tracking the movement of the stars.
“Indulging your curiosity isn’t only a less expensive way of getting that ‘Getting Feeling’, it is deep hedonism. As your understandings amass, you begin to sense the world around you as a dense and majestic cathedral of thrumming, interconnected functions and stories.” (page 93)
Another way to acquire knowledge is to take one of the many free online courses from universities. I’ve done free a course on the neuroscience of learning through MIT. Another on food as medicine through Monash University in Melbourne. And I’ve learned about researching family genealogy through a university in Glasgow.
If you’re interesting free online courses, check out this list of where to find them.
We can fight our natural instincts or we can acknowledge them and work with them. Novelty seeking is hard-wired in our brains and consumerism feeds that primal need. But excessive consumption is unhealthy for our finances as well as the planet.
Instead, we can choose to get our novelty fix without acquiring a whole heap of stuff we don’t need. Opt for experiences, new skills and new knowledge instead of shopping and not only do you get that novelty high now, but your future self will continue to reap the benefits for years to come.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.