Try This Simple Trick to Curb Impulse Buying

Stop! Think!

First, why do I want you to curb impulse buying? I really couldn’t care less about how much money you spend, or how much stuff you have. It’s your money, your stuff, and your life….until you call me for help, and then I care a lot! I care that you feeling overwhelmed and embarrassed to have friends over. I care that you are feeling broke and guilty.

Not all of my clients’ clutter is the result of impulse buying, but much of it is.

Don’t clutter your life with impulse purchases that you'll later regret. Try this simple trick! Share on X

So I ask you to stop and think hard about what you bring into your space. Do you really need it? Can you afford it in terms of money, time, and energy? Where will this new item live? Who will take care of it? (See also What is Your Clutter Costing You? and Six Organizing Systems Everyone Needs — System #5: Flow of Things.)

I first read this tip in a post about stopping your kids from whining in a store. But I think it works equally well for adults.

Ready? It’s a three-step tip that goes like this:

  1. Acknowledge the desire. They really are beautiful shoes, aren’t they? And it would be so much fun to use those scrapbooking/quilting/craft supplies, wouldn’t it?
  2. Ask yourself this question: Shall I add it to my wish list?
  3. Honor the answer: If the item ranks high enough, compared to other things on your wish list, and the answer is yes, write it down. Where? In the little notebook that you carry with you at all times, of course! (No, seriously. A little pen, too.) Or in Evernote, or any electronic note-taking device. Or on a scrap of paper that you later transfer to a real wish list (that is, if the desire is still there and you don’t just toss it).

I have written about wish lists before, in terms of gift giving (Wish List Etiquette, How (and Why) to Organize Your Wish List). But I also have a wish list just for me. I don’t shop in stores much, but I do see things on the internet that catch my fancy. I’d say I only buy about half of them. I’d go broke if I bought them all!

If you can stop yourself from buying the item right when you see it, promising yourself that you’ll buy it later if you still want it, you have a much stronger chance of never buying it. Many people use Pinterest in this way. They have whole boards pinned with things they like and do not plan to buy.

Think of a wish list as a to-do list

First, please understand that you do not have to do everything on your to-do list! It’s a list of things you wanted to do, and didn’t want to forget, but the list is subject to reevaluation. Priorities change. Situations resolve themselves. It’s OK to cross things off your to-do list! Maybe you delegated the task, or changed your mind. Same goes for a wish list. You wanted it. You wrote it down so you wouldn’t forget about it, but also so you wouldn’t waste money by buying it impulsively. There is no obligation to buy it later! It’s OK to cross things off your wish list!

If you really still want it later, though, go for it! (Or maybe you’ve found one at a garage sale, or maybe you thought of someone you could borrow it from temporarily, or….) Save the money for it. Decide where you will keep it and care for it. Anticipate how you will use and enjoy it. Reward yourself for reaching a goal. You will likely appreciate it even more if you did not buy it impulsively. (Buy the best. Forget the rest.)

How to save 100%

“But what if it’s on sale?” I can hear you asking. Even if it’s on sale you can put it on your wish list, think about it, and come back to it later in the shopping trip, or later in the day, or the next day, or…well, really, what’s the worst that can happen if you pass up a sale? You have to pay more for it? You miss out? If you had a policy of never buying things on sale just think of all the money you’d save in the long run even if you paid full price for what ended up being the most important things on your list? One of my favorite cartoons features this caption:  SALE! Save up to 100% when you don’t buy anything.

Enjoy the things you really want, need, use, and appreciate.  Don’t clutter your life with impulse purchases that you’ll later regret.

Do you think you’ll try this tip?

What’s the last thing you bought on sale that you regretted?

Please share in the comments below!

Copyright 2016 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Janet Barclay on August 8, 2016 at 7:30 am

    I love the way you took a technique designed for children and adapted it to adults. Isn’t impulse buying a way of giving into our inner child, after all?

    I used to have a lot of clothes that I couldn’t mix and match because I couldn’t resist the bargains. Now I have fewer clothes, better quality, with many more possibilities. One of the perks of getting older and wiser, I guess!

    • Hazel Thornton on August 8, 2016 at 8:03 am

      Inner child — exactly! And clothing is an excellent example. My clients with crammed closets realize after we purge that they seem to have MORE outfits to wear because they can SEE everything and how it can all be worn together, and they know everything fits, flatters, and is in good repair.

  2. Stephanie Butler on August 8, 2016 at 8:18 am

    This is a great reminder of how we have the choice. I love to make a rule to never buy anything on sale…I go by the opposite so impulse buying happens, a lot. Thank you for this article.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 10, 2016 at 7:02 am

      Let me know how it works for you!

  3. Seana G Turner on August 8, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    That cartoon is hilarious! It really can be hard to resist impulse buys. Marketers understand our brains better than we do. I love the idea of asking if it warrants being put on a “wish list.” I find the ease of internet shopping has made this problem even worse – you don’t have to be in a store to be tempted, right?

    • Hazel Thornton on August 10, 2016 at 7:10 am

      The cartoon is one of my favorites! And you are so right about marketing being hard to resist. There’s no place you can go, except perhaps the woods, where you aren’t bombarded with ads in one form or another.

  4. Sarah Soboleski on August 8, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    I’ve been redecorating some rooms in my house and have been internet browsing way more than ever to get ideas and inspiration. I’ve noticed that many sites now have the option to put an item in your shopping cart or on a wish list. Maybe this wish list thing isn’t new, but it was to me. I think it’s such a good idea to be able to designate it as a future want, but not something to have to buy now.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 10, 2016 at 7:13 am

      I just looked at my Amazon wishlist. There are a number of things on there, and I didn’t remove any, but I also don’t feel the need to buy any of them today. I used to have a widget that allowed me to choose anything, from any website, and put it on a universal wish list. I must have outgrown it, though, since I can’t find it or remember what it’s called.

  5. Jamie Steele on August 11, 2016 at 8:51 am

    I have been known to leave full shopping carts at stores, especially the Container Store. Halfway through my shopping spree, I may realize that I don’t need any of it. Instead of tempting myself more I just leave the cart and walk out. I’m sure the store associates love me for this, but having the courage to leave it all has saved me a ton of money and time since I don’t have to return the things I really didn’t need or couldn’t afford.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 12, 2016 at 6:41 pm

      I’ll bet the stores are annoyed as hell, but you know what? You don’t do it on purpose, and I’m on your side. Good for you for realizing when you don’t need to buy anything after all!

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