Minimalist Guide to Shopping

Ever since I started pursuing a more minimalist lifestyle, I was fighting against certain instincts that have been wired into me by our society over the years. And it took me months to actually get rid of this ingrained desire for new stuff.

The biggest contributor to me kicking that shopping habit was Marie Kondo and her book. I only completed decluttering of my clothes and my books, but it still left a big impression on me. 

And before anyone asks: I’m a little terrified of attempting the next phase because miscellaneous describes the majority of my clutter, but I’m hoping to complete it by the end of November. 

But even incomplete, KonMari helped me realized that I don’t actually need all those things and it became easier to resist the shopping impulse. I can actually browse clothing websites or look at new books or phones, and leave without clicking on the shopping basket button.

In fact, I recently realized that I no longer impulse buy things. I don’t buy snacks (which has been my problem area for a very long time), I stopped buying stationery just because it’s cute (and as a result my bullet journal has become a lot simpler, yet still very useful), and I don’t buy more expensive items until months later, if I still want them by then.

And while my home is still cluttered (sometimes, it’s just easier to watch YouTube than tidy, okay? Don’t judge me), I did achieve what I set out to do all those months ago when I started this website. 

I’ve become a minimalist.

And if you need help giving up your shopping habit and be more conscious about the things you do bring into your home here are some tips on how to approach shopping:

Identify your problem areas

The first step of shopping like a minimalist takes place before you even step foot in the store (virtual or otherwise). And it’s simply asking yourself what types of items affect you most. Which areas hit your impulse control the hardest? Look at what you spend in a week or in a month and see where your money is going.

For me, it was snacks and junk food, closely followed by books and later stationery. I could walk into the exhibition area at a bookfair, leave with ten books, and not read one of them for months and years afterward. I would buy endless washi tapes and fine liners and colorful pages of paper for decorating when my scrapbooking obsession was at its finest. I would go downstairs to a small concession store in my office building and buy a snack every day. All without even thinking about it.

As they say in various corners of the Internet: you can’t fix something you don’t realize is a problem. And once you think consciously about your spending habits, you can start working on eliminating them, or at least restricting them heavily.

Make a budget

Look, there’s a reason why I talk about money on Path2Less, okay? I’m a big proponent of budgeting and actively thinking about your money; how you’re earning it and where it’s going. Having a budget also helps clarify your financial goals.

I want to buy an apartment, which means saving up for a downpayment. I’m also saving up for retirement because I’m 34 and it’s a topic that gets discussed more and more. And since I don’t have a partner or kids, I need to think about how to take care of myself once I’ll be too old to work.

Knowing your financial goals and being mindful about allocating your money towards your goals can help motivate you and prevent you from spending unnecessarily. And sure, ordering pizza will not affect my savings goals for my apartment, but the price of pizza is not insignificant if it means I have to push getting a winter coat by a month.

Ask yourself why you want it

This stopgap measure is a small roadblock designed to interrupt the impulse of putting something in your shopping basket and immediately proceeding to check out. If you can’t provide yourself with a valid reason, don’t buy the thing.

This is a helpful way of preventing frivolous shopping, one that saved me a lot of money in the past months.

Make a list and delay your purchase

Here’s a thing. Making a list of things I want didn’t curb my spending habits until I combined it with other tips on this list. Because if your list is just a pointless exercise, you’re not going to stick to it. I know I didn’t.

Start easy. If you come across an item you want, put it on a list and write a date next to it. Next time you think about it (if you actually think about it), check your list and see how long it’s been since the urge to have this item first appeared. If it’s been less than a month, delay your purchase. Don’t review the list until you next think about the item you want to buy. You’d be surprised how many items get put on the list, to never be bought.

Create a sinking fund

I’m a zero-based budgeter, happily using YNAB for the past two years. This budgeting method works really well for me and it helped me get out of massive debt and onto the road toward financial freedom.

Because I’ve been budgeting with YNAB for so long, it was easy for me to embrace the idea of sinking funds.

In short, sinking funds are savings goals where you allocate a small amount of money toward them, knowing that you have a bigger expense down the road. And so I save up smaller amounts every month so that once a year I can cover hosting fees, or renew my passport in 10 years. That sort of thing.

But after embracing minimalism, I also tend to create smaller sinking fund categories towards things like getting the latest Tess Gerritsen book, or the second volume of the Critical Role artbook. Or a new handbag. It usually takes months to save up for those things, because I never allocate a full amount in one month (I currently have three items I’m saving up for, and with my regular saving goals, I’m being stingy with everything else).

Put the thing you want in your budget. When you visually have to allocate money to it, taking it away from your other expenses and savings, it will make you less likely to give in to the impulse to just buy it. Not to mention, you’ll ask yourself how important is it to get this item. Believe me when I tell you: even budgeting for the little things helped me immensely. 

Fix before replacing

This tip became even more important to me this month as my old phone died completely and I had to replace it. And my pants which I wear to work started to tear. My first instinct was to fix both of those items. Unfortunately, they don’t make electronics with “repairs” in mind nowadays, so I had to get a new phone. But with my pants, I’m trying to find a seamstress that could fix them so I wouldn’t have to buy a new pair.

Not to mention: fixing an item is more sustainable and better for the environment than just throwing it away.

What does my shopping habit look like now?

My shopping journey became much more complicated when I became a minimalist. I actually implemented a number of steps on this list.

  1. When I decide I want something, I ask myself why and if I actually need it. Especially if it’s something I know is a problem for me.
  2. I put the item on a list in my bullet journal
  3. Once a couple of weeks have passed, the item becomes “eligible” to buy.
  4. Which is when I put it on my budget and start saving up for it.
    1. I never save up for more than 3 things at the same time, so sometimes it takes months (I’m currently saving up for things I put  on the list in July)
  5. Once I saved up enough money, I once again ask myself if I really want it and why.
  6. Then I ask myself what will happen with the item once I’m done with it – will I keep it, will I use it more than once, will I throw it away?
  7. If I’m satisfied with the answers, I buy it. If not, the money gets budgeted to a different savings goal in my budget, and that item is deleted forever.

It might seem complex, but I actually significantly curbed my spending habits to a point where I no longer buy things on impulse. In fact, I don’t buy many things at all, and every single one I actually bring home gives me a lot of joy.

And my impact on the environment goes down.

I encourage you to try some (if not all) or the tips above.

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