In Miami for a 100-city book tour, author and blogger Joshua Millburn explained to an audience at The Book Store how he found the road to happiness: by moving out of his way much of the store-bought stuff for which he paid lots of money. Formerly living in a three-bedroom home with a kitchen lined with shiny appliances and a closet filled with 70 Brooks Brothers shirts, Millburn took a look around after his mother died and his wife left, and he decided that retail therapy wasn’t particularly therapeutic.
Millburn, age 28 at the time, went online and learned about the minimalism movement — which involves living with fewer possessions in pursuit of other fulfillment — and spent the next eight months giving away items he’d bought but hadn’t used. At the end, he sold his home and his three luxury cars before quitting his $200,000-a-year job to pursue writing.
“My finances are better than ever,” said Millburn, who had racked up $100,000 in debt he only recently — and finally — paid off. “It’s not only that buying all this stuff is harmful financially. That’s just the easiest thing to see. But it’s the aftermath of it all. We get this cocaine high from buying something. But it doesn’t last far past the parking lot.”
With American credit card debt back on the rise (the Federal Reserve said it increased by $4 billion percent in third quarter last year) and our happiness on the decline (a Harris Interactive poll shows 33 percent of us were happy in 2013 compared with 35 percent of us in 2009) we could all save ourselves some money and some guilt by simply recognizing the over-shopping symptoms, practicing the cures and (even if we don’t quit our jobs and sell our houses) try at least some of Millburn’s minimalist practices.
Simply by being aware that you’re using retail therapy to soothe anxiety or depression, you can instead seek another activity. By counting on a product to change your life, you can put your faith elsewhere. And if you know big credit card bills are piling up, you can decide to tackle them.
Even if you can afford to spend, your purchase will get less enjoyable as time goes on, said Leaf van Boven, a psychology professor at the University of Colorado.
Brett Graff is a former U.S. government economist and the editor of thehomeeconomist.com, where she reports on the economic forces affecting real people. She writes an occasional column for the Miami Herald. Reach her at email@example.com.