Ever been in a situation where you embarked on a brief shopping expedition to purchase one item but ended up spending 5X more money and time than you planned, and bringing home a bag full of stuff you didn’t realize you needed?
You were tricked by what I call a needy object. Needy objects are things that we initially think we can buy in isolation but actually require several more add-ons to make it work in context.
For example, let’s say I see an adorable sky blue silk blouse with a cute pale green motif that I think will add a little spunk to my wardrobe since I normally don’t wear pastels or prints. As soon as I purchase the blouse I’m reminded that this is an usual color combination for me and I have no trousers that will work with it – so I then start hunting for the perfect pair of pants. The pants I purchase are cute but I don’t have a proper pair of shoes that will go well so I end up buying some new loafers. Oh and the pants are cropped so, I think to myself, I should probably go ahead and throw in a new pair of socks too.
This has happened to me more times than I can count and each time I wanted to slap myself for falling into the trap yet again. Inadvertently buying needy objects is a direct result of not having a thoughtful process for making purchases. Once I became wise to this devious trick I created a short set of rules to avoid it.
MAKE A LIST
I noticed that the biggest issue with needy objects is that they tend to be driven by impulse. For instance, you scroll through Instagram, see something cute, navigate to the website, and end up being sucked into the trap.
Always add an item to your shopping list and let it sit on the list for a while before you decide to purchase it. This will not only give you time to consider whether you really need it (and if so think about any add-on items that may be required) but it will also allow you to compare its importance to other items on you list.
SCHEDULE SHOPPING EXCURSIONS
With the exception of groceries, general household items, and the occasional unexpected or special situation that calls for a sporadic new purchase, I schedule major shopping initiatives for the top of each quarter (four times a year corresponding with seasonal changes).
As I mentioned in the essay What Matters Most, I refer to my list and then go through the process of eliminating things I don't really want or need, determining new things I want or need, and prioritizing based on my budget. I then buy solely what ends up left on the list.
When you schedule your shopping excursions they become important events that you can thoughtfully prepare for vs. a bunch of random one-off impulse buys.
KNOW YOUR STYLE
In the editorials Subtle Style, Creating a Daily Uniform, and Casual Capsule Wardrobe I discuss the importance of understanding your aesthetic and having go-to brands that work well with your style. This is important as needy objects tend to be things that fall outside of your normal purchasing habits leading to a major blind spot.
I don’t want to encourage you to be close-minded. Experimentation and exploration is a very important part of establishing and evolving your personal sense of style. The key here is that you should have some fundamental knowledge of your aesthetic so you can easily recognize when an item is too far off.
Though I discuss needy objects mostly within the context of your wardrobe, it’s important to know that this situation can happen within other categories as well (such as home decor). The overall takeaway is to have a set of checks and balances in place that alleviate impulse purchases and the downward spiral of unnecessary add-ons (that are only supplementing an item you didn't really need in the first place).
Image by Bobby Clark.