April 04, 2020

Breaking the Shopping Habit While Isolating

Stuck at home with stores closed by a state of emergency, you might just forget to do any shopping. Or if the shopping bug keeps bugging you, now is an especially easy time to break that pattern.

During the coronavirus lockdown in effect as I write this, I know of many people who have stopped buying most of the things that they would ordinarily be shopping for. My own purchases in the last month have been limited to food, with a few exceptions in the category of entertainment. Most routine shopping, it seems, has simply been forgotten.

Statistics bear this out. Though some purchases that might have been made in stores have shifted to online sellers while stores are closed, total e-commerce sales are below normal. Auto sales numbers are half of what they were before. Retailers and manufacturers are adjusting their strategies. Most sales and promotions have been canceled or adjusted. Scheduled product launches have been postponed in the hope of getting more attention or a smoother rollout at a later date.

If you happen to think of shopping while you are isolating at home, one of the first things you may notice is how easy it is to postpone most purchases. The key exceptions are food and cleaning, which are as important as ever, but almost anything else can be postponed for another week.

To put my own experience in context, I compared my current pattern to my “shopping moratorium” month of April 2018, when I resolved not to spend any money at all if I could avoid it, and also not to spend any time shopping. Even with the exceptions I made, it took an effort at first to turn my attention away from shopping. By contrast, this month, with no rules and no plan, I am shopping even less. April is just getting started, but in the first four days I have not spent any money at all, and I am not due to go for groceries again for at least another week. I may be writing checks for income taxes when I work through those forms later today, but otherwise, there are no other payments to make in the next week or two. In March, though I was still leaving the house for work in the first half of the month, I was already dialing back my shopping, so that I made only five store visits in the entire month along with three post office visits and two gas station stops.

If you are like a lot of people isolating this month, you sort of miss shopping, but if you look at an online store, there is no spark there. In my opinion, this is perfectly normal and rational. If you already have clothing, it will last for a few months at home. Shoes especially don’t get the same wear and tear if you are not going out in the world, so they will last longer than you would normally expect. When no one sees what you are wearing, clothing loses some of its importance anyway. It has been an a-ha moment for me to realize how many of my purchases were meant to make an impression or help me navigate the outside world. It doesn’t matter so much when I am at home and no one is seeing me 99 percent of the time.

Postponing online purchases is socially responsible too. If you don’t want to put warehouse and delivery workers at risk during a pandemic for something you bought only because you were bored, there is nothing wrong with that kind of reticence.

If breaking the shopping habit is devilishly hard at first, practice postponing. At least put off that purchase until tomorrow. Treat that as a win even if you end up making the purchase. When you can delay by four days, you’ll find that even the most glittery shopping trance is broken, and you can continue to put off the purchase indefinitely. To make postponing purchases easier, turn off any shopping convenience features you previously enabled. One-click ordering? It takes only a few clicks to turn it off. A clothing subscription service? Canceling is almost as easy as signing up was.

If you are looking for something constructive to shop for from the isolation of home, here are a few suggestions:

  • Cleaning supplies. As long as you are spending so much time at home, you may as well make your home as clean as it has ever been. Getting all the dust out is good for the health of your lungs and would tend make it easier for you to survive the latest virus of concern. Of course, this means, after the cleaning supplies arrive, spend hours putting them to use.
  • Prescription drugs. Delivery could be less reliable at the height of a pandemic, so look at any prescriptions drugs you depend on, and try to have them on hand well before you need them.
  • Comfortable clothes. This is only for a few people reading this, but if you find that all of your clothes are selected to impress and you don’t have the kind of clothes that you like just because of the way they feel, then this would be a good time to cover that gap in your wardrobe.
  • USB headset. Are you suddenly attending lots of business meetings from home? A comfortable plug-in or wireless headset with high-quality sound makes the transition easier.
  • Exercise mat. In theory, exercise doesn’t require any equipment at all, only focus and intention, but you are more likely to do those floor exercises if you are not putting your full weight directly on a hard floor or carpet.
  • Magical items. If you realize that a certain bell, incense, figurine, or symbol will add power to your meditation or prayers for protection, this is not the time to hold back. Troubled times make spiritual strength and safety more important than they were already.
  • Cooking. If you find yourself having restaurant food delivered just because cooking seems hard, then any equipment that will make cooking feel easy is a good investment. A high-quality pan costs less than one restaurant meal, and in a pandemic, fewer deliveries mean fewer points of contact.

If you feel like you need to do some shopping, try to avoid buying anything for the indefinite future. A time of maximum uncertainty is the worst time to commit to a specific future timeline for yourself. The clothes you buy might not fit when you finally have a chance to wear them, or your style or plans could change. Conversely, everything will be easier to get after the crisis is over.

When you do get things delivered, hold on to the boxes. Fill them up with the things you want to donate when the donation centers reopen — you are doing some clutter clearing while you are spending so much time at home, aren’t you? Stack up the boxes in a corner somewhere, and you have done most of the hard work of clutter clearing. When the time comes, it will just be a matter of taking the boxes to the place where they need to go.

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