[Note: I think something went wrong with publishing this last week? So i'm attempting to update it today... WordPress and I aren't getting along so who the heck knows what will happen with this the 2nd time around!]
Until the other day, I don’t think I had ever asked myself that question. I was in the car on the way to Target and I was giving myself a little pep talk.
“You’re just going in to get a water bottle. That’s it. Just go in, get the water bottle, and get out. Don’t look at anything else. You don’t need anything else! All your possessions are in a storage unit, you do not have room to buy anything else!”
That day, I managed to get in and out with only buying a water bottle (it was a great accomplishment). But as I passed the displays on my way to the back of the store (why is it that whenever you need to buy something, it’s at the farthest away location in the store, making you walk by EVERY DISPLAY?), I noticed a few pretty items and I started thinking about why I wanted those items.
Just ask “why?”
I passed the home decor section which was displaying colorful throw pillows and bedding sets. I wanted them. But why, I asked myself? After thinking for a minute, I realized that I wanted them to make my apartment (err.. my future apartment once we find one to move in to) look well-decorated. And a well-decorated apartment would make me feel more grown up and independent. Weird logic, but it’s true.
Once I realized the true reason that I wanted the pillows and bedding, I saw how silly the impulse was- I am a grown-up and I am independent, I just have to realize that internally. Having fancy throw pillows isn’t going to change that. And once I had that realization, I was able to walk by the display without feeling like I needed to purchase anything.
Also, I passed the office supply section and eyed some colorful pens and pretty notebooks. I wanted them. Again, I asked myself why. I discovered that I really was just feeling un-organized in my current life and I equated having new pens and notebooks with being organized. And my brain thought that once I was organized, I’d be able to successfully become self-employed and I’d start and run a thriving business.
Once again, I saw how silly that impulse was. New pens and notebooks aren’t going to make me organized. New pens and notebooks aren’t going to set me on the path to successful self-employment or entrepreneurship! Plus, I already have way too many pens and notebooks. Completely silly reasoning and completely unnecessary purchase.
Everyone Does It
This crazy logic extends to many people.
Think about the guy going through a “mid-life crisis” who buys a fancy $60,000 bright red convertible. Why? Maybe he hates his job and his commute, so he’s trying to compensate by buying a new car. But is having a new car going to make him happy with his job and commute? Maybe temporarily, but not for long.
Think about the overworked mom who buys every single toy on the market for her kids. But why? Maybe it’s because she feels guilty about working so much, and thinks that she’ll be a better parent by giving her kids toys. But is buying a new toy going to make her feel like a better parent? Probably not.
In both of those examples, do you think stopping to think about why they wanted to make the purchase would have been a good idea? Perhaps they would have realized the deeper meaning behind their urge to spend money.
Be Wary of Advertisements
Advertisers do a great job of selling us on an experience rather than a product. They know that no one asks themselves why they want a product- they know we’ll just buy it!
Take cleaning product commercials, for example. You’ve seen ‘em before… these commercials feature a smiling woman cleaning up the teensiest speck of dirt on the floor which was trailed in from her adorable golden retriever. She finishes “cleaning” with a triumphant smile, surveying her gleaming home, as her perfect, happy, 2-kids-plus-a-husband family enter the frame. The family laugh together (do you notice that? everyone is always mid-laugh in commercials. what are they laughing about?) and pet the dog as the camera pans out from their sparkling home.
In commercials like this, the advertiser certainly isn’t trying to sell you on the capabilities of their product. They’re trying to sell you on the idea that you, too, can be that smiling woman with a clean house and perfect family… if you just buy our product! Advertisers are smart. They know that purchases are often made based upon emotion, and they’re capitalizing on that.
Train Your Brain
Next time you feel yourself drawn to a product: stop, take a deep breath, and evaluate your true feelings. Ask yourself why. Why do you need this product? The more often you ask yourself that question, the more ingrained it will become in your way of thinking, until hopefully you wean yourself off of this unnecessary, emotion-fueled purchasing.
Question! Can you think of any recent purchases (or almost purchases!) where your emotions got the best of you?
My recent-ish trip to Target (where else?) where I bought almost every picture frame in the store plus a bunch of other completely unnecessary household items. Now I realize why I did it: I was getting really impatient to move somewhere, but I thought we’d be stuck in VA for a few more months. I was unhappy with that situation and thought decorating our apartment would make me happy. But as they say, money can’t buy happiness! And neither can picture frames or pizza cutters with cool patterns.