Stef (firecat) wrote,

My consumer irrationality, let me show you it

Last night I received a promotional e-mail from a company I shop with regularly. The subject line was "Celebrate Earth Day with Free Shipping!" If that's not the definition of "unclear on the concept," I don't know what is.

I mean, I assume that Earth Day is about trying to reduce the damage humans do to the environment, and I understand that one of the ways humans damage the environment is to overuse natural resources and create pollution by turning those resources into new products to sell.

If so, then causing brand-new products to be made and causing them to be moved around the world using fossil fuels doesn't seem like a celebration of Earth Day. Encouraging people to order extra products because you're going to absorb the cost of shipping them, ditto.

So I didn't order anything from this company. But I tell ya, "retail therapy" is something I indulge in regularly, and at times it's very soothing to me, almost as soothing as clicking crop squares on Farmville.

Retail therapy for me hooks into my obsessive tendencies, which means I spend a lot of time making lists of stuff I might want. Either I decide I want something and I go to multiple stores that offer it and make a list on my computer (I have a very long list for socks, for example), or I go to some web store and methodically click through every category they have, and leave wishlists behind the way guinea pigs leave pellets.

Since I don't necessarily buy stuff when I do this, I guess if I'm going to engage in retail therapy that's one of the less environmentally damaging ways of doing it. Except for all the resources involved in the web store's making an enticing description of the product and putting it on the web, and my use of the web to look for it. I don't have a good sense for the extent to which use of the web damages the environment.

But one insidious aspect of my acquisitiveness is that when I do decide to buy something, I have a strong urge that it be a brand-new thing.

At first I wasn't aware of this as an urge per se; I just bought brand-new things because that is simply what is done in my culture. You want something? Go to a store and buy a new one.

So when my handbag started falling apart (see previous entry) I went to various online stores and shopped for a new one. And if I had found one I probably would have bought it. But I couldn't find an exact replacement. So I went to various online stores and made lists of bags that could substitute.

But it took me a while to realize that I could go to eBay and buy a used one. And when I got there and was looking at various bags, I found myself resisting buying a used one, even though it would save me money and many of the bags were advertised as having no flaws.

This resistance wasn't worry about being ripped off. I have bought enough stuff on eBay to know that many of the sellers are scrupulous about describing an item's condition. It was an irrational feeling of "I want a brand-new one."

So for example I was trying to decide between a new bag from and a very good condition used Tom Bihn bag from eBay, at half the price. I resisted buying the used one. It felt fundamentally different in a way that makes no rational sense.

This particular story has a happy ending for the environment. I didn't buy anything, either new or used; I found a backpack at home that will do what I want.

The moral of the story is this: My consumer habits tell me to take the following steps to meet a need: 1. Buy a new one, 2. Buy a used one, 3. Use something I already have.

I would be better off, and so would the environment in a microscopic way, if I reversed the order of the steps.

How do you approach acquiring stuff that you need/want?

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