Jun 17

That Time I Didn’t Buy the Shoes


That Time I didn’t Buy the Shoes


I try to limit the amount of new things that come into my life. Blame it on minimalism, laziness, environmentalism, dementia or maybe a combination. This is a deep seated philosophy that has slowly developed over time, and as usual, it is based on happiness. It was not always this way though. I used to actually buy things just for fun. I liked the little rush that I got from purchasing something. At the time I didn’t admit this. There was always a practical reason for buying. Maybe they were a good deal, or I would really use them someday. I would always rationalize that the purchase was necessary.


Recently I was tempted to make such a purchase, and I thought sharing the experience may be useful. Ironically, I had just completed my second major round of decluttering. I got rid of many items, including several pairs of shoes that I just didn’t need anymore. I had been keeping them around ‘just in case’. In my head I could hear that little voice saying “maybe someday I will wear these shoes”, but when I really reflected I knew this was a lie. I would probably never wear them because I have a few shoes that I really love to wear. Every time I went to my closet to find shoes I always picked the ones I loved over the ones that were just OK. Ninety percent of my in-shoe-time was addressed by just 5 pairs: trail shoes, traditional running shoes, two nice dress/work shoes and one casual shoe.


My shoe BFF

The casual shoe is my favorite, made by a company called OluKai. They are a simple brown leather shoe (maybe something you could wear with a pair of khakis, but not a suit) that is one of the most comfortable shoes I have ever put on my feet. I love these things, well, as much as one can love a shoe.


Anyways, I was downtown waiting to pick something up at another store and had some time to kill. I violated my first rule of shopping and wandered into an outdoor gear and clothing store just to browse the merchandise. Instantly I felt a twinge of excitement perusing all the new fancy stuff and imagining my new life with all the upgrades.


Intellectually I knew what my brain was doing. It was fantasizing about a potential future where I would be happier with all this new stuff. I knew it was probably not true, but I still felt the emotion of it all. I was doing fine as I held a few items in my hands.



“Wow, wouldn’t it be nice to have a brand new wool travel tee shirt!”

“Boy, these shorts sure look nicer than anything in my dresser!”



But I moved on and the cravings passed.



Then I saw it…the closeout shoe rack. To my surprise and delight they had multiple pairs of ‘my shoes’ for about half retail price. I felt a slight sweat break out on my brow and I could feel my brain trying to talk myself into buying a pair.



“Your old shoes like this will eventually wear out and you need to have these in reserve.”

“They are half price! How can you pass up such a good deal?”

“You only have one shade of brown in this shoe; another pair will give you more versatility!”



These are all valid arguments. I held the various shoes in my hand. They would fit perfectly. I thought deeply. Then I put them down and walked out of the store.


I felt them pulling me back. There was some regret and a hint of sadness. I longed a little for the shoes. Maybe I was missing out on something by not having happier, more versatile and fashionable feet.

too cool for my feet

Too Cool for My Feet

All Your Brains Are Belong to Us

WTF? These were $120 shoes? Why was I having such a strong emotional response to something so trivial? After all, it’s not like I can’t come back any time and buy a pair when the shoes I have wear out. Who knows, maybe the pair I have will last me another few years. Maybe I will find a pair I love even more in the future. And do I really need more than one shade of brown of the same shoe?


No! Of course not! I don’t need them at all. What I craved was the emotional response to buying them. Now, don’t get me wrong. I know I would have loved those shoes and they would have brought me some joy, but I don’t need them. After a week any happiness I derived from them would be in the background. I would be $60 poorer and my closet full of one more pair of shoes that sits on the shoe rack most of the time.


Here is the crazy thing though; the following day when I was driving home from an appointment, I actually considered going back to the store and buying them. That’s right, that silly little time-wasting trip to the store browsing for nothing in particular was stealing my attention. A day after that first encounter I almost drove back to the store. I was having a Fight Club-like discussion with myself, and I almost jumped out of the car and started punching my ego in the face. A pair of shoes hijacked my brain…me…The Happy Philosopher. You know, the guy who writes about minimalism and frugality and not buying crap you don’t need in order to become financially independent.


We Are All Weak

Do you understand why you need to completely change your habits now? Why you need to stop watching advertisements and going to the mall for fun? Consumerism is like a drug, no different than heroin or meth. Maybe you won’t lose all your teeth or end up dead in a hotel room, but it will slowly bleed you of your freedom, and you are not as clever at resisting it as you think you are.


Now some of you are probably thinking I’m crazy right about now and are shaking your head in disbelief. Why didn’t this neurotic freak just get the shoes? Does this mundane topic really need a couple thousand words? Why would anyone making six figures not just buy the damn shoes?!?


These are fair questions. My answer is that this has absolutely nothing to do with the shoes. My financial, emotional and spiritual life would not be measurably different with or without another pair of shoes. They are a distraction from the real issues. The shoes are irrelevant. What is relevant is our strong emotional attachment to consumption. What is interesting is the fear of missing out on this ‘limited time offer’ I experienced (although I purchased the first pair of shoes on sale as well, so I question how limited it was). Would I have even given these shoes a second glance if they were at full retail price? (Doubtful.) Those are the questions worth asking.


At times, I can spend thousands of dollars without giving it a second thought, but give me the chance to save $60 on a pair of shoes and I’m an emotional wreck. Would I be this tortured over saving $60 on my phone bill, a computer, or a car? Probably not, but logically I should. Sixty dollars is $60 regardless of how you save it, but the framing can cause your brain to respond anywhere from…













Good Deals are not Enough


But saving 50% by buying something is a fantastic deal right? Maybe it is if you really need the thing; but not buying something you don’t really need saves you 100%. That is a much better deal.


When I decluttered my house (twice) I had vanloads full of barely used things that were all ‘good deals’, only in retrospect they really weren’t. I’ve spent a great deal of my life looking for good deals on thing I didn’t necessarily need or want. What I really wanted was the feeling of getting a good deal, the feeling of having something new and ‘better’. I enjoyed the hunt more than the object itself. I imagine I’m not alone in this.


I’m not telling you to become paranoid and stop all consumption. That is not the point. We all need to buy stuff and some of it is actually needed. Some of it makes us happy. But be intentional. If you are trying to save money to buy some freedom and space in your life, put up barriers to compulsory consumption. Maybe only buy the shoes that you really need.


I still have not bought the shoes…


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  1. “All your brains are belong to us.” Nice cultural riff.

    But yes indeed; less is more. I hate stuff. I’d love to live out of an oversized backpack (with beer money) for 6 months.

    1. Also: All your beer are belong to me. Especially Pliny the Younger.

      1. I will share, but you can’t have it all…

    • Christy Bayes on June 17, 2017 at 5:35 pm
    • Reply

    I lived in a converted bus with my family for a year when I was ten. Man you have to think about what belongings you really need when living that small. But there is something beautiful in simplicity and minimalism.

    1. Living in a small space does change your mindset. I would love to see a graph of average closet size and number of shoes owned over time.

  2. Once I realized that 95% of retailers have a 50% off sale for almost 80% of the year, its effect on me began to wane. But if I am 100% sure I love an item, I will buy it 75% of the time.

    I have one pair of flip flops, and they are OluKai, and they are my second pair of the exact same shoe, and I love them.

    1. Although the sales are constant and predictable, I still fall for them. “Saving” or “getting a good deal” is irresistible and retailers know this.

  3. I told you minimalism and frugality can be at odds with one another. The frugalist in you wanted the shoes; the minimalist did not.

    I’m in the early stages of the transition from a frugal scarcity mentality to a more minimalist abundance mentality. And I probably would have bought the shoes.

    Good for you for walking away.


    1. I would still say that buying a pair of shoes you don’t need is neither frugal nor minimalist 😉

  4. I have way to many shoes and need to get rid of at least half of them. Minimalism is a great thing. Life is easier to manage when we have less stuff. We are battling these advertisers on a daily basis. They are very sneaky. Thanks for the great insights.

    1. Thank you. I have definitely been gravitating towards a more minimalist philosophy over the last few years, and it has done nothing but make me happier.

  5. This is such a hard one to combat! When there are good deals, it is so easy to justify a “need” or “future need” when it really is a completely unnecessary item. We recently bought a house and found that we had to stop checking Craigslist or local garage/estate sales. We COULD use so many things, but we don’t really NEED anything right now… so why temp ourselves by looking?

    1. We are hard wired to be hoarders as scarcity was the rule rather than the exception throughout most of human history. You are absolutely right, the best way to avoid a “good deal” is to simply not look for one.

    • VagabondMD on June 17, 2017 at 8:45 pm
    • Reply

    Damn, now I have FOMO for the casual brown shoes. I guess I missed the point. 🙁


    1. I literally laughed out loud reading this. Well played. Although the shoes are great, I will not fault you for picking up a pair (but you must get rid of two in exchange).



  6. This: “My financial, emotional and spiritual life would not be measurably different with or without another pair of shoes.” It sums it up perfectly.

    And sooo recognizable, how often have I found my brain wandering off to something I saw in a store or online days and sometimes even weeks ago.

    I always think about why something is for sale. The retailer only does this to trick you into buying something, not because they want to help you save money.

    1. Until I sat down to write this post I didn’t realize how powerful this effect is. Retailers and advertisers literally hijack your thought process. It’s like a virus.

  7. I write commercials for a living and I try and make the product or service sound like the best thing ever. The ironic thing is never once have my ads worked on myself. Lol maybe it means I’m a poor writer. But I’ve never gone to any sales or shopped at any of my clients businesses. I guess because I’m writing with someone else in mind. I actually feel like most advertising doesn’t “work” on me, maybe because it’s my day job or I’ve built up some kind of immunity to it all. Or I’m just jaded. Lol

    1. Lol, awesome, thanks for the comment!

    • Mike H on June 19, 2017 at 7:18 pm
    • Reply

    Good article. Maybe it’s living abroad for 11 years and having to deal with lack availability on brands or food items and supplements that I like, but if I find something that I like and that has an acceptable shelf life I’m all for stocking up at a discount when the opportunity presents itself. Because I’ve endured many long periods where I’ve had to go without due to lack of availability at any price. But given where you are at you did the right thing!


    1. Good point. I have good friends that were in a similar situation and they describe the same limitations. Living abroad really brings into focus the availability of everything we take for granted in the US.

  8. I always enjoy reading your posts! So thank’s for another fun one.

    I’m not much of a shopper myself but I make myself replace clothes that have worn out at least once or twice a year. Since I don’t particularly enjoy these shopping trips and it’s hard to find clothes in my size (I often fit into kid clothing better than adult sizes), I used to buy clothes even if they were just mostly okay.

    But then a few years back I realized that I didn’t wear these items much. So now I only buy clothes that fit well and are a comfortable material that I know without a doubt I will wear, even if that means I don’t get everything I need in one trip. I would rather have fewer items that I wear often than have a bunch that just take up space.

    1. Thank you! 🙂

      It seems we are on the same wavelength with respect to clothes. Buy fewer but make them count.

    • Jacq on June 26, 2017 at 4:45 am
    • Reply

    I’ve been buying the same shoes for a long time, at least since 2005. My current pairs (1 black, 1 brown) are starting to wear down. I got an unexpected gift card at work and was planning to use some of my money from my bonus to get new pairs. I don’t remember when I got my last set, either 2013 or 2015. I wear them almost every day so 2 (or 4?) Years of wear is pretty good. They aren’t ‘dead’ yet and the new pairs won’t go bad if I don’t use them right away. The company has frequent sales, it was just a matter of timing, so I did get a discount on them. When I hit fi and don’t have a 9-5 with black slacks, I’d only need the brown pair, but that’s still a way off, so I’m happy with my shoes for now.

    1. Two pairs of shoes is pretty hard core. I’m impressed 🙂 I would not be willing to go below five.

        • Jacq on June 29, 2017 at 7:35 am
        • Reply

        I have sneakers and flip flops and boots for winter, and dress shoes. But 90% of the time I’m in my Eastlands.

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