Do You Really Need That?
Be thoughtful about your next purchase
It’s that time of year, your favorite company releases that new shoe, phone, or beauty line. You read the release, watch the keynote, or stalk the businesses social accounts to learn all about it. You feel this need to buy it right this very second. But while these thoughts are rushing through your mind, you are wearing perfectly good shoes, using a more than functional phone, and have a bathroom full of beauty products. Then why are you about to press buy?
This is a common scenario, one that I have felt many times. For me, I am the person watching the latest Apple Keynote, absorbing all the facts, to convince myself that I need something. Being a pro user it is easy to find a reason why I’d need it, but will it make a difference? Will it make my life better? Will it really just be making it worse?
Firstly, why are we put in this situation? Marketing, for sure! Marketing has made us always want that new thing. Wanting us to get the thing – that will make us fit in, stand out, belong. Historically, marketing was always limited by the mediums that it was delivered by. We used to have to buy the magazine, look at the billboards, and pay attention during the commercials. Now marketing is everywhere. Ads riddle the web, for sure, but modern ads are in front of your eyes whether you notice them or not. They are in the annoyingly obvious places, such as pre-roll YouTube videos, but also between your Instagram stories and in your social feeds. We have become so numb to them. The worst of them all is influencer marketing, because you cannot even block them. You follow someone due to their skill or talent and then you have to be advertised to. Not cool, but this letter isn’t about ads, it’s about human behavior, so back to that.
Buying something new provides a rush. It is a series of decisions. We see that flashy new thing and get enthralled. We then feel the need or want kick in. We read about it, watch reviews, try it on. Then the moment of purchase comes. We swipe our card, count our dollars, or press pay. The dopamine hits, it’s good. Then we wait for the delivery or drive/ walk home. So much tension. Just to set it up, wear it, apply it. It’s exciting! It is predictable. It’s repeatable.
But what happens to these feelings in a few days, weeks, months, dare I say – years? Do you still feel this feeling when applying that makeup at 6am or texting on your lunch break? Likely not. Then why did you buy it, why not use what you had already?
It was that dopamine hit I briefly mentioned. Buying things provides it in a way that we have grown to love and predict. It doesn’t let you down, well not at face value.
After the novelty wears off – how does it make you feel? Like social media, it provides immediate gratification, but little long-lasting effects. Sure, some purchases of utility or glamor do last longer, but does it provide anything different from your other perfectly good product that you already own? Additionally, did you have to sell the old product or is it collecting dust in a drawer or in your closet? Your purchases affect more than yourself.
We rarely consider the other aspects of our purchases. We almost always ask ourselves if we need something, but do you ask how it was made, who it was made by, what were the impacts of making or shipping that? If you don’t, you should. We as people are consumers. I don’t mean in marketing friendly terms. I mean we consume resources. In this case – energy, minerals, textiles, etc. There is a limited supply of these things on this planet.
In addition to consumption, what about the waste of it all? We either get rid of or hoard the old product. We throw it away, sell, or donate it. But when it is out of your possession do you trust its new home? When throwing it away, was it recycled correctly? Does its new owner know how to recycle it when they are done with it?
So how do we combat this urge and how do we make sure our products are going to the right place when we are done with them? I rely on minimalism as a guide for most of my decisions.
Before making your next purchase, ask yourself if you need it. If you do, why? Is it because you don't own something like it? Is it because your old thing is no longer working for your needs? Then great, get it. If not, think about it harder. If the new thing will fulfill you more and for a long period of time consider it for sure. But also consider where it is coming from, how it was made, and who made it. If you can say that your product was made as sustainably as possible and made as ethically as possible, great! If not, I'd consider rethinking the purchase.
When you do make the purchase, think about where your old product is going. Will you sell, donate, or store it? If you're selling or donating – consider how it will be used or disposed of. If disposed of, maybe sell it back to a manufacturer or a source that will dispose of it correctly. Yes, you will get less money, but you will likely be hurting the planet less. Doing your part is not financially incentivized, but it is the right thing to do.
Lastly, what about digital purchases? The same rules apply. Don't download that new tool or game unless you will find value out of it. If you do purchase it, stop using your old solution, if you have one. Too many choices can lead to complexity. Digital purchases should increase our quality of life, not subtract from it.
I am not saying that you need to own one of everything, but I am urging you to be thoughtful about your purchases. Regardless, if they are physical or digital, new or used, consider the consequences of your purchase. Consider how it'll affect you post dopamine hit. Will it add value to your life? If it is redundant, will the extra choice complicate your life? If those decisions lead to positive answers then get something for yourself, you deserve it.