Do you shop to fill a void?

When we get to a point where we are shopping to fill a void in our lives then it is time to stop and think ~

  • What is happening here? ~ Instead of facing reality and doing something to improve whatever unsatisfactory situation you find yourself in, you turn to your drug of choice, shopping, to give you that little pick-me-up that you are craving for.
  • Why do I do this? ~ In this day and age we behave this way because we are conditioned to it. In the modern consumer society we have become accustomed to the idea that shopping is a feel good activity and if we want to feel good what simpler thing is there to do.
  • Is that what I am doing? ~ Quite often we don’t realise that we are shopping to fill a void we just think we like shopping but even if you aren’t aware of it doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist.
  • How did it come to this? Self preservation  is a natural instinct whether that be physical or emotional nobody wants to feel pain, so we do what we can to drown it out. Emotional pain manifests itself in many ways, loneliness, boredom, helplessness, frustration, weariness, sadness… and who wouldn’t want to avoid those things even just for a little while.

Then there are the counterarguments…

  • What harm is it doing? ~ Environmentally alone, it is doing more harm than you could possibly even think of. If you have children it is setting a bad example for them, not just because of the lack of concern for the environment but it teaches them the same bad habits.
  • It’s my money why can’t I spend it how I like? Sure it is your money although in some cases it is the banks money and people rack up credit card debt that only makes their situation worse. Lets say it is your money and you are shopping within your budget. Do you find yourself surrounded by clutter that you are reluctant to get rid of because you wasted good money on it. Could the money go to better use like your children future education, paying down the home load, eating healthier food…

Lets face it, if we have come to the point where we are shopping as an activity for fulfillment then there has to be something lacking in our lives. If we don’t know what the thing is then we haven’t got anything to lose by taking the opportunity to try new things. Sometimes we dismiss activities without even giving them a go because we don’t think we will enjoy them. This can be a big mistake because when we do this we can be closing ourselves off to great possibilities. Below I have listed some activities to try to give yourself something fullfilling in your life…

  • Try a new sport ~ Not only enjoyable but healthy as well.
  • Volunteer in your community ~ this can be amazingly rewarding for both you and the recipient of your time and skills.
  • Increase activities with friends and family ~ go walking, cycling, hiking, dining out, fishing, visit the art gallery…
  • Do something educational ~ cooking or art classes, learn a language, take a computer class…
  • Explore your community ~ visit your local information centre and get to know the area around where you live. This knowledge comes in handy when you get visitors from out of town or maybe you could become so proficient you could become a local tour guide. Who knows!!
  • Take up a new hobby ~ just don’t get carried away buying supplies.
  • Gardening ~ grow your own herbs and vegetables, this can very rewarding, therapeutically and monetarily.

This are just a few ways to fill in your time , give you a boost and keep away from the shops. I am sure you can think of many more. Like anything sometimes the hardest part is getting started but can be so rewarding once you find that one thing that floats your boat.

Just remember that if all else fails don’t dismiss the idea of seeking counselling. If we live in denial that there is a problem these situations can escalate out of control. Not admitting there is a problem doesn’t make it go away so please be kind to yourself and seek help when needed.

Today’s Declutter Item

This drawer divider used to hold all sorts of stationary goodies but now they are all decluttered and what is left doesn’t require such a large storage container. So it’s off to the thrift store with this item.

Drawer Oganiser

My Gratitude List

  • Something that makes me laugh ~ Tickling babies and making them laugh.
  • Something Awesome ~ Checking your lottery ticket and finding you won something.
  • Something to be grateful for ~ That fact that no matter where I have lived I have had no shortage of friends.
  • Something that makes me happy ~ Going to breakfast every Saturday with my husband ~ sometimes Liam comes along too.
  • Something I find fascinating ~ That if you try hard enough you can find a good side to almost anything.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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Continue reading with these posts:

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  • Day 94 When a bargain isn’t a bargain How many of you have things lingering in your home that were bargains too good to pass on. You know... that pair of shoes that really are a size to big but they were only $10 (you […]
  • Avoiding internet shopping So, it is 10:09am and I have just sat down to have my midmorning coffee. And as per usual I'm comfy on the sofa with my laptop in front of me about to open Facebook and have a game of […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Colleen, when you come back, do you have any tips for actually storing kid’s toys? We decluttered his toys and have them mostly sorted (his stuff HAS to go in groups) but actually keeping it in something is difficult. I tried buckets but there are too many individual buckets for that to work.

    Or anyone else that has kiddos… 🙂

    • My favorite way of storing toys was either in stacks of open bins or in plastic stacking storage drawers that the girls could open easily. (Except for art supplies, which they had to go through me to get to.) The best thing I did was to put pictures of what was inside the drawer on the outside along with the words. (It didn’t necessarily have to be an actual picture of them items. A similar image from the Internet was close enough.)

      • Maybe I should do the pictures! He can’t read yet but I could see that being VERY helpful. It could be that he gets frustrated not remembering where they go, and he loves to “match”. I could do a farm for his farm stuff, a picture of the TS3 DVD cover for Toy Story stuff, etc.

        Thanks! Any experience with this?

  2. Hi Colleen. I did shop today to fill a void. I lost someone dear on Friday and we buried him on Saturday, and I have to go and see the family this afternoon to help sort out the pratical stuff. I felt that sadness was too much. I had gone out to meet a client and I walked outside and there was a shoe shop (actually sneakers or tennis shoes) and I saw a Reebok, very nice and I am going to wear it but it wasn’t needed now. And I bought some books. I didn’t buy useless items, but I don’t like to shop anything when I am sad as I am now. It is done now. But here is my advice: don’t go shopping if you are feeling sad.

    • Andreia, I am so sorry for your loss. We’re going to forget the shopping and go with that. Keyed up emptions of any sort can play a role in impulse shopping. Fortunately for all of us, that sort of crushing sadness doesn’t come around very often.

      • Yes you are right. We are still feeling like crap. Actually, now, I feel like sorting everything out, but I don’t want to do many changes at this time in my own life. I advised the immediate family (wife and children) to take it slow with decluttering, because I feel that they have to sort out the urgent stuff first (documents, insurance, bills, etc..) and then, slowly start the clearing process because they will be staying in the same house. Thanks to this blog I have a lot of insight to give the family about dealing with a loved one’s stuff after their passing.

  3. I used to but I don’t any more. When I had my first child (I now have 3 which possibly disagrees with what I’m just about to write!) I became much more aware of how we treat ourselves and the planet and become a keen enthusiast in sharing baby equipment etc.

    However if it is PMT time of the month then I might buy some extra magazines which, at least, can be recycled!

    • Even better than recycling is sharing your magazines with a friend or neighbor. My library has a free magazine exchange that’s very, very popular.

  4. Overcoming my shopping addiction is one of my biggest achievments so far. I knew a couple of years ago that it had to stop (credit cards maxed out) so i then proceeded to get my ‘fix’ via different ways, charity shops boot sales etc, then every six months or so i would have a huge clear out of all the stuff i had accumelated and did not need or want, then i had a lightbulb moment, for the first time in my life i saw the madness of my ways. I know exactly why i did what i did, it was filling the void of my childhood, one where going to bed hungary was the norm and ‘things’ (i.e clutter) was for people with more money than we had. Too much importance was placed on possesions (or lack of) so when i became an adult, got married and had kids and had a decent income i proceeded to accumelate stuff. Shopping became a passtime and seeking out new things was ‘fun’. I have now reached a stage where i feel i have come full circle, we, as a family now live with the neccesities and a few well chosen luxries, but the difference from my childhood and now is that i CHOOSE to own less and no importance is placed on stuff. Being a minmalist has to be an individuals choice, son number 3 chooses not to be, i’m fine with that as long as he respects everyone elses space. I love the freedom that giving up my shopping addiction has given me. No going back. Ever.

    • I think living a childhood that is very lacking in food and marterial goods often leads to buying, saving, and hording. It’s hard to overcome that early feeling of constant deprivation. Good for you for taking responsibility for your feelings, your actions, and your finances.

    • Mmm, I understand this well. I find that I buy a lot of stuff (or used to buy) that I wanted as a teenager, when I was working to pay for my own food and clothes – forget luxuries.

  5. Like the above commenters, giving up shopping as my major hobby (sad, but true) is one of my biggest achievements. I still have to be careful that I don’t go near shops when I’m feeling upset or angry, but being aware of these feelings, and learning to deal with them in a constructive way goes a good way to solving that problem! Now I only go shopping with a list, so can allow myself to have fun doing it, knowing I am spending within my limits, and only buying what’s necessary. It’s a good lesson for my children too.
    Hope you’re having a lovely week off Colleen.

    • Fantastic Loretta. Shopping with a list is one of the keys to resisting impulse shopping. I recently read that people who shop with cash spend up to 30% less than people who shop with credit, and people who pay their restuarant bills with a charge card tip more than those who pay with cash. Interesting the subliminal message that a credit card has: Spend more, don’t worry, you can pay it later.

  6. I feel like you’ve written this post just for me (I started a thread on a while ago). I find it hard to know what to do with my time on weekends, and often think, I’ll just go for a browse of the shops. Which is ok, but then I get there, and I don’t buy things, but I have this feeling of deprivation – like everyone else can buy nice things, why can’t I? I don’t give in, it’s ok, but I end up feeling useless. But then if I sit at home, with no other real activity, then it’s the same outcome!

    I really should work with your list everytime I feel ‘bored’ (for want of a better word, I mean, every time I would shop to fill in time etc). See how I go!

    • Snosie, I personally don’t enjoy shopping, so it’s hard for me to relate to wanting to go to the stores as a fun activity, but you definitely are right: you need to stay away. I think you should take your own advice and try some of the activities that Colleen has suggested as alternatives. I know when I take my girls to the mall, even if we’re looking for something specific, like school shoes, somehow they always end up with at least one more item, we often have lunch, and the next thing you know, I’m $100 in the hole for a pair for $30 school shoes. It’s aboslutely true that the more time you spend around things to buy, the more likely you are to buy some of them.

  7. I’ve never really liked shopping. I will go to a store when I have a need, hopefully find what I want, buy it and leave. I do have my weaknesses where I can easily get sucked into buying more, specifically yarn and books.

    What I am noticing lately is how out of sync I feel. If I go anywhere on an errand I am surrounded by tons of things for sale, none of which particularly interest me. But that makes me so different from my friends who want to spend time at stores or online. Our grocery store is a mega-store so I walk to the far corner to get my needed items for the week, passing clothing, household goods and decorations that I cannot begin to fathom why someone would want to purchase them.

    It is way worse now that I consider not bringing anything home that I do not plan to use immediately. For instance if I want to buy yarn or fabric and don’t see myself getting to the project in the same season or having to leave several current projects unfinished, I am learning to wait. It’s great because I am finishing more projects but I am buying even less than before.

    Does anyone else feel disoriented or out of whack with the surrounding environment? Do your friends think you have a ton of self control but you really don’t?

    • Luckily, you have friends here, and we’re all in synch with you (or are trying to get there). I am fortunate that most of my closest friends and my mother are not shoppers. I think if you talk about wanting to reduce, no longer enjoying shopping, or not wanting to purchase so far ahead of your ability to get projects done, you’ll find a couple of kindred spirits in your group. If not, my mother was once questioning what she thought of as my tight-fisted ways, and she asked, “Is this how your friends would do it?” I replied, “I don’t have to follow my friends, Mom. I can lead them.” And you can too Delores.

  8. I’m guilty of this in the past.
    I read Your Money Or Your Life, and started doing the steps. I was shocked to see how much money had come into my bank account during the past five years only! Truly shocked. I was relieved that I had actually saved SOME of it, but realized I could easily have saved two or even three times that much, HAD I NOT SPENT IT ON STUFF. As I went through the bank statements, I saw months of over spending and remember how I felt then, compulsively, manically buying things, small things that added up to large sums. Then I saw months of pretty much zero spending, serene months, when I felt peaceful. I have come to associate excessive spending with a feeling of a knot in my stomach. If I feel that, then it’s not good, completely justified spending and I better stop right there. Now I’m at a point where I can go weeks with buying only groceries, and my one “indulgence” has been a few books, but only because they are not available in the library here, and they were of subjects I am really interested in now (simplicity, raw foods, etc.) For a couple of months I have contemplated buying a few pieces of summer clothes that I TRULY NEED as I had to toss my capri pants at the end of last summer, and I’ve kept putting it off, but the summer is here and I really have to do it. I’ll get the bare minimum though. Maybe I’ll do a blog post about my minimal summer wardrobe. It’s strange actually not wanting to buy anything, but having to do it. Even though my income is minimal, I just managed to transfer about 1400 USD to our savings account. I just suddenly noticed money had accumulated! So I will never again feel like, oh, what I make is so insignificant there is no use trying to save, I can just spend it, it doesn’t matter. Or think that one small purchase here and there doesn’t matter. “I’ll just buy this thing, it’s only 50$” -and then you do that a few times a week and end up spending a 1000$ (or more!) on “small things”. Large purchases should be equally considered of course, because there is a chance of wasting worth a whole month’s grocery money ANDS rent on something you soon realize you don’t want and /or need.
    Minimalism and simple living are a saving grace. You start to loathe shopping and buying or bringing anything to your home. You start to donate and sell your excess belongings, possibly even making up for the wasted money somewhat. Just make sure you don’t just spend it all over again! 🙂

    • What an excellent comment. Thank you for your honesty. You’ll be surprised to know that I have already chosen a link to a review of Your Money or Your Life for Friday’s Favorite Five.

      • I also want to endorse the book “Your Money or Your Life.” It was probably the most important book ever for me and my husband. We read it the year before we got married and performed the financial-awareness exercises described in the book, and we can truly say “it changed our lives.” It let us examine what we were doing with our money (and with the precious time and life-energy expended in earning that money), and changed our whole perspective on buying and accumulating stuff. We love that book and have often given it as a gift to others. 17 years later it still informs most everything we do in our financial and home life. Can’t wait to hear more about it on Friday!

  9. That’s a good question. There are certainly times when I shop without thinking how much I really need something. Sometimes I find that just walking around the supermarket and looking at things more than usual can be therapeutic and I might pick up one or two new items to try as a result. I would say that on the whole I don’t shop to fill a void and in fact I avoid shopping as much as possible.

    If I’m not working I will see what I have in the cupboard and larder rather than pop to the supermarket. I really ought to buy some new sandals, but I can’t be bothered to go into town at the moment – maybe next week. There is so much I’d rather be doing in the garden.

    • The grocery store is certainly a safer place to window shop than the mall, but still a pitfall of spending and impulse purchasing. I have read studies that say that for every extra minute we spend at the grocery store, we spend an additional $2. Studies that say that longer we look at something in a store, the more likely we are to buy it, and if we touch that thing, the chances of buying it go up even more. Make sure you’re eating these new products you’re buying and they aren’t hurting your budget.

  10. This is exactly why I simply don’t shop anymore. If I go in to a mall, I gravitate to my favorite shops and, well, you know how it goes from there. So I just don’t go to the mall now. I’ve never been a big shopper, just never could ‘get’ the let’s go shopping attitude of most women. Maybe that’s why I prefer to purchase my fresh foods at the farmers market and then fill out the rest of my grocery shopping at the smaller than a huge grocery store Trader Joe’s.

    I echo the influence of “Your Money or Your Life”. We read that book nearly 15 years ago and wow what a change it made in our finances! Even now, we carefully consider every purchase–do we want to use our ‘life/hours’ on that ‘thing’?

  11. Hello,

    Just googled “shop to fill a void” and found this. I like it. It is not something that just females suffer from though. I myself have been known to shop to fill that empty place. I have talked to many people who say it is because I need a mate. I think I am rather disciplined. I have no credit card, and when I do go out I carry a modicum of cash and budget myself. See, I live alone in the city so I really don’t want to be to extravagent. My question is, sometimes what is you idea of extravagent? I mean, I want to decorate my apt with posters online I saw and frame them. I need to resole some boots. I have friends visiting in the next few weeks and I have to take them out. A man’s gotta eat too. Everything adds up. The thing is, I’m not throwing 500 down the sink at Prada-I’m just getting bye. Where do you think the line is?


    • Hi Chris C,
      you don’t seem to be crossing the line at all except maybe with the posters and if they are your only vice then big deal. I know framing can get expensive but if you can afford it then I don’t see that it is a real problem. Resoling shoes is not only a money saver but better for the environment so good on you. Having friends visiting and eating out is a better use of your money than buying product that you don’t need so no problem there since you budget and don’t use credit.

      I am wondering why you think you might be shopping to fill a void if the behaviour you mention is the norm for you. I would imagine that if you think you are spending to fill a void and have bothered to discussed this with others then maybe the void is more the issue than the spending. We all do things to fill voids in our lives and it isn’t always because we need a mate. Sometimes the void is completely within us, a dissatisfaction with where we are at, emotionally, financially, creatively, career wise, geographically… and it isn’t always easy to put your finger on exactly what it is making you feel this way. Perhaps the thing to do is to figure out what that void actually is.

      And sometimes we know exactly what that void is but are not willing to step out of our comfort zone to do anything about it. Perhaps that would be where your money is best spent. I can only guess at your situation, goodness knows I am forever guessing at mine.


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