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.
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…
“HOLY $%&! I HAVE TO ACT NOW ON THIS LIMITED TIME OFFER OR I WILL REGRET IT FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!!!!”
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…