17 October 2014

Almost Buying

Source: Muji

Since the start of my shopping fast, I stopped purchasing unessential items. Mostly. I'll have more to share on the things I did purchase in my next monthly update, but in the meantime, I loved the concept of minimalist haul from Youtuber Cathy, which basically consists in listing what she almost bought but didn't, and why. So, here is my "minimalist haul" since the beginning of my shopping fast.

I find this concept to be quite a good way to understand my own shopping motivations and how I tend to operate. Below is a selection of examples from the last couple of months, with some learnings I hope you will find useful.

The BHV and Home/Table  Decoration

The BHV (or le BHV Marais as it likes to call itself these days), born as Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville over a century ago, is a department store, probably one of the ancestors of department stores. It has some 8 floors and you can find anything - from screws and nails or light bulbs to clothing, beauty products, linen, stationary, books and CDs, electronics... Almost anything you need for your home or personal maintenance, you can get there.


Source: BHV site

And since it is only a few metro stations away, houses everything I need in one place, and has a high quality standard, I regularly go there for everyday maintenance needs (lately, a brown coloured thread to mend a hole in a brown coloured top for example). The last few times, I almost bought:

  • Black & White tea cups
  • Yet another notebook
  • A set of coloured glasses
  • Orange/Brown ceramic bowls

Why Did I almost Buy These: Because the BHV knows how to present their merchandise. That, and I'm probably at the heart of their marketing targets. The simple fact to enter the shop and see the alleys as I go to the escalators to reach my goal makes me want to buy half of the shop.

How Did I Stop Myself: The trick is simple - I come with a list in my hand. A list of essential needs, fast-authorized, which I identified previously, and for which the BHV is the most practical and qualitative option. The rule is: I stick to the list. Once the object is out of my sight, I usually forget I even considered buying it.


Learnings:
  • Shop with a purpose: The worst scenario for me is to enter a shop (especially with high temptation potential) without a clear idea of what I am looking for. Then suddenly everything seems possible, and with the nice in-shop decorations and presentation, one can get swooned easily. Come with a list, or any other tool that works for you, but enter a shop with a clear objective.
  • Don't Enter A Shop Otherwise: If your goal isn't to buy something precise, don't enter a shop "just to browse". We know what happens if we spot something we like. Let's avoid straining willpower when possible. I think this works for online shops too.
  • Know Your Weaknesses: What kind of stores or brands are you the weakest to as a consumer? What kind of environments, decorations, but also moments of the day, are you most vulnerable? I never go to the BHV after work, I know what it does to me.

The Muji Flagship Store at the Châtelet

I discovered Muji in Birmingham, when I went to the UK to improve my English ten years ago. I instantly loved the concept - simple, clean lines, no apparent brand, earthy neutrals, high quality, I was conquered. In Japan, I made most of my everyday home & clothing purchases at Muji - as I found it was very affordable for the quality. Somehow in Japan, I found cheap items to be really cheap looking, and quality items are really expensive, as if the middle ground was kind of absent on the market. And Muji provided this middle ground I was looking for.

As you can read, I have developed a quite emotional relation to this brand, full of memories and stories to tell, so when I heard that they were opening their first European "flagship store" in Paris, I had to go check it out.


What Did I Almost Buy
  • A brick/rust orange coloured cardigan
  • A warm gray (like slate?) jumper

Why Did I Almost Buy These: Because I'm still receiving the Muji newsletters and I was informed that way of this shop's opening. Because it was neatly presented in a little Muji Lab corner. And because I'm a sucker for colours. When I look at my biggest purchase mistakes in terms of clothing, it was almost always because I was fond of the colour and overlooked the flaws in fit, fabric or quality.

How Did I stop Myself: By doing the "Five Outfits Level 2" exercise. It's a simple one: when you see a garment you like, you do:
  • 1. Imagine wearing 5 different outfits with this garment, paired with only stuff you already own. Each outfit must be really different, not just swapping black denim for black skirt or chinos. 
  • 2. Level 2 addition - Verify, within what you already own, if there isn't something else from your closet that can complete these same 5 outfits in exactly the same way. Since we usually are attracted by what we like (colours, cuts...) chances are we already own an equivalent item.

And it worked! For the red/orange cardigan I remember one I bought in 2011 and is the exact same colour. Same for the gray jumper. So, back to the rack they went. I ended up getting a few Autumn/Winter scented candles, because these get depleted fairly quickly these days...


Learnings:
  • Unsubscribe From Newsletters: I'm really happy to have learned about this Muji flagship store and to have visited it, but during a shopping fast and fall collections weren't the best moments for that. That shop isn't going away any time soon and even if I hadn't received that newsletter I eventually would have found out about it. Newsletter make you aware of things you end up wanting even though you previously didn't even know they existed...

  • Set Up Easy Rules for On-Site Evaluation of Items: I like this "Five Outfits Level 2" exercise because it's easy, quick and fun. and it's actually quite accurate at predicting how much wear I might really get from the coveted purchase. I'm sure similar easy evaluations can be set for any item type - in what circumstances you will use it, how often do these circumstances occur and is there something you already own that can do the exact same job instead.

The Comptoir des Cotonniers Autumn Private Sales

As they do each mid-season, Comptoir des Cotonniers organized private sales last week, 30% off a selection of items from their collection, only for a few days. I was made aware of this through a newsletter (cf. learning above...), and clicked on the link to see what was reduced. Of course, once exposed to temptation, especially last week when I was sick and tired, therefore had no willpower anywhere to be seen, I had to get a certain top.

What Did I Almost Buy: A teal coloured basic top

Why Did I Almost Buy It: Because I saw the private sales and entered a Comptoir des Cotonniers shop. The gray top I initially wanted to get at 30% off finally wasn't cut quite right, but I stumbled upon their basic tees, which are cut exactly the way I like my tees to be cut (wide boat neck, lightweight comfortable fabric, short loose sleeves, overall draped shape). Their teal coloured one was perfect, so I decided to upgrade my Uniqlo teal tee with this one.

How Did I Stop Myself: Well, to be transparent with you, I was at the cashier with the credit card out for this one. Only, I found out this colour in particular wasn't 30% off when they scanned the barcode. Exactly what I previously said about how dangerous it is to have sales on only a selection of items - made to make you buy non-reduced items too. This made me snap out of my frenzy and I came out of the shop empty handed.

I actually couldn't believe I almost bought an item of clothing in the middle of a shopping fast, and to upgrade something I already owned, on top of everything - exactly what I'm advocating against in my "increasing the use part of the consumerist cycle". It shows the power of special sales and newsletters though, if the top had been reduced I probably would have purchased it. It also shows the influence of the mindset on our shopping behaviour - last week I was sick, tired and down the weather, and I needed immediate and easy distractions and compensations, which the consumerist society is happy to provide as new purchases.

After I came back home and cooled down, I reconnected with my bigger motivations for the shopping fast, and my commitment to a simple life as a whole, independently from this experiment. I ended up being thankful for this top not being on sale, and decided not to go shopping next time I'm down the weather.


Learnings: 
  • Find Ways to Reconnect With the Bigger Picture: One small purchase here and there seems quite harmless. And surely, most of the time, it might be. But putting these disparate purchases into one big picture can be scary - just like when I realized I'd spent enough in clothing over the first half of 2014 to pay for a week in Morocco, despite each singular purchase seeming quite reasonable. Since the beginning of my fast, I found the most effective way to help dissipate on-the-moment desires is to reconnect with this bigger picture. What could I do with this money if I added it to a savings fund instead? What is my motivation behind buying less in the first place? What are the benefits of living with less and what did I gain from this simplified life so far? It can be very helpful to actively remind yourself of your own objectives, motivations and bigger pitcure before going on a shopping trip.


That's it for my own "minimalist howl" list. After pondering about temptation, shopping trips and replacement activities these past months, I'm starting to focus more on the "how to shop better" part of the question. After all, I am entering the second half of my shopping fast period, and what I want to avoid most, is to end up "bingeing" on shopping in January 2015 when the fast will be over - especially since it will be a sales season too. 

I hope you enjoyed this little exercise and that it can be useful to you as well. It isn't always easy to figure out how much I can share  while still being relevant for you, so please let me know if that kind of more personal exercise still helps you. Is there anything you" almost bought" lately?

24 comments:

  1. Hi. I have been a silent reader for a while. I always enjoy reading your writing and what made me to comment for the first time here is your last question " Is there anything you "almost bought" lately?"

    Yes. I "almost bought' a pair of leather sandal, a nylon bag, a white top and a pair of sunglasses just because it is a "friends & family sales".

    How did I stop myself? I realize that for all these 4 items, I actually own (if not the same) a similar one. Like you, I 'redirect' my focus to a bigger goal (travel trip that is) and so far it works (although not all the time). :) - I Ying

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    1. Thanks for commenting! It's interesting how your "almost buying" experience also relates to a sale, and things you already own a version of. I hope you get that trip you're saving for as a reward ;)

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  2. merci Kali ! c'est très intéressant ! ce concept est vraiment anti-frustration et c'est exactement ce que je recherche en ce moment ! comme j'ai pas mal de choses qui ne me vont plus et qui ne me plaisent plus, j'ai toujours envie d'acheter plein de chose... c'est pas évident à gérer. du coup je fais des wishlist pinterest, ça m'aide...
    bonne journée ! :)

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    1. Merci, je suis contente que tu apprécies! Je comprends le sentiment ceci dit, de vouloir acheter beaucoup de choses parce que tu es en plein changement et ta collection actuelle n'est pas tout à fait adéquate. Je me souviens avoir vécu la même phase il y a deux ans. Je pense que j'aurais fait moins d'erreurs d'achat si j'avais été plus patiente, et en même temps c'est dur de cultiver le sentiment de "assez"/"suffisant" quand on sait qu'il y a encore des choses basiques à changer.

      Je pense que ça peut être un bon exercice pour limiter les erreurs d'achat en effet. Peut-être que de planifier tes achats pourrait aider également? Tout dépend du caractère de chacun, mais par exemple si tu es impatiente de racheter plusieurs choses, c'est peut-être plus facile d'attendre en se disant "je vais acheter un pull en cachemire en novembre, un manteau en décembre, une paire de chaussures en janvier..." Comme ça tu prends le temps de repérer des options, et puis ça permet d'attendre. Juste une idée, pour limiter la frustration sur le moment et la transformer en anticipation, beaucoup plus agréable :)

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  3. Wasn't it better to know by newsletter about the new muji store, than stumble uppn it unprepared and in you condition of "down the weather"?
    I love this posting, although it at the time doesn't represent my problems with shopping (I still have to build a wardrobe and I rather have to bring myself to do some clothes shopping so I don't freeze to death...) but I know that those problems will come to me sooner or later. Better to be prepared, thanks to you.

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    1. The newsletter is a good question indeed - in that case, the flagship store opened in a place I never go so the only way I'd have learned about it would be beforehand anyway. But I wonder what happens when you stumble unprepared upon a shop that sells your favourite brands or style... I guess that's when the "unticked" list is a precious tool - so that if you do buy something, at least it is within a list of identified "needs" or "wishes".
      Good luck on your wardrobe building. even if you're not on a shopping fast it may help to make more mindful purchases and fewer purchase mistakes. Each person is different of course, but I think I made most of my purchase mistakes while I was in the middle of my wardrobe building stage, having to fill up some gaps after editing, and needing things so that I didn't really have time to weigh options and wait for an optimal purchase.

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  4. I love this new post - and am going to have to watch Cathy's video, I really like her video feed! I'm thinking of trying to practice this myself in the coming months. For me, most of the time when I try things on, the reason to 'not buy' generally is the price - perhaps I don't think the item is worth the RRP on the tag; I suppose the easier thing would be to not tempt myself at all and instead just not look!

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    1. I love Cathy's videos too. She has a lot of good ideas and I like her representation of minimalism. I see what you mean about the price - nice things are often expensive. Usually I tell myself there has to be a cheaper option just as qualitative waiting for me somewhere, and even if it's months from now I'll be so happy to stumble upon it :)
      And yes, it's easier to just not look. Since I drastically cut my internet browsing time and unsubscribed to many newsletters, I find temptations much scarcer, so I'm not regularly wanting something new as I used to. That's peaceful. And it makes it more special when I do want something and prepare for the purchase.

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  5. I feel pretty content with what I have at the moment, so I've actually deleted all my shopping lists for the time being. More so to minimize distractions when I should be working, and if I don't see it, I don't want it either.

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    1. Exactly, what you don't see, you don't want! Marketing usually uses this to make us look for things: "aww, look at this great reduction you just missed", and cultivates the consumer FOMO. But once we realized it's not a big deal to miss out on deals, that it makes us save time and money if anything, it's easier to just stop thinking about what we may miss...

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  6. I wish I could say I *almost* bought a black cardigan 99% identical to one I already own, but unfortunately I did buy it! I was in the States, and I think I was caught up in vacation mode and wasn't thinking straight. To prevent that from happening in the future, I installed the Google Drive app on my phone so I can access my clothing inventory spreadsheet anywhere, lest the same mania take me over again. :)

    Re: shop email newsletters: I am subscribed to a few, but I have a filter that sends them straight to my trash bin. That way I never see them unless I am actually seeking out a specific item and want to check to see what sales are on.

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    1. Ah, the travel frenzy, I'm very much guilty of it myself. As if being removed from everyday life made the purchase more special, and make it "not count". Only it does come out of the regular bank account. It's a good idea to keep the wardrobe list close. My excel sheet (which extended to also show jewelry, lounge/underwear and sportswear) is on my dropbox and also follows me anywhere I have an internet connection. It is a good way to remember how much stuff we already own. As for travel shopping, I've decided to make it a special treat - bring something back from travel, as a souvenir, memories, a story to tell - so that it's a prepared intentional purchase rather than some regretted impulse. Hope it works for my next travel :)

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  7. Shopping is so tempting for me when the seasons change. I get tired of my clothes after months of wearing them, and so I want new ones.

    After reading your post, I started wondering "why am I so tired of my clothes?" and "why don't my clothes from last fall/winter count as 'new' - after all, it's been six months since I wore them!" I have a few thoughts:

    1) After months of wearing the same clothes and them being adequate, suddenly the weather starts changing and my summer clothes are no longer suitable. But my winter clothes are not suitable either, as it's still too warm. As a result, my wardrobe gets smaller - here in Georgia (USA) for example, it's finally too cold for shorts, so all my tops that I used to wear with shorts and pants are now only worn with pants. At the same time, it's not cold enough for my winter vest, so I can't get variety that way. Thus, I end up looking at the pants (which are transitional) with boredom because now I only have half the outfits I am used to.
    2) At the same time, I am uninspired by the winter vest (which I will be able to wear in a few weeks) because by the end of last year's winter, it started looking a little dingy, so I either have to wear a slightly shabby vest or go through the hassle of getting it repaired. I am human; I crave instant satisfaction. So I want to just buy a new vest!

    I'm still trying to figure out how I'm going to combat this. I am open to buying, but only if I know I need it and will use it and love it. So I guess I need to get out my winter clothes and see if there are any actual gaps that I need to fill. And if not, I can shop for groceries instead!

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    1. Oh, I hear you on transitional/seasonal shopping. That's a big weakness of mine too. The wish for novetly, being tired of the old clothes, wanting to mark the seasonal change with something new emblematic of the season... Like you, I have yet to find ways to combat this. This year, with the shopping fast, I'm kind of burying the problem into the experiment but I can't be in a shopping fast all my life.

      Maybe an intentional purchase can be the solution? Deciding on one emblematic purchase by season, which helps building a strong seasonal wardrobe over the long term and brings a touch of colour or versatility to the outfits? This year, I've been purchasing seasonal veggies and decorations instead and it's worked well. Also, actually puting away off-season clothes helps rediscovering them six months later. I guess it's about testing and seeing what works best for each of us.

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  8. Oh man, I have *almost* bought a million things recently, but I think that packing all my belongings up to move house and getting a volumetric idea of just how much stuff I own has done wonders for my ability to walk away from a purchase. I've had a tendency to look at all sorts of knick-knacks (vases, candles, tealight holders, plant pots and decorative glasses/jars all seem to have been reluctant to get off my radar) but now I have this ability to just sensibly think "but where will this go in my home and what will it do and will it really be that useful and will it really be any better or nicer than what I already have?". And then I just walk away, and it actually feels good to walk away (and so far I haven't regretted walking away from anything).

    The same thing seems to be going on with my attitude to my clothes and other wardrobe items - I now have a sense of how I already have plenty of stuff, and it ends up just feeling like a hassle to add more to it. Plus going through all the items I have during packing/unpacking has given me an even better sense of what sort of things I like to wear (and I can see that I have plenty of those sorts of items already) and what sort of things I've bought but don't wear enough to warrant having them (so I know what is pointless to buy in the future). So I've recently walked away from plenty of potential purchases that, in recent times, I probably wouldn't have been able to resist.

    So there you go - I recommend moving house because it gives you an overwhelming sense of how much stuff you have, it gives you the chance to evaluate everything you own (because every item I packed I had to think about whether it was worth carting to a new city), and it all results in making you feel you just don't really need or want new stuff! Too bad that moving house isn't exactly a convenient option when you want a don't-buy-more-stuff boost. :P

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    1. Moving houses and going through the hassle of packing, moving, unpacking, definitely brings a new light on introducing new items in the home. I had this feeling when I moved back from Japan and it cured my "collectionite" of DVD, CD, books, video games and manga at the time. Having a global sense of how much we actually own is indeed a good way to put it back on the shelf.

      Another thing I do is remind myself how annoying it is to get rid of past purchases I don't use anymore - like aforementioned collections of DVD and manga, or decoration items that linger in my cellar. I imagine myself having to get rid of the item in five years (because it's broken, or I do'nt like it anymore, or we move far away with my fiancé...) and this very thought usually makes me put back most junk on the shelves :)

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  9. Big fan of these posts. I am also a sucker for a nice presentation, so clever, so cute.

    I almost bought a pair of black flats recently. I am in need of a new pair as the ones I have are scuffed quite badly, but then despite the alluring sale pricetag of the new flats in question, I resisted and returned. They weren't exactly what I wanted, and frankly, I knew I'd continue just wearing my scuffed ones over them (they had no heel... and i like a teeny tiny heel, however slight--not these driving style flats).

    anyhow, the resistance to sale prices is what i'm working on most. But yep, just gotta keep the standards high!

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    1. Thanks! It's true that sales tags can lead to too many concessions about an item (a fit, cut or color not quite right...). That's the goal of reduced items ultimately, make people purchase things that didn't sell full price. I also usually ask myself "would I use this over my good old item?" and honestly the answer is often no, like you with your flats. I agree, with all the choice around it's important to keep the standards high on the criteria that matter.

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  10. I almost bought another Uniqlo gray sweatshirt ($15! such a good price) and some of their chino shorts that went down to $13, but I'd rather spend that money on sashimi or some bright neon yellow running shirts instead. :D

    I just feel sometimes it's resource management. This month I spent a bunch of money on tech and running--I bought an external battery for my phone, and I'm trying to find a running/biking top that will make me visible. Buying a duplicate of what I already own (gray sweatshirt) just seems superfluous when there's actual needs to be met.

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    1. Yes, budget management is also key indeed! It's about what really matters with that finite amount of money we get each month. I often ask myself: what else could I get with that money? Is this more important than the other things I could get or save for? What purchase has the most impact on my daily comfort and happiness? I agree with you, yet another duplicate can be nice to space up laundries or giving breathing room to the key basics, but only if there aren't any more important priorities...

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  11. I like this idea! I really don't need more clothing but some items need replacements. I try and take one thing out of my cart or stash every time I shop.

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    1. Thanks! It can be a good exercise indeed, to take at least one thing out everytime we shop :)

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  12. Kali,

    I have a secret pinterest board called 'dont buy'. Instead of buying things i am tempted to buy, i pin them. And most of them, tell myself to sleep on them for a few days. I have another secret board with my best friend where we pin our wish lists and try talking each other out of unnecessary stuff. If i really want something, i escalate my 'pin' to that category. And 99% of the pins get deleted eventually. Pinterest is strangely satisfying. I cant quite explain it. When i pin something, its almost as gratifying as buying it. And i can later see it go and pat my back on how well i did.
    - Archana.

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    1. I have a similar method. When I see something I want online, I bookmark it to a folder called Wishlist and then I periodically go through the bookmarks. I'm always amazed that 95% of them have no hold on me when I go back to them - I often end up wondering why I saved it in the first place. But there are a few items here and there that I can't get out of my head and when I see those - I know they are something worthwhile. Either something I truly need or just like so much that I can't forget it. And if I purchase those items, I'm usually happy with them for years to come. I'm not perfect about this system, but it does work really well when I keep to it.

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