The Psychology of Impulse Buying
Why do we buy things we never use? Why do we keep shopping when we’re not happy with what we buy? Why do we give in to impulse buying?
Marketing plays a part. As consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow puts it, marketers make powerful use of psychology. Deep down, Yarrow says, we all want to believe in magic. So we look for it in shopping bags; hoping to spend our way to satisfaction. But if we’re doing that in the hope of meeting a need, did the consumer world really create that need? Or did we already have it?
My self-awareness has blossomed since I started therapy.
My self-awareness has blossomed since I started therapy. I see now that I’ve been trying, increasingly desperately, to fill a void inside my heart and soul. Some people try to do this with drugs, alcohol or food, or they move somewhere new in the hope of leaving themselves behind. None of this works because:
- External changes don’t help when it’s your internal world that needs to change
- As I’ve come to see in counselling, you need to acknowledge that void instead of ignoring it or trying to make yourself not have it
My wounds are the legacy of a traumatic, abusive childhood. Now, I see how I kept buying things in the hope of becoming a different person with different feelings. But of course I was still the same person, with the same feelings, just with different stuff and an increasing amount of debt. I felt ashamed when I realised this. It was tempting to think about all the money I had wasted and what impulse buying had lead to. Instead, it helped to reframe things and think:
- I want to live differently from now on. It’s great that I can contemplate change
- Buying all that stuff feels like a mistake, but it had a purpose too. It didn’t fill the black hole. It did stop me from collapsing into it until I was ready to see it
- Shopping has been a solution to a problem, but not a very good solution. It’s not working. Time to find something better
- Which means acknowledging the void inside myself. It means grieving. I also need to discover what actually makes me happy
Not that you shouldn’t buy anything ever again, but do stop to ask yourself some questions. What are the things you actually use and love? Walk around, look at some of the objects you own and ask yourself why you bought them. If you could go back in time, what purchases would you make again and why? Of the things I use or wear often and would definitely buy again, none are the results of impulse buying. Coincidence? I’m not so sure. Even the sale bargains were planned, researched and coveted before I parted with any money: a leather jacket that suits me, black jeans that fit really well. My most cherished possessions are a second-hand guitar and various items of jewellery that were all gifts. So I’m trying to rein it in. It’s hard but surprisingly liberating. It helps to keep a journal. When you’re tempted to spend, make a note of what you want to buy, why you think you want it and how you feel in your body and mind, so you get into the habit of tuning into yourself. That’s the real magic: self-awareness and self-compassion. Which can feel much more uncomfortable than simply going shopping, but it’s also far cheaper and infinitely more rewarding. Next week Annie will be explaining how you can be mindful and work towards overcoming impulse buying. If you are struggling to get certain behaviours under control, seeing a counsellor can be informative and helpful. Find a counsellor on our directory today.