Why Do We Buy?

 

It is understandable that we all might need some stuff. New clothes, or a new electronic gadget, or a book, or something third. And it’s okay to buy it because there is nothing wrong with consumption. As The Minimalists would say: 

Consumption is not the problem - compulsory consumption is.

Many of us have taken this to a whole new level. The average American household contains more than 300,000 possessions. I repeat: three hundred thousand. Imagine waking up one day and all your beloved belongings lying around your bed. Your whole room would be so piled up with things, that there won’t even be a possibility to get out of bed. Do you want a life like this?

Do you want to be surrounded with 300,000 things, or do you want to be surrounded by kind people, a loving family, and pleasant experiences?

We often accumulate stuff with the best intentions, hoping that all these material possessions will make us happy one day. But that day won’t ever come. I know you know that. Deep down, you know it. I thought the same. I chased happiness until I slipped and fell into a pile of unnecessary material possessions. Literally trapped by stuff and consumption. But I found a way out, and that is the reason I write these words at 5am. I want to spread a message that there is a better way, and buying more stuff will never make us happy or content. We all know it, but we choose to forget. It is easier…

The question then is: Why do We Buy?

Generally, we won’t buy things we don’t want, but we will often buy new things we don’t need. So why then do we crave new things and think we need them? Certainly, advertisement plays its role, but is there something deeper?

1. We buy with Emotions

People don’t just buy things; they buy feelings. We think the new car will make us more desirable to the opposite sex, or the latest smartphone will make us cooler around our friends. A new sweater can make us feel more elegant and fashionable. If we join a cycling club or reading club and buy all the things that come with a new hobby, we think those new things will help us feel a deeper sense of belonging to a particular community. All purchasing decisions are emotional. And marketers know that very well. Even if you choose not to spend money on something, this too is an emotional decision.

2. We buy because of Fear

Fear of not being adequate, fear of not belonging, fear of missing out (FOMO), fear of exclusion from a peer group if we don’t possess a certain item, etc. There are many types of fear, and they can all drive and influence our buying

I was working for the second-largest manufacturer of beds and mattresses in my country, and one of the key players in Europe. Chances are, if you’ve been to exclusive hotels in Europe, you’ve slept on one of our products, be it a bed or a mattress or pillows, or something else related to sleep. I will show you how fear can drive consumerism. 

Most of us use mattresses to sleep on. And all mattresses have their own product life cycle. But the problem was, that our products were so good, and so high quality, that most consumers were too attached to them, and refused to change them. There were people who came after 10, 15, even 20 years to buy the same model of mattress as they have at home. What does this mean for company revenue? Slowly declining. When a product is so good, you don’t change it that often, which means less cash coming into the company. 

As I worked in the marketing and sales department, we got the idea to create a ‘Dated mattresses’ campaign. We showed people that whole ecosystem of bacteria, dead skin cells, bodily fluids, mites, and fungi were living in their old mattresses and they don’t want to share their bed with terrible looking creatures (just try to google them, and don’t blame me if you change your mattress or pillow today). 

We started advertising that the recommended time period for the usage of our mattresses is 5 to 7 years. Around that time, a special coding company uses to protect the products and made them antibacterial starts to wear off. So, it’s time to buy a new mattress. Even though yours at home is perfectly fine. Levels of fear and anxiety skyrocketed and more and more people started to buy our products more often. Final result: more $ for the company, and the most brilliant part of the whole campaign – using the product itself as a billboard. Kudos to us.

3. We buy to avoid Pain or Loss

Similar to buying things out of fear, we buy things to avoid pain or loss. We experience a feeling of pain or loss and we want to get it away as soon as possible. Many fortunes have been made in the industry of avoiding all types of pain; emotional pain, physical pain, etc. Except for fear, pain is one of the strongest motivators for buying something.

4. We buy to make us more Secure

No matter how absurd it may sound, we think owning more material things will bring us greater security. And yes, some material possessions surely will give us security (some clothes to keep us warm, reliable transportation, a roof over our head). But once all our basic needs are met, the actual security derived from excess stuff is nonexistent. Anyway, 95% of our things fit into the ‘Just in Case if something happens category’, and ‘Just in Case I really need it in some non-existent future’ category.

5. We buy to gain Pleasure

No one will ever admit that we seek pleasure in material possessions. But, we all do. We buy bigger houses, faster cars, cooler gadgets, and trendier clothes to gain ounces of pleasure and happiness derived from it. Unfortunately, happiness and pleasure cannot ever be bought in a store. 

There are many other intrinsic and extrinsic motivators why we buy, but the above are the most important. I hope this post can help you reconsider your buying habits. Remember, there is more joy to be found in owning less than can ever be discovered in pursuing more. 

 

Cheers!

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2 Responses

  1. I believe consumption is really the problem. There is a fine line between consumption and compulsive consumption. Where does non-compulsive consumption end? Where does compulsive consumption start? On the other hand, there is a fallacy here: for some people, consumption is not a problem because they recycle. It is almost like a kind of divine forgiveness (“I don’t feel guilty about consuming because I recycle; because I recycle I consume”). But the truth is that there is always an environmental impact. I think the solution is to reduce consumption, which means to change habits, to change our way of life.

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