The Life of A Recovering Panic-purchaser: How To Buy Less Useless Shit and Create More Meaning in Your Life

You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.
— Vernon Howard

In school, my friends and I jokingly coined a term, panic-purchase. Basically, it’s a term used to describe buying something on a whim without much conscious thought, only to discover that it was, in fact, a rather frivolous act, based on nothing but excess cash and panic.

A panic purchase can range from food on a menu to a samurai sword. My friend Mitchell actually purchased a samurai sword (oh, and a snake named Chuck).

We are living in a world of ‘in-cases.’ We buy ridiculous gadgets and clothes in-case we may need them. But, in reality, we use them once or twice only to find them years later, dusty, in the cupboard.

What Is the Cost of the Item

Before you add anything — I really do mean, anything — to your life, asking yourself the question: “What will the cost of this be in a year or 5 years time?” can be can be a helpful guide.

Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers
— Tony Robbins

Monetary cost does not have — and in many cases shouldn’t — be the only consideration. I’m talking about social costs. Time costs. Mental costs. All the little costs that add up to create a more erratic life. A life that is the opposite of designed — one that is defaulted.

Everything you purchase, own or get given has a cost attached to it. No matter how small or stupid something may seem. There is always a cost (most often, a hidden cost).

Think About How Much Stuff You Have That You No Longer Use

Last year, before I embarked on my sporadic and unplanned journey to live in Cape Town, I cleared out and gave away many of my personal possessions. Stuff from school, old clothes and silly gadgets.

I was shocked at the amount of stuff I had accumulated over the years. I was even more surprised at my level of clinginess to these items that, actually, had very little value. I only valued them because I owned them. In reality, it was just clutter.


Here is the hallway in my apartment. This was the second instalment of my clean-out nearly a year after living in Cape Town.

More, fucking, useless, stuff!

As you can see, it is not limited to pretentious items like clothing. Books! Fucking books, too. Although I have actually read most of the books in that pile, my usual habit when walking into Exclusive Books, is panic-purchasing a bunch of cool sounding books based purely on click-baity titles and leaving them on my shelves at home.

Not only does this create excess clutter in my life, but I have come to the very unscientific conclusion that it subconsciously messes with my brain by showing me day-in-and-day-out the books I have failed to read. Not a great way to start your day.

If you have been following my content, you will know I’m obsessing over the sheer amount of shit we all have. Not just physical shit, but digital. We have five different social media accounts. Ten thousand pictures of our pet chameleon. Friends on Facebook that we have not even said a word to…ever.

Only now that I am aware of my impulses to buy useless shit, can I make the conscious effort to think long and hard before splashing out the dollar.

Some Rules

As a recovering panic-purchaser, I now have some rules (which don’t always work) that help:

  1. Before I purchase something, I have to wait for the initial impulse to die out — this can take days or weeks — once the impulse subsides, and it becomes something I genuinely need, then I give myself the go ahead.

  2. I ask myself, do I own this already or have something similar that can do the job or serve its purpose?

    i.e: you may see a jacket that you’ve been wanting for years. You know VERY well you have a perfectly good jacket at home. Before you buy this new jacket, wait a week or two. If you think the new jacket will serve a better purpose than the one you already own, sell or give away the one you own already.

  3. Will this item give me long-term happiness or short-term pleasure? No need to elaborate. We all fall victim to impulses. But, pausing, and asking yourself this question helps because happiness is the metric, not pleasure.

    4. Opt for experiences over items. More often than not, spending quality time with quality people is better than seeing your friends spending quality time with their quality friends on your latest iPad. 

A life of meaning does not come from possessions (don’t mean to sound Buddahish). I can only say this from first-hand experience. Growing up, I tried to hide my insecurities by having the latest brandname clothes and gadgets. When that initial lust of the item or clothing died down, I was left with my dick in my hands, wondering where the happiness went.

I’m still figuring this shit out myself. It’s a process of un-learning old habits that are embedded deep in my lizard brain.

Most of what you do is out of habit. We are habitual creatures. If you can recognise your habits — preferably the bad ones which make up 90% of your habits — you are more than halfway there in terms of breaking them.

Most of the time, it’s not that you actually want to buy that pie and coke from the garage. It’s merely a habit. More often than not, you will also panic-purchase a ridiculously cool sounding ice-cream, too.

Living an examined life is not easy. It requires looking at your impulses and habits with intent. They do not like it when you look at them with those raised eyebrows and ask questions. In fact, they would rather you turn a blind eye and pretend that everything is ok.

We are on this journey together. I’m not saying become a true minimalist just for the sake of it. I’m just saying you need to question your possessions and spending habits. Where are you spending an unnecessary amount of dosh in your life? What are some of your panic-purchases? Is there a pattern?

Would love to know in the comments below.