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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 1 - Shopping frenzy

MacBeales, flickr

“All ads do the same: create an anxiety relievable by purchase.” ―David Foster Wallace

One week into the Less is More Project! Contrary to what the title of this post implies, I did not go shopping. However, I do want to tackle the reasons why people shop. It boggles the mind how shopping has become such a daily part of our lives, a hobby, even, especially when you consider that most of the things we acquire are absolutely not necessary.

As Bill Bryson aptly demonstrates in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, this tendency isn't something new:

"By the closing years of 1950s most people had pretty much everything they had ever dreamed of, so increasingly there was nothing much to do with their wealth but buy more and bigger versions of things they didn't truly require: second cars, lawn tractors, double-width fridges, hi-fis with bigger speakers and more knobs to twiddle, extra phones and televisions, room intercoms, gas grills, kitchen gadgets, snowblowers, you name it."

And what's wrong with that, you ask (apart from the obvious stress it puts on the environment and the ever-increasing problems of globalization)? Keep reading: 

"Having more things of course also meant having more complexity in one's life, more running costs, more things to look after, more things to clean, more things to break down. Soon millions of people were caught in a spiral in which they worked harder and harder to buy labour-saving devices that they wouldn't have needed if they hadn't been working so hard in the first place."

I don't have to convince anyone that this phenomenon is still very much alive some 55 years later. But why do we keep buying? If the objects we acquire do not really fulfill a need, maybe the act of shopping in itself does?

Thomas Hine's book, I Want That - How we all Became Shoppers, might hold the answer. People do not simply shop to acquire nice things. Here are 9 reasons why we shop (and buy):

  1. Power - the use of objects to assert authority and prove your worth.
  2. Responsibility - shopping as a nurturing activity.
  3. Discovery - going among strangers to trade and learn.
  4. Self-expression - the role of objects in a world where individuals' identities aren't fixed.
  5. Insecurity - the conspiracy of shoppers and sellers that conjures the illusion of scarcity and creates fashion to enhance the eventfulness of life.
  6. Attention - the craving to have one's desires recognized but not judged.
  7. Belonging - the use of objects to forge communities of taste and to rebel against mainstream thinking.
  8. Celebration - the ways in which shopping helps give meaning to Christmas.
  9. Convenience - the integration and entanglement of shopping with the rest of life.

Do you recognize yourself or someone you know in those 9 forces that drive people to shop? Please share your examples in the comments!



Holidays and vacation time might be the worst, temptation wise. My spending style is what I call "Save 'n Splurge". I don't tend to spend little amounts on a regular basis; instead, I will be reasonable for a while, until a "special occasion" pops up (such as holidays), at which point I will go on some kind of shopping spree. When on vacation, I spend more time out and about in general, and downtown in particular, where nice shops abound (as opposed to my quiet neighborhood in the woods). 

But I resist. I am proud to say that I was able to walk past an outdoor gear store, a running store, a yoga store and a wine store (some of my biggest weaknesses). I also refused to enter a variety of other stores that advertised huge sales in their windows. I would probably have bought nothing (my commitment to this project is serious!), but I would definitely have ended up feeling very frustrated. Instead, we went for a stroll on the waterfront. We browsed an interesting (and free) exhibit on the war of 1812. But the highlight of the day was rather unexpected:

There was a homeless man on the street, enthusiastically singing an upbeat song. I couldn't help but smile from ear to ear. Considering this an "experience" worthy of my small change, I gave him a dollar. We exchanged Happy New Year wishes. The whole interaction itself was an exchange. I was not the giver, and he the receiver. We both gave to each other. We were both happier after the interaction. I really mean that. 

Oldest daughter R said "That was nice, mom. This man will put that money to good use" (her actual words). I don't know about that, but it does not matter at all. What that man does with the money is none of my business. Plus, we all deserve some fun. No judging.

Surely, giving away a dollar to a homeless person does not qualify as buying?


My youngest daughter, A, and I, did a serious cleanup of her bedroom, and filled a big bag of toys, books and decorative objects that she no longer appreciates, to donate to younger children. 

I also gave away some books from my own personal library.

Good riddance - the things that are in too bad a shape to even be donated: I threw away an array of random things that we found under A's bed.

The house already has a fresh, decluttered feel to it. As I had been getting rid of things for the past 2 years already, most rooms are in a pretty good state. However, I know the time will come when I will need to do a serious cleanup of my office. And to be honest, that prospect scares me. I have no trouble getting rid of objects, but I hold on to paper like my life depends on it! Wish me good luck on that one.


I realized that:

  • I own 8 pairs of jeans. I always wear the same 3.
  • I work outside the home 3 days a week (and work from home the 2 remaining days), but judging by the contents of my wardrobe, you would think I work outside the home 7 days a week and change my entire outfit 3 times a day.


One thing I have noticed in the past is that I cannot be trusted in wholesale stores. They might be good value for your money, but I always end up buying things I don't need, in a quantity I don't need, or both. Our membership card to one of those stores has just expired and we decided that in 2015, we will not renew it.

What did you resist this week? Did you donate or get rid of anything? How did that make you feel? Please comment below! And...


  1. Hi Julie - nice post! I just purchased a new snow blower with an electric starter. It's 26 inches wide. I don't think it fell under any of the 9 reasons why we shop. I got a rotator cuff injury in my right shoulder after the Spartan Race in November. The 3 times I've had to shovel snow so far this winter have aggravated my shoulder afterwards. The latest storm brought on 8 to 10 fresh inches of snow. We have a wide, long driveway. I didn't want to re-injure my arm before my first physical therapy appointment next week. I see the snow blower as a tool that will help me stay independent, and less dependent on others for assistance as I grow older. I heard of an 80 year old man that had a massive heart attack and died shoveling snow off the sidewalk for his daughter. Had they used a snow blower, he might have survived that winter.

    1. That's an interesting story! Of course if one is injured or not in shape to shovel, then a snow blower might be a necessity. My family is still resisting the purchase of a snow blower despite our 200 foot-long driveway and the Canadian winters, but it's true that we are both in our thirties and healthy. If those parameters changes significantly, of course we would consider to make the big purchase. :-) Thanks for sharing!

  2. Books and plant nurseries are my big weaknesses. And they are big. I have a huge unread pile of books already - and keep adding to it. And know that I should swap more to get the plants I want in the garden.
    The house is full. We really need less of everything rather than more of ANYTHING. Which I wish my partner agreed with.

    1. Those are good ones, yes! I have a huge pile of unread books too! Yet I read all the time.
      Good luck convincing your partner of letting go some things! :-)

  3. Everything I own can fit into the trunk of a car. When I find myself in stores now, I'm not tempted by anything. Nothing about purchasing, with the exception of food, appeals to me. Yes, I am one of those people who gets absolutely sickened when I walk into a mall -- I am frightened by the culture.

    I think it's wonderful that you guys are repurposing toys and books. Spread the wealth, don't hoard it or through it away.

    I love the direction you are going with this!

    1. I like how your perception of the shopping mall culture is diametrically opposed to the majority. You might have a thing or two to teach people. :-)

    2. I used to be disturbed by malls and department stores until a good friend suggested I just look at all the colors and think of it as some kind of crazy art piece. That helped.

    3. Interesting, Dr. J. I do think that treating shopping malls like a museum would probably relieve some of the anxiety.

  4. Since the week before Christmas I have resisted eating out. Its not easy but I'm hoping with determination it will get easier.

    1. They say it takes a few weeks to build a new habit. You can do it! :-)

  5. I love the idea of less is more. I live by it, myself, but gosh...the rest of the family is having a hard time adjusting. Like the little 7yo who was looking for a gray marker. I told her we packed most of the markers since we're moving shortly and to just make do with the markers she does have, but she was inconsolable. How is this possible? It's just a marker....that kind of thing.

    By moving into a really small house we will need to adjust living with less. I am looking forward to this experiment and just hope that the rest of the family will follow suit.


    1. It takes time to get used to feeling grateful for what you have instead of hoping for specific things you don't have... I'm sure you will have a great influence on the little ones. :-)

      Good luck with your project! I am looking forward to hear more about it.

    2. I don't understand packing most of the markers, they take up little enough room, why not just leave them out until actual moving day? Or at least keep out one of each colour. Colouring books and markers were the main form of keeping the kids quiet when we were in moving mode especially on moving day.

  6. I like the Insecurity definition for shopping!

    Hopefully the US and Canada are on the same page about the war of 1812, lol Maybe that's why we each have "half" of Niagara Falls.

    I enjoyed your exchange with the homeless person. You found a home together :-)

    1. Hmmm... apparently the Canadian Forces spent most of 2012 bragging along the borders that we won that war!!! ;-)

  7. I'm definitely #2 and 3. Since I don't work outside our home, I sometimes go out shopping just to be around other people (#3). Also, when my allergies are the worst and I'm searching for something, ANYTHING for comfort, I'll buy a box of tea and a pair of new fuzzy pjs or socks (#2).

    My husband was raised to value a large collection of books. His family's home literally looks like a library, with wall-to-wall bookshelves. His solution to the book problem in our home is to simply build another bookshelf (I admit, he makes really pretty ones too!). As the person that cleans the whole house and is allergic to the dust, we've made a rule: No more books. For every book we buy, we have to donate one to charity. It keeps things from getting out of control.

    1. Thank you for giving specific examples, Karen! I think it makes the whole point way clearer.

      I was raised in a family that valued books in that way too. I accumulated my own for many years. Now, I go to the library. :-)

  8. I don't shop for any of those 9 reasons listed. I shop because I'm out of milk or because something has broken down beyond the point of repair. Almost everything I own is oldish, including clothes. I've never been one to "keep up with the Joneses" and I certainly DON"T believe in using credit and going into debt for anything that I can live without.

    1. I bet you feel lighter for all of that, River! I hope I get to that point of detachment. Thank you for commenting.

  9. Must admit I avoid the shops .....except for food shopping of course.

    So many people can't wait to get around the various sales and I guess if you are looking for something in particular it is a good thing to save money. The problem for many is they can not resist buying things they don't really need.

    Taking stock of ourselves is a good thing, perhaps we should do it more often?

    All the best Jan

    1. Avoiding stores (and TV, and magazines) is a huge step toward consuming less! Thanks Jan.

  10. I just bought things we needed this week. I am not a big shopper but over the years we have acquired a lot of stuff that I am still going through to get rid of.