January 9, 2018

Purchase Anxiety Or Clear Thinking?

"To buy, or not to buy" is a good question. When one really thinks about it, the answer is usually "not".

There is lots of help available to help one overcome shopping-related anxiety. I say, "Why bother?" We should be anxious about buying into the materialist lifestyle, given its negative impact on our mental health and the state of the world.

I have some questions about this diagnosis - is it anxiety, or is it a normal, heightened emotional reaction to something we know at our core is unhealthy? Buying things we don't need with money we don't have should make us feel uneasy.

I have long had what market researchers would call "large purchase anxiety". I called it armour against consumer excess. It has been effective in helping me prevent unnecessary large purchases. I don't need to be cured.

Actually, I've been nurturing it. Now I have graduated to small purchase anxiety, or more plainly, purchase anxiety. It is a great help in living simply and plainly without getting bogged down by stuff.

Marketing specialists have their ways of alleviating this "anxiety", or what I think is simply sensible thinking. They look at it as creating inertia, hesitation or reluctance, and it is the enemy of making a sale. They want to create a different kind of anxiety in consumers. The anxiety of not buying.

"To create an anxiety relievable only by a purchase… that is the job of advertising." 
- Des Traynor, in “Overcoming Customer Inertia”

That's kind of evil, isn't it? Sounds like propaganda mind control to me.

Anything that helps us avoid the pitfalls of consumerism should be nurtured, not cured. We can use it to protect us from the ravages of advertising, culture programming, and inflated expectations. And let's not call it anxiety anymore when it can be more appropriately labeled as "critical thinking".

Pre-purchase thinking - being cautious about buying something. Listen to this voice in your head. Use it to avoid unnecessary purchases altogether.

Purchasing thinking - thinking twice while buying something. Still good - it's not too late to put the item down, put your money away, and run for the door. Avoid all sales people trying to mesmerize you before you leave.

Post-purchase thinking - questioning or regretting your decision after buying something. Is there still time to return the item? Either way, it is an excellent learning moment to remember for next time.

I think it is healthy to feel anxious (or thoughtful) about doing something potentially harmful. It helps us to limit our purchases to only those necessary for survival, and a bit more.

But not much more.


  1. Anonymous1/10/2018

    Creating that anxiety is evil indeed, especially so when aimed at young women. It's an anxiety that creates poverty as they try to achieve an impossible standard of so-called beauty, and it also creates eating disorders and other mental health issues.

    Instead of trying to keep up with the Jones' we need to be building up relationships - those wonderful, sustaining connections that make life worth living. And when you have good relationships you will be able to borrow things when you really need them, rather than buying them. Case in point, we are having a party on Friday and almost everything we need will be borrowed, from garden benches to cutlery. We are able to do this because we have great friendships with our local antiques dealers, neighbours etc...And of course they are welcome to call on us in return - we have recently loaned a large trunk of wooden building blocks and a train set to a lovely family on our street. It's a win for us, for them and for the environment.


    1. Anonymous1/11/2018

      Great comment, Madeleine. I love your borrowing relationships.

      Great thought-provoking post, Gregg. I like the P-thinking suggestions & in fact wrote them down to commit them to memory when tempted to purchase something I don't need.


    2. Madeleine,

      I have always thought that everyone owning their own everything keeps us separated from each other. We need reasons to rely on each other in order to build a healthy dependency.

      When Linda and I lived in a housing cooperative it was exactly as you say, and it was wonderful. Everyone shared everything. When we had celebrations we would all bring our own kits including plate, cup, and cutlery, often in a nice cloth bag.

      Even now, if Linda and I had a big supper, we would have to ask people to bring their own kits, or we would have to eat in shifts - we only have four of everything.

      Our neighbours here in Nova Scotia are very cooperative and community minded. It is so much better (and far less consumeristic) when we help each other. It also increases resilience.

      You are very fortunate to have such a strong community. I think a lot of North Americans lack this in their lives since things here are so competitive. Having EVERYTHING yourself is a sign of "success". Ha!


      I am glad you found the suggestions helpful. We need protection from sales predators that want us to keep buying things we don't need... forever.

  2. Anonymous1/10/2018

    My boyfriend introduced me to this song by Guy Clark call "Stuff that works" - basically a song about simplicity - using what we have, enjoying our friends and the ones we love. The youtube has lyrics which is nice. I'm not a big country fan, but this song is something to listen to should ever the impulse the buy come along.


    Madeleine - love how you are borrowing and sharing with your friends and neighbors!

    - Mary

  3. I can't believe that purchase anxiety is actually a thing. That is insane! Like you, I also suffer from purchase anxiety, and don't regret it at all. In fact, I embrace it, and revel in opportunities to work around purchasing, by mending, making do, borrowing or deciding to do without.. all of these options are higher on my to do list than shopping..


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