shopping bags tied together with measuring tape
Photo: Kevin Van Aelst
Eating to soothe your anxieties and disappointments isn't healthy—and neither is heading to the mall. If retail therapy is your M.O. (and your closets and drawers are starting to overflow), Martha Beck has three little steps to help you put your purchasing on pause.
It's past midnight. In five hours I'll be catching a plane to Los Angeles to do a spot on a daytime talk show. I haven't packed yet, or prepped for my appearance. So I just did what any normal person would do: I went to the all-night pharmacy and bought travel-size bottles of shampoo and conditioner, a tiny tube of toothpaste, three packs of gum, two bottles of nail polish, extra reading glasses, three candy bars, a scented candle, six dog toys, five different nutritional supplements, and two pens—one shaped like a cactus, and one that lights up (in six colors!) when you click it.

I used to do a lot of anxiety eating. Because I'm a typical diet-obsessed American female, I worked hard to overcome that habit. But I still do some anxiety shopping. It may not be logical to buy new shoes for a mammogram or stock up on duct tape when it's time to do my taxes; nevertheless, such things soothe me. Temporarily. Though tonight's splurge was briefly comforting, it left me with less cash and more stuff I didn't really need. So I'm putting myself on a buying diet. I don't mean deprivation. I just mean it's time to get back to a more balanced state of acquiring what I need, when I need it.

Mastering a Balanced Buying Diet
If you've ever tried to lose weight, you know that willpower isn't enough: Crash dieting never works against deeply primal instincts. What goes for eating goes for acquiring, too. You see, our hunter-gatherer ancestors survived by collecting pelts, sticks, fibers, hunks of peat—whatever might keep them comfy in their caves. Thousands of years later, acquiring, just like eating, still flips the switch that tells our primitive lizard brains we're well supplied for hard times. To sustain a balanced buying diet, we must flip that switch without actually accumulating more stuff.

There are three steps to accomplishing this: First, avoid a sense of deprivation by focusing on abundance. Second, shield your brain from temptations that trigger near-unconscious overspending. Third, learn to splurge moderately, to keep yourself feeling well supplied without squandering cash and adding clutter. Ready? Let's begin!

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