One question I asked myself a long time ago, even before I discovered minimalism, was how I could know if I really need the things I want to buy. I would sometimes get a strong desire to throw money at random things, and a rationalizing inner demon would convince me to buy it. As human beings we are extremely good at inventing reasons to buy just about anything.
A long time ago I felt like I was missing something in my guitar sound. Obviously, I blamed it on my guitar amplifier. A few hours later, after some research, I was convinced that a set of fancy replacement parts for my amplifier would magically add what was missing. I was seconds away from typing in my credit card information and confirming the order … and then I closed the browser window. I was chatting with a friend, and in the midst of telling him how great my guitar sound was going to become, he sent me an off-handed comment.
It's funny how people will do anything to find reasons for buying something they think they need.
It is funny, indeed.
We get so caught up in our want that we forget why, or even if, we actually need the thing we're longing for. If the need in reality turned out to be a temporary desire, whatever it was we bought will soon just occupy unneccessary space in our lives.
In the case of my guitar amp, there would have been a difference in the guitar sound, but it would be so minimal that in the grand scheme of things it wouldn't have mattered. Instead of spending a stupidly large amount of time reading about how to get that super special guitar sound, I could have actually played my guitar. Somewhere along the line I forgot what I wanted to do from the start – to play guitar and write songs.
My personal remedy (or "hack") for avoiding this situation is simple. I figure out how to verify that I really need what I'm buying. I'll illustrate with a few examples.
Should I buy a pair of running shoes?
I'll run for a month in shoes I already own so I'm sure that I'm committed enough to keep running when I buy the shoes. Or, I might discover that I dislike running and I won't have wasted any money on shoes that'll never be used.
Should I buy a new guitar?
I'll play the one I have for a month, and when that time is over I'll ask myself if I really need a new guitar – I may have realized that the one I have was good enough.
Should I get a new phone?
Again – I'll spend some time with the one I already own to figure out what and if there's anything that would improve by getting a new phone.
The goal is to understand the reason behind buying something. Is it based on a real need, or is it just a temporary desire? Sometimes there really is a need, and when that becomes clear – I'm ready to buy.