The Reason We Buy Things We Don’t Need

Before, I wanted to buy everything. To have everything. And I know why I was constantly thinking about going shopping. I’ve adopted a way of thinking, a mindset, that was constantly telling me, feeding me with the idea that there is always something missing in my life. That I’m not good enough and not dressed well enough. The only way to improve and feel good according to these thoughts was to acquire more stuff. To buy things I don’t really need. And I followed. I was helpless, lost.

Ever had the feeling that you don’t have anything to wear?

You’re standing in front of your wardrobe. You’re going through the pile of clothes and you hate everything you see? Despite the obvious abundance of things to put on, you announce with annoyance: “I have nothing to wear!”

I bet you did. We’ve all been there. Standing in front of our big wardrobes full of the clothes which we have chosen ourselves and we’re still not finding anything good to wear.

You picked the clothes yourself, right? Why the heck you’re not able to find anything good to wear? Have your standards for quality and fashion changed? Or, you simply don’t like anything now because you’ve fallen into the trap of buying things you don’t need?

Well, we’re going to figure it out in this post.

First, Let’s See Why We Buy Things

There are two main reasons why people go to the store to spend their money:

  1. They want to feel better and move away from pain/suffering.
  2. They want to feel better and move closer to pleasure.

The basic things we need in order to exist we take for granted: food, electricity, shelter, clothing, and fresh water. You no longer have to fight predators for your food. Set traps and wait for hours. Risk your health by eating raw meat.

You simply go to the grocery store and you buy the desired ingredients. Even if you’re broke, you can still relatively easily find food and drinkable water.1

 Shelter, especially these days, is the hardest thing to acquire. Not that there is no availability, quite the opposite. Buildings are popping like mushrooms after a rainy day. The problem is the price. Prices are going up due to the growing interest.

Still, we’re quite flexible and we adjust. Even if we’re dead broke, we can still find where to live and what to eat.

But according to statistics, the majority of our expenses are not directed toward acquiring the essential things we need to survive. We’re maxing out our credit cards to get something else…

Generally speaking, humanity is bored to death. Each year we spend more and more money to keep ourselves entertained. Which is actually quite normal since there are so many cool things produced each year: new phones, new laptops, new cars, new gadgets, and new TV shows.

But even if you don’t need a new phone, you simply can’t resist the pressure. Since social media posts of the latest gadgets are spreading like a virus, because of our tendency towards novelty, we quickly convince ourselves that we do need one. We get first in the line to get something we don’t really need with money we don’t really have.

And that’s not the only thing we get.

We buy video games, big screen TV’s, expensive equipment, drones that we don’t know how to use, smartphones packed with a gazillion of features, smartwatches, smart bracelets, we even buy MP3 players that no one uses anymore.

On top of that, we buy drugs, herbs, expensive mattresses, and alcohol to feel even better and to move further away from pain.

But we continue…

We consume sugary things. Restaurants that serve fast food are our go-to place. Pubs and bars are full though a lot of people don’t have enough money to make it till the end of the month.

Basically, we’re trying to solve all of our problems through the act of buying. That’s why, unfortunately, 80% of Americans are caught up in the chains of debt.2

Sadly, big companies also know these facts and they use them against us.

How Companies Convince You To Buy Things From Them?

Easy, they focus on the reasons above. They get you to think that you’re not good enough, that you’re sick and that you need a cure.

Big marketing firms and research companies analyze thousand of data and they can quickly determine how a single product can be introduced in front of an audience for optimal conversion.

The first thing they need to decide is how this product helps you. Does it cure pain or does it make you feel better in terms of social status?

Let’s observe the first thing: curing pain.

First: They Move You Away From Pain

As we all know, drug commercials all start the same. A short story of a person feeling some sort of pain is presented. Then, they glamorously introduce their product and explain how it will magically cure you while a small script flashes through the screen with light speed telling us that there is a huge chance that the above might not happen actually.

The drug in this commercial is the superhero. The thing that will cure your pain.

Second: They Move You Closer To Pleasure

Tech companies like Apple, for instance, are building products that satisfy other needs – products that will move you closer to pleasure. Their commercials are of high-quality, focused on details, and slick as hell. They want you to feel that when you get their product you will be a better person. That you will now belong to another group of people. Much cooler group of people. In these commercials, the product is put on a pedestal.

And you know what? It works!

Every year there are thousands of people waiting for hours to get the iPhone.

Why they do it? Let’s see:

Why People Buy Things – Poll

I asked my closest friends a simple question. It was personalized towards the specific person but that’s the general question they got from me: “I think you shop too often, why is that?”

After convincing them that my statement is true – they all objects that they shop often – this is what they said:3

Friend 1: “Well, probably it’s because I don’t think I’m pretty. People around me tell me that I’m kind of beautiful, but I don’t actually think it’s true. When I go to the mall and I get something new and cool, my confidence is rejuvenated and I feel better, prettier.”

Friend 2: “Yes, I’m kind of obsessed with my visits to the mall, am I not? I’m not sure why I do it though, I simply love to spoil myself with new clothes.”

Friend 3: “I often purchase new books or courses online with a desire to improve my life. When I’m not reading or watching a course, I feel like I’m lagging behind. Still, maybe I should focus more on practicing what I’ve learned rather than constantly looking for another book to buy.”

Do you recognize yourself in one of the answers from above?

Well, I do. But before I tell you why I shopped too often a few years ago, let’s quickly analyze the answers:

  • Friend 1: Lack of confidence.
  • Friend 2: Egomaniac.
  • Friend 3: Lack of confidence and direction in life.

Instead of trying to gain confidence through some other type of activity, 2 out of my 3 friends spend money to feel a bit better. Friend number 2 is simply spoiled by my understandings.

Now, let me share with you my reasons:

The main reason I spend money on things I later never used was actually exactly the same as my other two friends – lack of confidence. I gained strength through shopping. I felt good. My head was high.

My confidence was boosted when I got new clothes or a new watch. I was focusing on the external things – looks – and I was neglecting other categories in my life: finances, health, and direction. I thought that life is going to be a never-ending party. 

I was so wrong.

Main Reasons We Buy Things We Don’t Need

I don’t really think that anyone will go to the store with the intention to buy something that he will never going to use in the near future. At the moment of sale, the person is determined that he wants what he buys. However, doing this exercise too often naturally leaves you with a lot of possessions. And since you don’t have enough time to use everything, you’re simply forced to use only part of them.

So, the main reason we buy things we’ll never going to use boils down to this: because we shop too often and too irresponsible.


Let me elaborate: We buy things. Then we buy some more things. At some point, we have so many things and so little time. Naturally, we can only use a portion of the things we own. So, the more thing you buy and own, the fewer things you’ll actually going to use. Quite a paradox, right? We acquire more things with the intention to use them but we later end up not using them.

But why?

Why we continue this never-ending cycle since our homes are filled with stuff?

According to my experience and observation, there are 5 main reasons that prompt us to buy things we don’t need.

Here’s the list:

Let me give you a bit more information about these categories.

Hopefully, what I’ll share below will prevent you from clicking the buy button too often.

1. Media Influence

I worked with quite a lot of marketers before and I learned a thing or two.

See, large companies know that a single commercial during your favorite show won’t do the work. You will either skip the channel or you will pay zero attention to the products dancing on your screen.

That’s why corporations put commercials everywhere: on all of the shows, banners on the streets, social media, sites, etc. Their goal is to instill their product in your brain. Then, the next time you go to the store and search for diapers, the product you’ll end up buying will be the one you saw previously on TV.

But there is more.

The average modern person is exposed to around 5,000 ads per day.4

This means that after a certain time, even if you don’t need a new TV, you’ll most probably get one. You may not need it. But you’ll surely get a new bigger, slimmer, slicker TV. That’s what happens when you see for a thousand times over how this new TV will supposedly make your Sunday’s a lot better. Whether we understand it or not, all commercials influence us.

2. Social Pressure

We’re not just influenced by the clever marketers but also by the people around us.

Think about it for a moment. Let’s say your best friend calls you and tells you that he bought a brand-new car. What will be your first reaction? Joy? Jealousy? Happiness? A feeling that you’re lagging behind?

You will congratulate him and feel happy for him. Then, when you hung up, you will start thinking: “John bought a new expensive car, maybe I also need a new car?”

Your current vehicle is no longer relevant. You now need something better. Well, you don’t actually need it, but your mind tells you differently.

3. Discounts, Sales, Promotions

I have a friend who, when shopping during holiday sales, is constantly updating me about how much money she had saved: “Durmonski, I’ve saved 80$ today. I bought 3 new blouses and a new pair of jeans and I saved big times. How cool is that?”

Of course, she never calculates her spendings. According to her, she’s saving while she’s spending. I know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense but that’s how much promotions and discounts are affecting us.

That’s why we go bankrupt when the nearest mall announces a spring sale. Girls abort all other activities and head directly to the stores. Armed with credit cards and a desire to “save some cash,” they eventually owe more money and have more stuff crowding their wardrobes. All things that will eventually end up in the dumpster.

4. Lack of Control

“It’s like I can’t control myself. When I enter the mall I want to buy everything.” People often explain after visiting the nearest store.

Many impulse purchases involve the so-called hedonic products, things that give us immediate pleasure or enjoyment.5 Examples include candy, alcohol, going to the movies, visiting a restaurant. Also, getting more jewelry and other fancy things. We, humans, are kind of attracted to shiny objects and once we see them we immediately want them.

If you can’t control your actions you need to take drastic measures. Your main objective here will be to restrain yourself from visiting stores and reevaluate your habits.

5. Because You’re Now Rich

Or, let’s say you have more money than you had before. This is also one of the reasons I, myself, bought stuff before.

I was raised in an average family in terms of income and once I got a fancy job, I loosen up my wallet. I was far from rich but I had more money at my disposal than ever before which turned out to become a nasty habit.

This type of behavior is quite normal and resonates with one of the things mentioned above: “People want to feel better and move closer to pleasure.” Having more money equals buying more expensive things.

Not that it’s bad to have nice things. Actually, I still spent more money on things when they are worth it. My personal understanding is that cheaper things eventually cost you more. I simply lowered my volume of purchases and now I only get things when I absolutely need to.

6. Because You’re Bored

The most common reason we buy stuff is actually quite simple – boredom. When you don’t have anything else to do, when you don’t have a purpose, you simply get something new to spice up your day.

Bored people are usually people who were raised with a silver spoon. Since they were able to afford expensive things and exotic vacations from a younger age, they no longer feel joy from many of the surrounding items. That’s why both their toys and their wardrobes get bigger. Filled with stuff which they will never use again.

Some Closing Thoughts

Now, if after reading this you want to spend less money and have fewer things, do this: Become uber-intentional about your future purchases.

Take your time and really think about the reasons behind your desired purchases:

  • Do you really need a new car?
  • Do you really need a new phone?
  • Do you really need a new pair of shoes?
  • Do you really need to get all the must-read psychology books?

Chances are, you don’t actually need any of those things. You simply want others to like you more. You want external validation.

My current smartphone is 4 years old. It’s loads a bit slow, there are some scratches here and there but it still works. I can still do everything I want with it. I will definitely buy a new phone eventually, but not now. And I don’t quite care that everybody around me is walking around with the latest iPhone.

If even after reading this you still desperately want to buy stuff, you then need a higher purpose, and you need to discipline yourself. Find something meaningful to do that will give you direction in life – and do it deliberately.

What about you?

How often do you go shopping?

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  1. Fresh water is available to humans in probably around 80% of the world. According to Google, there are mainly 5 countries that are threatened by water shortages: Libya, Western Sahara, Yemen, Djibouti, Jordan.
  2. I’m not making this huge number up. You can read the full report here: The Complex Story of American Debt.
  3. I was tempted to share their names but I promised I won’t do it :)
  4. From The New Your Times: Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad
  5. Hedonic motivations basically are the expression of what I described before. We are doing everything possible to move towards something good or away from a threat. This is linked to the classic motivational principle that people approach pleasure and avoid pain.
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