Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I bought lip balm because I was afraid

What if I need it again?
What if it breaks?
What if this is discontinued?
What if I can't replace it?

Hoarding and anxiety go hand-in-hand. For many people, including hoarders and non-hoarders, fear keeps us from letting go of objects we don't need.

It also plays a role in how we acquire objects.

Have you ever looked at something on a store shelf and had a sudden urge to buy a few extra? I perpetually have this urge. If I see something and love it, I want to buy more than one. Just in case. Sometimes I can tell myself no, like the time when I bought a $200 ring for myself and loved it so much that I wanted to get another in case the first broke. Fortunately the $200 price tag kept me from going back to the jewelry store.

Unfortunately it's much easier for us to grab extras of smaller items and consumables. We justify these purchases with the idea that we'll use it, or it'll be a backup.

Today's object is a set of lip balms I bought back in early college. My lips used to chap quite painfully and this was the first balm that contained an anesthetic. Without even trying one out to see if it worked, I bought four. These things would solve my problem, I thought, and I wouldn't want to run out. No kidding.

Fighting the Fears

FDR said "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Admitting that we're purchasing things out of fears is hard. I purchased lip balm because I was afraid. Afraid I'd run out, afraid I wouldn't have anything to stop the pain of chapped lips, afraid I might never find the lip balm again. Seriously!? These are the things I angst about in my life?

The fears that drive hoarding habits are often irrational fears like these. Those fears can do an incredible amount of damage when we don't counter them.

Those of us with hoarding tendencies can't be told to simply "think about whether you'll use the item" before you buy it. Totally ineffective. Of course I'll use it! It may only be for a while, but sure, I use Eucerin hand cream. I use blouses. I use dental floss (okay, not always.)

Am I using my head? Probably not. I'm using my fears.

Finding the Rational Thoughts

Lately I've been asking myself two questions to curb irrational thoughts when I shop:

1. Why do I feel the need to purchase more than one of these?
2. Is some kind of  fear or insecurity driving this purchase? If so, is it a rational fear?

Respond to the fears

What if I need it again? You can always buy or borrow another one. You are blessed to have the financial resources to purchase things you really need. And if you don't need it, you *can* live without it.

What if it breaks? You can always buy or borrow another one.

What if this is discontinued? You can most discontinued items on eBay. If not, you'll find something newer and better.

What if I can't replace it? You'll live. It's just stuff.

Find your freedom from these fears. 

What fears lead you to buy too much? Or to keep things you should throw out?

The Reckoning

Item 65: A collection of four lip balms from my college days.

Fate:The trash can!

Cost:  These were $1.50 each. I only used about half of each for a total of $3.

Total money wasted on stuff: $ 390.


  1. This is so, so true! I get frustrated with some minimalists who think getting rid of items is easy, and if you hold onto something, then you're just weak. I wish others could talk about the psychological issues surrounding stuff. I think if we all, like you, delved into the hidden psychological fears/anxieties/insecurities, it would be a much better route than laying on the judgment! Bravo for you!!!

    As for me, I recently bought a few too many long-sleeved shirts for the boys' winter wardrobe for NEXT winter. I grabbed a ton because they were cute enough and on super clearance and Old Navy. Only after the cashier rang up all the items did he tell me that they were non-refundable. So now we're stuck with a few too many winter shirts. Hopefully, they'll all get used (and Noah's used twice as hand-me-downs). But again, I bought out of fear of not being able to find winter clothes on sale that I liked in time for next winter. Fear of scarcity of resources and fear of scarcity of money. I feel lame when I analyze it the way you have suggested, but I think it's important for all of us to do! Thank you for that :)

    1. The desire to buy extra must be really strong with kids. It's that maternal "I must protect/provide for my brood" feeling that I swear must be written into our DNA.

      And I totally understand feeling lame. I feel like I'm a walking ad for cognitive behavioral therapy! But all that matters is that we stop and think. Or at least stop!

  2. Aarggh!! What is it with lip balms?! I used to have heaps of the little buggers too. I had this idea that every handbag I owned had to have lip balm, a comb, tissues and various pills (a miniature pharmacy). And seeing as I had a small handbag collection, that was a lot of lip balms, combs, tissues and pills. Then I realised - there was a lot of checking of expired pills and crusty lip balms. And the stress when one of these items wasn't there.

    Now I have a small makeup pouch that has all these items in it, and it gets transferred to the bag I'm using. Oh, and the handbag collection has been greatly pruned, too.

    Christine the Stage 1 Hoarder

    1. The makeup pouch idea is really smart. I'm typically too disorganized at night to do that, and I own 12 handbags so I keep forgetting what I left in which bag. Now that I don't have enough lip balms/lipsticks/etc. I'm definitely going to have to try the pouch idea. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I LOVE this post. At first I felt like arguing... well things DO get discontinued! It's happened to me so much that I finally find a shampoo/icecream/cooking sauce/shirt style that I really like and then next thing I know it doesn't exist on the shelves anymore.

    But really now if I'm completely honest, the item was just something I could experience temporarily. And I still have the freedom to try other things, explore new options! (At least that's what I have to tell myself when I feel the disapointment)

    1. Temporary is a great word for it! The euphoria from buying things never seems to last long. And even if something is discontinued, there will always be something newer and more interesting. Sometimes those interesting things even come out far too often for their own good (*cough* iPads! *cough*)

  4. Followed your link from Zero Waste Home. Congrats on your quest.

    Well said! Don't underestimate the power of marketing. I would bet with greater than 90% of those "little things" bought in pairs, triples, etc. the 2 or 3 bought together are cheaper than if we bought them separately. The ole "twofer". So difficult to fight that bargain mentality ... And, of course, Apple has perfected the art of planned obsolescence.

    I grew up with parents who were children of the Depression, AND had grown up as "country" folk. The mentality was: You bought when you could ("who knows when you'll get to the store again"), hoarded what you had ("store might run out").
    They never could shake that mentality, and of course passed it on to my siblings and I. Sigh...

    1. It's interesting how America still feels the effects of the Great Depression, even 80 years later. I know my grandparents had the attitudes you mentioned and that's definitely where my father got his stockpiling habit from. It's a survival mechanism. We're fighting human nature, and that's a hard thing, but we can do it!


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