You're disorganized and in debt. That puts you in good company.
You just tossed that Final Notice letter on the table where it landed with its fellow notices, late payment charges, and unpaid bills. You sidestep the overturned chair in the kitchen and make your way to the couch where you slide a pile of laundry aside to make room to sit down. You’re in a mountain of clutter and debt. What happened to you?
The answer is nothing. At least, not to you specifically. Believe it or not, the same thing that brought you here affects thousands and thousands of others.
Every day we’re bombarded with suggestive and sub-suggestive marketing, playing on every emotion with only one goal in mind - to separate you from your money. Seriously, Perrier is using sex to sell seltzer. Big data is unearthing ways to increase customer responsiveness, to price products more optimally, and even to up consumer loyalty. The point is, we live in an environment where coming home with something new, however niche, is looked upon as “helping the economy” or shrugged off with a blasé “YOLO.” It’s part of the territory now.
To wit, American children make up 3.1% of the world’s population under 18 and yet account for an astonishing 40% of global toy ownership. Indeed, why go to the grocery store when you can go to Costco and get so much more, even if it means purchasing a freezer chest just to store it all? You can buy the freezer on Amazon, and with only a few more clicks you can pick up more items that only increase in absurdity: dedicated quesadilla makers, pens just for her, and banana slicers.
The rampant consumerism is taking a toll, and it’s doing so in ways that no pre-1990s American would ever conceive possible. James Wallman, author of Stuffocation, puts it bluntly: clutter kills. Wallman’s book discusses a study that found that women who are asked about the uncontrollable clutter in their homes begin to exhibit the same levels of the stress hormone cortisol as those who have experienced post traumatic stress disorder. That’s a sobering discovery. Basically, it’s quantification of just how damaging to our very being it is to over accumulate stuff to the point of saturation. If you’ve gotten there, you have increased risk of everything from fatigue, to depression, to death. No amount of sexual innuendo is worth taking that on.
If you’re freaking out at this point, pause and take a breath. There are two things to consider here. First, one more click on Amazon won’t be the difference between a clutter-free life and a breakdown. Second, there’s a difference between you wanting something, and your brain revving its instant-gratification engine. That second one is a powerful piece of knowledge to have. It means that given time and dedication, you’ll be able to rewire your brain to look for gratification elsewhere.
Psychology Today discusses the Four Steps program to literally change your brain.
Relabel: Be aware of your mindset when the urge to buy hits. Label the experience with whatever word you want: impulse, craving, desire, need. Whatever you use, what it is not is you consciously saying to yourself that it’s time to purchase something you objectively need. In other words, identify if you are actually looking for something necessary, or just something to buy and then explicitly recognize each.
Reframe: Understand that the need is coming from your brain, not something you’re consciously doing. Here you can change your own perception of the importance of the urge.
Refocus: Refocusing mean redirecting your attention to something more constructive. Take a walk, work on something important, or call a friend. This will distract you until the urge passes.
Revalue: If the temptation continues, simply acknowledge it and move on. While your brain can whine about something it wants, you are ultimately in control and you are the one who decides whether or not to act. The urge has far less power to act than you do.
Ben Oatis is a freelance writer based in Connecticut with over 10 years of experience as a technical writer for global tech companies. In addition to writing about technology, he also covers politics, lifestyle, and health and nutrition. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.