Getting to the Heart of Impulse Shopping

There are other ways to satisfy the emotional needs that drive our purchases

Getting to the Heart of Impulse Shopping
Just as stress and worry can drive emotional eating, there are certain feelings, emotions, and desires can drive our spending—to the detriment of our finances.(JLco Julia Amaral/Shutterstock)

It’s a simple fact: the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the amount of impulse shopping most people have been doing. There are a lot of stats proving it, but you can simply take a look at your own life and the lives of people you know to see if it’s true for you.

Why have we been more compelled to shop for clothes, gadgets, workout equipment, hobby toys, and more?

At the heart of it is uncertainty. We’re feeling so much more uncertainty these days, and we don’t know how to handle it.

The higher the uncertainty we’re feeling about ourselves and the world around us, the more we reach for comforts and things that make us feel a little more in control. And shopping is one of those things.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Feeling in control and feeling comfort are two very lovely things—we all need them sometimes. The more we can let go of judgment, the more open we might be to other possibilities.

Let’s take a look at what we’re hoping that the shopping will bring us and then at other strategies to meet those needs.

What We Hope to Get From Shopping

When you go online to buy something you’re craving, are you actually craving that item or something else?

In my experience, we’re craving an experience or feeling we’re hoping this purchase will bring.

We might hope that the purchase will give us:
  • Comfort
  • Love
  • Health, wellness
  • Excitement, joy, fun
  • Serenity
  • A feeling that we’re cool, strong, or sexy
  • A feeling of control
  • Stylishness
  • Adventure
  • Simplicity
  • Connection
  • Self-improvement
We hope for a lot of things from our purchases beyond these few things that are some of the most common.

Underneath some of these is an even deeper desire. For example, underneath a hope for stylishness is a hope for a sense of worthiness. Underneath the hope for simplicity or control is a hope for a feeling of peace.

What’s underneath the things you’ve bought most recently? What feelings were you hoping for? What experience of life? It can be powerful to take an honest look at this.

Other Strategies to Meet Those Needs

If what we hope for is an experience of life or a feeling, you might imagine that there are other ways to get this besides buying something. Consider some of the feelings or experiences we commonly pursue.
Peace: Could you meditate, take a walk, or sit in stillness and silence for a bit? Peace is always available to us if we give ourselves some space.
Comfort: Could you give yourself love and compassion? Could you give yourself some self-care? What could you do right now that would feel like a hug from a loved one?
Adventure: Could you go outside and feel a sense of play, adventure, and wonder? Could you find the adventure in everything you’re doing?
Joy: Could you find joy in daily living?
Control: This feeling could be accomplished by getting your life in order, one small thing at a time. But it can also be helpful to realize that control is an illusion, and nothing we buy will ever really give us control. The real practice is surrender and trust.
Feeling strong, cool, sexy, or stylish: What we’re really hoping for is a sense of self-worth from our possessions. As we can see from past purchases, it never really gives us that. Maybe a little boost in self-worth for an hour or two, if that. Instead, we could practice valuing ourselves. And that means paying attention to how we feel, giving ourselves love, taking care of ourselves, and honoring who we are. That’s all free!

The good news is that this is all available to us right now in every moment—for free. That means we don’t need to order anything, it has already arrived. It can be a nice relief to the bank account as well.

How would you like to practice with this?

Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit