mnmlist: the lust for new things

A couple days ago I wrote about alternatives to buying new things, and someone replied on Twitter:

“I want to have the money to buy new things!”

Or something like that (I’m too lazy to go back and find the tweet). This echoes a pretty common sentiment: many people don’t want to be frugal, to conserve, to be minimalist … they want to buy new things.

Even those of us who try to be minimalists have these urges — when Apple announced its new products yesterday, for example, I spent most of the day drooling, lusting after the large-screened iMac and the new wireless mouse. My pulse actually rises and I get a rush of adrenaline when I think about these new Apple products (even now, as I reflect on it, it’s happening).

This lust is not unique to Apple fanbois like me — we all feel it. We’re all susceptible to advertising — some people lust over new shoes, new clothes, new gadgets, new power tools, new cars, new homes, new bikes, new gourmet food, and so on. We all have our weaknesses, our lust triggers.

The key is to be aware of it. Notice the excitement, the raised heartbeat, the shallow breathing, the adrenaline rush that comes with the lust over a product. Notice the symptoms are very much like sexual arousal? It’s practically the same — and just like when we’re sexually aroused, the rational part of our brains shut down. This shutting down is why we make stupid sexual decisions (why I have six kids, for example) even though we know better when we’re not aroused.

So if we can’t think rationally when we’re aroused for new stuff, what should we do?

A few things:

1. Avoid advertising. That means shut off the cable TV, and either avoid television or watch via ad-free Tivo or Apple TV or something like that. It means stop reading ad-filled magazines and blogs, and focus on those that provide value without all the ads (or use ad-blockers on the Internet).

2. Avoid shopping. It’s hard to avoid the lust when we’re in a mall or Wallmart or some trendy store that has beautiful lustful stuff (i.e. the Apple Store for me). So don’t go to those places if you can avoid it. Only go when absolutely necessary, know exactly what you’re going to buy and only buy that.

3. When you do get the lust, be conscious of it. Take some deep breaths. Walk it off. Think about rational things, to engage your rational brain. For example, ask yourself questions: “Do I really need this? Can I do without it? Will I regret this later?”

4. Recognize rationalizing. There’s a difference between rational thinking and rationalizing. Our brains are good at rationalizing: “This will actually save me money. This is necessary for my business. I deserve a treat now and then. I’m saving money if I buy two. Look how pretty!” Notice this thinking, and recognize it for what it is. And stop yourself when you do it.

5. Pause. You don’t need to buy right away. Wait a day or two. Or a week. Do you need it right this second? Usually the answer is no. So wait, and wait, and wait some more. I’ve suggested the 30-day list. I used this method when I bought my bike recently — I actually waited more than 6 months before buying it, because I wanted to be sure this was a real need.

So I’m not going to buy a new iMac, get a new mouse, or get the 17-inch Macbook Pro I’ve been drooling over for some time. I already have a great iMac and a great Macbook Air (which I’m typing on right now). I can wait until next year or later to get a new machine, because what I have right now is good enough. Better than good enough.

If what you already have is good enough, why upgrade? Why give in to the lust? Recognize that you’re already happy, that advertising has created this desire in you, and that you can be content without it.