Resisting the Desire to Acquire


I really like to look on Craigslist for one-of-a-kind furniture. I remember finding a cabinet and telling Doug, “It’s VINTAGE! It’s made with real wood! And they’re practically GIVING it away!” It didn’t matter that we had no place to put it. I enjoyed finding it even if I didn’t buy it.

Looking around my home, I started thinking about the improvements I could make. I should find good things for my family and make our home nice, because it was my responsibility. And how much better that I was finding good things for my family in a responsible, budget-conscious way! The walls seemed a little empty and needed some sprucing up. Perhaps we could replace the night table with something with storage. And didn’t we need to improve the kitchen?

I gradually noticed that I was spending more and more time thinking about things to buy. I wasn’t spending a lot of money, but the idea of adding more started to consume my thoughts. We weren’t lacking anything, but I could always think of one more thing that would be nice to have. I was using shopping as easy entertainment.

Let me say that there is nothing wrong with having nice things. I appreciate what my family has. But sometimes we need draw the line and say enough. And that’s how No Spend Month began.

Resisting the desire to acquire requires strategy and awareness:

1. Don’t tempt yourself. We rarely think to buy something that we haven’t seen first. That’s the strategy of catalogs and weekly ad inserts mailed to your home. I have a friend who decided to call and request that catalogs not be mailed to her, because she realized the photos were making her less content. It takes just a few minutes to opt out of catalogs and junk mail. It doesn’t hurt to watch less tv and avoid the commercials too.

2. Picture something in its used form, rather than the pristine store display. Have you ever noticed how clothes on store mannequins are often cinched and pinned in the back to make the fit more flattering? Be realistic and picture that new shirt with the tags cut off, sitting in a rumpled heap at the bottom of the closet or the laundry pile. Suddenly it’s just another shirt, and it didn’t make you better, smarter, or more likable.

3. Know your weaknesses. I can rarely pass up a tote bag without feeling an impulse to buy it. They’re so appealing and useful! I also like vintage cake stands. So when I see one I like, I just remind myself that even though I feel like buying it, that doesn’t mean I need to. I can appreciate it without actually owning it.

4. Find something else to do. Do something fun and productive. Go outside and enjoy nature. Use your time to help someone else. Volunteering doesn’t make me feel like I need to buy something new.

5. Think about costs. How many hours will you or your spouse have to work to pay for it? What about maintenance, considering money and effort? Will you have to dust, clean, fix, move, insure, upgrade, and store it? And if you’re buying on credit, what will the interest cost?

6. Wait for it. Sometimes when a few days pass, it doesn’t seem quite so important. Maybe you already have something that will work. Rarely is something so unique that you’ll never get another chance to buy it. Let a few bargains go — you’ll find other opportunities.

7. Declutter your stuff. Whenever I make the effort to get rid of stuff, I want to keep my home open and spacious. I don’t want to fill it back up with more things. I also don’t need to buy storage containers and organizers to hold everything.

8. Buy quality the first time. If you carefully choose what you want and buy something that will last, you won’t feel the constant pull to upgrade. There’s a time and place for temporary purchases, but generally, quality items save time and money

9.  Avoid buying unwanted gifts. Ok, so you’ve decided not to buy anything for yourself, because you really don’t need anything.  Extend the same courtesy to your loved ones.  Ask yourself if they would really want it, or do you just want to buy something? Gifts are wonderful, but sometimes help or time spent together is even better.

10. Be accountable. Talk about it with someone who will be honest with you.  Share your experience with a friend so they can give you encouragement and cheer for you when you make good spending choices.

What ideas work for you?

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. hopeathome says:

    Wow, great post. I had a huge struggle with this “desire to acquire” more things for our home (it’s amazing what you can justify when you’re buying “for the home” or “for the family”!), which led to us cutting up the credit card, and now, moving to a smaller, simpler place so we can really see with more ease when we start to have too much “stuff”. Love the idea of No Spend Month!

  2. what’s working for me this summer is avoiding the non-essential stores all together and dropping the catalogs in the recycle even before bringing them into the house.

    In all honesty, since I have finally learned what it means to be content, I enjoy the things I do have even more.

  3. So Rational. Thank You. :-)

  4. hopeathome – I have a small home too, and it really does keep me from adding more, since there is no room for more stuff.

    Denise, gotta love contentment :)

    Kirstin, you’re welcome!

  5. Under doing something productive/find something else to do ~ I am just curious, have you ever made candles or come across any good ideas for beginners?

  6. Monica, I haven’t tried candle making. It sounds fun though!

  7. Very good ideas. I’ve been struggling with this too. I like your No Spend Month idea. I actually went three days last week without spending any money because I was inspired by you and your families efforts! I usually spend about $50 a day on various crap: food, junk, whatever. It felt good.

  8. Sarah Burt says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. I have been spending way too much lately and I just became a stay-at-home mom so I really need to curb it- quick!

    I am going to print this out so I remember it.

  9. I try to remember Thoreau’s quote: ‘simplify, simplify, simplify’! I also like this one: ‘Need Less.’

    Thanks for adding a comment to my blog the other day – I’m really enjoying your posts!

  10. onebagnation says:

    I’m trying hard to foster this kind of thinking in my daughter (age 6), but what a little consumer she is! It’s odd, because I’m not a huge shopper, but I suppose to her, even grocery shopping is shopping, and I do buy the occasional stuff for the house, her, even myself.

    Yesterday she had $10 burning a hole in her pocket and my husband finally took her up to the drugstore (which might as well be Disneyland, she loves it there so much!). To my relief she came back with a little diary (rather than another polly pocket – ugh!) and she’s been enjoying writing in it, which is nice.

    Anyway, our culture doesn’t make it easy to teach moderation – in anything! – to our kids. I guess I just have to try and teach by example.

    Thanks for this post!

  11. acompletethought says:

    I had this very struggle at the Goodwill store this morning. A great looking bread basket for $4.99. What a deal, I thought. And then I remembered that the free basket on my counter all ready works pretty well. It’s just holding bread, and that $4.99 could do other things.

    What works for me in addition to your great tips is thinking what do I all ready have at home that might/does/could work instead of “this”?

    Thanks for this post. A timely reminder as all the back to school sales gear up.

  12. Great tips. I don’t shop a lot (it’s not my favorite thing to do) but we still somehow acquire things we don’t need. I’m cleaning out everything for a garage sale right now and I’m making a list of what I’m selling. I’m planning to keep the list with me to remind myself to be more careful with purchases.

  13. I have to admit, it’s really tough resisting the urge to spend sometimes… What works best for me is to think about the costs & finding something else to do (emphasis on the latter). My hobbies are running and reading (which includes browsing through my feedreader). Spending time doing either of these two definitely takes the focus off of wanting to spend!

  14. Oh, well said. Dh just became re-employed this week, after two months of no income. And I was already spending all our money in my mind. Then God tapped my heart and said a simple, “Stop.” I really struggle with being preoccupied with buying things, so it was a miracle that I actually heard His still small voice in all that spending thinking.

  15. Rachel,
    I am so on board with this philosophy!!! We have way too much stuff already and in the quest to simplify my life I’ve been doing my best to really evaluate any purchasing decisions. Thanks for the great ideas and tips.

  16. Great thoughts! The thing that has helped me the most with not buying stuff is to just stay out of the stores. I used to always go walk around places like Target when I had time to kill, and all I did was wrack up a mental list of all the things we “needed” to buy. Now we go walk around the park or stop by the liabrary instead, and I don’t feel bummed out about all the things I can’t buy.
    The no spend month idea is really tempting me. I think my husband might panic though;)

  17. You know, I just want to say how encouraged I am to read all of your ideas and testimonies about finding other things to do and not acquiring things. I really appreciate all of these comments.

  18. This is a great post. We’ve been talking about this this week because I’m starting work in three weeks, and we just learned my husband is getting a big bonus as well as a decent bump in pay thanks to a promotion of sorts. We’ve been suffering to the point of barely able to pay the bills — but making it! — and now we’ll be used to that life and have a bunch of extra cash in our accounts. It’s scary, really, all that I think about buying and wanting and needing and how easily we could waste that money instead of investing it properly and saving it. I like these ideas, and had been considering a no-spending month to start out our new way of life. Your challenge is a good one and Sept. might be our month to sit back and watch the savings’ grow. Thanks for the inspiration. Great blog!

  19. I just found your site and must say that I have a thing for totebags also. I admire your No Spend Month and am going to try to implement that with my family (there’s only two of us so far). We really need to quit consuming and plan on getting rid of a lot of things in our storage unit–declutter–when we move out of our in-laws’. Yes, we’re living with my husband’s parents. Not fun, but necessary right now. That’s why this idea is very important to me!

  20. This is great!
    Thanks for this list!

    I’ve used many of the things you list, and I found that it’s sort of a re-programming thing, where the longer you do it the more you find fulfilling things to replace the desire to acquire.

    A couple of things that were helpful to me: turn off the TV, put down the magazines. These are both chock full of things to want. They begin to skew your thinking, and you rationalize purchases more easily.

    They’re both part of our culture, but to the extent that you can do without, you’ll be better off. I’ve cut down on both, and it’s forced me to crack books more often.

    Thanks again for this post!

  21. This is a fabulous list. I so appreciate your links to articles or blogs that give additional insight or ideas. I’m proud of you on this July 31…that you’ve made it through the month. Well done. Wondering whether you’ve considered doing this at regular intervals throughout the year?

  22. Ukrainiac, well so far it’s just been an annual tradition. I don’t think we’re quite ready for more at the moment. But hopefully we’ll be ready for it again in July ’09!

  23. You know, I discovered the whole frugality thing at the beginning of the year – perfect timing I’d say – and I love it. Now I appreciate the things I own and never buy compulsively. I live much better and I save more.
    Where I live things are not going well, people are struggling financially but keep buying new expensive things and even make debt to do so. Saving? Living fugally? No way… We are too proud… ignorant and silly. Consumerism has taken the place of the real values and not only in the US, trust me.

  24. I found I was doing this years ago. Everything was a bargain and often unique, but not really needed and my home was filling up with stuff.

    I first decluttered my entire house. I asked myself do I really need this? I mean, really need it. Not want it. And I gave away everything I didn’t need, except I kept some I really loved. And I still declutter twice a year but don’t have to get rid of much. I give everything to charity.

    I stopped looking at catalogs, I ignore commercials, I pay no attention to what the people around me are buying, I stopped collecting the few things I was collecting and got rid of almost all of it but a few. I don’t compare what I have to what other people have.

    When I have to buy what I really do need, I never buy new if I can find it used. I give myself time to find the used thing for which I’m looking.

    I also think about the maintenance of what I’m buying, like if it’s a shirt I have to iron will I do that or will it just hang wrinkled in my closet? For furniture or anything in my house, I think is it going to be difficult to clean or keep nice? I don’t want to give myself more work by my purchases.

    Living a simpler life has made me much happier.

  25. WONDERFUL article! I too am always looking for that next “thing” to bring home! I have also realized that when I declutter I feel so much better…cleaning an area of my home brings me more satisfaction than buying something to put in there “just because”. Obviously we can’t go through life without ever spending, and there are certain items we do actually need and even a few justified “wants” but what a great reminder to be mindful of your purchases! I always feel a great sense of accomplishment when I take something out of my Target shopping cart and put it back on the shelf!

  26. Sheryl Crow said it best in “Soak up the Sun”

    It’s not having what you want
    It’s wanting what you’ve got

    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

    is another saying from the Depression era – at least they seemed to have learned something from that financial disaster back then.

    We’re pretty good but I want to try the no spend month thing with my hubby – just to see how it goes. We are getting better though… and for us, not having a smart phone is a big deal compared with everyone that we know. That’s a HUGE savings right there! On to cutting the budget even more – just to see if we can! Thanks for the inspiration!

  27. I just found your blog, it is amazing! I am doing some soul searching for way I buy/return so many clothes for my children. I love the idea of thinking of the clothes in the pile of laundry!!! This really spoke to me. I guess I buy “cute” clothes for that special “thing”. We do not do that special thing that I have made up in my head. I worry they will stain the clothes. What a waste of time and energy on my body. I need to buy clothes that kids can play in and enjoy life, not be wasting my time thinking about a cute outfit to wear in the life. That is not real living. I also love the idea of being accountable, if I called my best friend and told her I was spending $$$$ on clothes for my kids, she would say “no you are not, you are crazy”.