Why Do We Buy Things We Don’t Need?

We’re all familiar with the uncomfortable realization that we’ve spent a fair amount of money on something that we aren’t actually going to use. I decided to look around my apartment to try to figure out exactly why this happens. After all, it’s a little surprising. Why would we go to the expense and effort to buy something that we never choose to use?

There are several reasons, but one important reason is what I’d call “the expensive gym membership” reason. Often, people pay for an expensive gym membership with the thought, “Well, if I’m paying this much to belong to a gym, I’ll feel like I have to go.” But then, of course, they don’t go.


In the same way, you might spend money on something as a way to try to nudge yourself into doing some activity. For example, more than a year ago, I went to three stores to hunt down Mod Podge, because I wanted to experiment with decoupage. I’ve had that Mod Podge for a year — and I’ve never used it.

Merely spending money on something doesn’t do much to push you along. You have to decide to make an activity a priority. With a few special exceptions, I haven’t decided to make time in my schedule to do arts-and-craftsy things, and just owning a container Mod Podge wasn’t enough to push me to make time for it.

Maybe you buy a new tennis racket, because you want to play more tennis. You buy a fancy camera, because you want to start taking more photos. You buy lovely bath oils, because you want to start taking a nightly relaxing bath.

But, in all likelihood, the reason you’re not taking long baths is not because you don’t have the right bath oil, but because you have three kids and no time. You buy the bath oil as an expression of your desire to change something in your life – but that purchase won’t do it.

So now, when I find myself contemplating a purchase with the thought, “If I buy this, then I’ll surely do X,” I put the item back on the shelf. How about you? Have you ever found yourself making a purchase as a way to try to prod yourself into taking a certain action?

The days are long, but the years are short.