Cell Phones, Lust, and Impulse Buying

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/

“Greed, envy, sloth, pride and gluttony: these are not vices anymore. No, these are marketing tools. Lust is our way of life." ~ Jon Foreman

As a self-proclaimed minimalist, living in a motorhome, I try not to buy too many gadgets.  Now I do like gadgets, momentarily at least, it's just that I know that they will rarely bring the long term satisfaction that I seek.  I don't know how many times I bought a new electronic item, because I just knew my life would be better with it, only to find it lying unused in a drawer a few months later.

We all have this constant craving for something to make our lives better.  Most minimalists have figured out that material things are not the cure for our cravings and that things often complicate our lives more than they help; however, that doesn't stop us from having occasional cravings.  If you are human at all I'll bet you still find yourself wanting to buy something other than what you really need.  For some it's new clothes, cars, gourmet foods, self-help books or programs....the list of possibilities is endless in this consumer society of ours.

I recently lost my IPhone (it was stolen actually).  My initial reaction was to get sick to my stomach.  My phone was an integral part of my life--I relied on it for email, internet, texting, passwords, account numbers...  What in the world would I do?

After the initial feeling of nausea, my mind quickly turned to craving and I was filled with LUST.  I was almost glad someone had stolen my year and a half old phone.  Now I had an excuse to get a new one.  I immediately started researching.  What was the best bang for my buck?  Who had the best camera?  Which phone had the best screen?  What apps were available?  I spent the better part of the afternoon drooling over the selection offered by my carrier.

The government shutdown brought me back to reality.  I was not at the end of my contract period, so I'd have to pay full price for my phone.  Paying $500-$600 for a cell phone during the middle of an indefinite layoff didn't make sense.  I'm glad I had a reason to stop and think before an impulse buy.

After such a close call, I decided to think of ways to combat impulse buying.  Methods I could use to slow me down long enough to really think about it.  I came up with the following:

  • Be fully aware of your desire.  Acknowledge it for what it is-- lust or craving.  Feel it's momentary power over you, then pause and wait for it to dissipate.
  • Ask yourself if you really need the new thing.  Calculate the true cost of it.  How many hours will you have to work to purchase it?  What will you be giving up in order to purchase it?
  • Ask yourself: What else you could do with your time or money?  
  • Think of a similar item that you bought and reflect on it. Did it bring the satisfaction that you desired? Or did it fall short?
  • Realize that you are being manipulated.  Advertising has one purpose--to create or stimulate a desire to purchase.   Having a cell phone is no longer good enough.  We want to upgrade.  Why?  Because advertising is constantly reminding us that there is something newer and better out there.
  • Don't tempt yourself.  If you've got a problem with sugar, don't spend time in the candy store.  Avoid advertising like the plague.

I've since decided to wait a while.  I will buy a phone eventually, when I know I can afford it, and when I've had time to rationally decide how much to spend and what I actually need.  For now I'm kind of enjoying not having a phone--it's a very freeing experience.  I'm afraid my minimalism gets more extreme all of the time.

Zen Presence- Ideas for Meaningful Living


  1. I get tempted my impulse items and then the cheap New Englander takes over and I tell myself, "Maybe I should wait a year or two." Congrats on your will power.

    1. Thanks Diane. Unfortunately, I did not used to be able to control my impulses and then I'd get a severe case of buyer's remorse. I've gotten more mindful about it through the years.

  2. Enjoy your break from being "on-call" 24/7! We've gone back and forth on Smartphones. I think it's sad how often people use them in place of interacting with each other, but we do enjoy the GPS and ability to send e-mail. So have one used Smartphone between the two of us, with a prepaid plan with limited data, and we have a Magic Jack at home. We also have put minutes on an old flip phone, when we're both out and about (for example, we would use this at a moped rally, when we're at different places in an unfamiliar city).

    I think after some time without your phone, you'll find that you will want much less than you had.

    1. Hi Bethany,

      Still no phone and it's been almost a week. Not too bad so far.

  3. Funny, my cell phone just broke ( I have never had a smart phone, and don't have much desire to own one). I was thinking how nice it was to have to wait until I was home to use the phone. If I didn't have a child and a car, I think I could live without a cell phone. I hope to someday be able to be car free, so maybe then I could be phone-free.
    My husband and I also use the "how many hours would I have to work to own this?" and it is almost never worth it to either of us. Except tasty food :) :)

    1. Hi Katie,

      Tasty food is a weakness of ours as well, but I never regret it.

  4. I had a similar experience last week and still have. I forgot my wallet 300 km from here. And it will take awhile to get it back. I had some small amount of cash at home, a ticket to Stockholm, Sweden and food in the freezer. After a week I still have the cash and I have eaten food from the freezer (which really needed to be downsized:-) I've taken the train to a course without spending any money. It's really a new ongoing experience. I open my Eyes for things and happenings that are for free. All the best! Anki

    1. Hi Anki,

      Nice of you to stop by.

      Life doesn't have to be expensive , does it?

  5. I had some small amount of cash at home, a ticket to Stockholm, Sweden and food in the freezer. After a week I still have the cash and I have eaten food from the freezer (which really needed to be downsized:-) I've taken the train to a course without spending any money. It's really a new ongoing experience.

  6. The web no doubt empowers the prospect of impulse buying. You simply must have the capacity to perceive, "Do I truly need it or is this simply a want?" More regularly than most everything is typically a want rather than a need. Yes, were permitted to purchase stuff for joy and the iPhone is no doubt a decent purchase, so don't feel awful when buying things you want here and there. At the point when the promoting messages come simply truly think "need or want", and you'll do incredible. :)