Too Much Time Shopping Online

I can recall being in my early twenties sitting on that stiff, scratchy brownish colored living room couch (with a sheet thrown over to protect it from the shedding cats). The TV was always on in my house, unless we were sleeping… I suppose it helped to mask the fact of how quiet it always was with just me, mom and the cats. Mom would be content relaxing in her housecoat, watching one of her favorite game shows (usually with a feline or two beside her) and I would be surrounded by shiny mail order catalogs.

I felt a certain thrill flipping through the Spiegel, JCPenney, and Chadwick’s of Boston, catalogs. A thrill similar to what I feel nowadays as I browse the new clothing arrivals on my favorite websites. Back then, I’d circle everything I envisioned myself wearing, earmark the pages, and create long lists of what I planned to order. With my calculator, I’d add up the costs and then start eliminating things. I’d fill out order forms that couldn’t be mailed until the next day (providing extra time to rethink and change my mind). At some point I stopped using the order forms, and just dialed the 1-800 number to place my orders. There was no cell phone or computer in this scene, just a stack of pages adorned with perfectly proportioned models wearing beautiful clothing, a landline phone, and a credit card.

Technology progressed and now an overabundance of alluring outfits are conveniently available to order anytime of day, wherever I go…on my computer, smart phone, and tablet. It's so much easier and quicker…just click, click, click…order placed. I don’t even need to have my credit card with me if I’m using PayPal or my payment information is already stored on the site.

Recently, I spent three hours on a beautiful weekend morning browsing the internet. Sure, I had other specific plans for the morning such as going for a run, decluttering two drawers (that were so crammed with stuff I could barely open them), catching up on endless laundry, returning a package to the post office and paying some bills. Yet, I sat…comfortable and unwilling to move from my favorite chair, while I glanced at one online retail site after the next. I was looking for something to excite me, and also distract me from the unexciting tasks I had scheduled. Perhaps a new brown leather jacket, or a leopard loafer would do the trick? Oooh, how about this color-blocked limited edition Prada bag? I refused to budge until I heard the noon church bells ringing, and then started to panic, realizing I only had a few hours to get everything done before I needed to shower and attend church! Although I didn’t carelessly purchase anything that morning, I carelessly spent time. Later that day while I was still doing laundry at 9 pm, and remembered that I hadn’t gotten around to cleaning out the drawers, I recognized that I needed to curb my online shopping habits. I decided to do some “online research” about “online shopping” to assist in developing my new “online plan”.

Here are some fun facts I discovered:

  1. 51% of Americans prefer to shop online. I actually thought this would be a higher percentage. I figured, by now, everyone must prefer the ease and convenience of shopping online. Isn’t a new American pastime? It certainly has been one of mine and I’ve been doing it ever since Amazon was first launched in 1995.

  2. Americans born between 1965 and 1996 spend 6 hours per week shopping online. 6 hours? I can top that in one weekend.

  3. 80% of Americans shop online once per month and 30% once per week. One online purchase per month? Ok, I am obviously in the minority here.

  4. 43% of online shoppers make purchases while in bed. Now I’m starting to fit in with my fellow Americans.

  5. 20% of online shoppers make purchases in the car or using the bathroom. Yes, I admit to making a purchase on my iPhone while waiting at a red light…it was just one time and I’m not proud! But I definitely am not an “on the potty” purchaser.

  6. 42% of online shoppers have regretted making certain purchases after placing their order. Yes, I can relate to this.

So now what? If you are like me, you need to set up some boundaries to help you better manage your online shopping. Here are some ideas I’ve put together that I plan to implement:

  1. Limit online shopping time. Just like I have to set a time limit for how long my 9 year old can play on the iPad or watch TV, I must do the same for my internet shopping. I’ll start with a hour time limit. After an hour, I need to move on to another non-shopping activity.

  2. Ask “what am I shopping for?” If I can’t answer this question I need to stop shopping right away. Browsing for the sake of “just looking” only takes up time better spent, and can often lead to an unnecessary purchase.

  3. Take time to figure out what I’m really feeling inside? Am I bored, lazy, or feeling sad? Don’t try using internet shopping as a way to fix an emotion. It doesn’t work.

  4. Practice pausing before purchasing. This is something I have been successfully doing lately. I will not purchase something too soon after placing it in my cart. I need to give my brain time to become clear on whether or not I really need or want it.

  5. Don’t get caught up with the online retail marketing tricks urging quick purchases. Certain stores, will send numerous emails reminding me that I still have “hot” items in my cart. They “kindly" suggest to “Get your items before they sell out” or “caringly” inform me “Only a few left in stock”. These messages must be ignored and plenty of time taken before completing a purchase. Is it possible an item might sell out? Yes, but likely you can find it elsewhere, and if not, you will definitely be able to find another similar item that you may love more. Or in time, you may forget about the “lost opportunity” and will no longer care.

  6. Avoid Flash sale retail sites like RueLaLa and Gilt. Sure, you may be able to score a great deal, but likely it will be for something you weren’t looking for, but instead stumbled across, and now must have. For shopaholics, sites like these are troublesome. It is most certain that I will find several items that I love at super prices and “must purchase immediately” without thinking, since there is usually only one left in my size!

  7. Don’t shop late at night. Experience has taught me that if I shop in the morning I will be more mindful, taking pauses and not shop compulsively. However, if it’s late at night something switches in my brain, and I am more likely to buy without fully thinking, and then wake up with that pit in my stomach asking ”Oh no, what did I do?”. It’s like a shopping hangover.

I have one more little tidbit of research to share with you, that I think you will enjoy. Another online shopping study actually claims that “Shopping makes us Happy”. I nearly choked when I read this wondering “why am I trying to decrease my shopping?”. In the Journal of Consumer Psychology, professors from the University of Michigan state that shopping can actually reduce our sadness.

(read it yourself here:

Before you get too excited and are ready to jump online to, there is a little more to this research.

To elaborate ,The Journal of Consumer Research published a study which showed that “wanting things” makes people happier than “actually having them”. This implies that the “anticipation of a purchase” is what really causes the happiness associated with shopping. Once you purchase the goods, your happiness may be short-lived. And if your purchases lead to debt and other negative consequences, the happiness is very, very short.

However, sustained happiness can be achieved simply by thinking about your purchases. It is our shopping dreams and hopes that keep us happy. It can be helpful to think about things we may want to acquire as long as we keep it balanced (like not spending a weekend morning with fingers attached to computer keyboard). And of course, we always need to proceed cautiously before pulling the purchase trigger.

More importantly, we need to consider what exactly we are “hoping and dreaming” for. What real need are we trying to fulfill? When I imagine myself holding that expensive Prada tote, what is it I am hoping the handbag will accomplish for me? What do I think a 8x10 leather rectangle will transform me into? I will still be me…just with another nice bag and $2000 on my credit card. If I have goals and desires, surely Prada isn’t really the answer? I need to take a deeper look into what I’m truly searching for when I’m searching online, and then I can determine the proper steps to achieve it.

I definitely need to change my online shopping habits, but I don’t need to stop hoping and dreaming. And if I can better understand my wishes, then perhaps, I can take actions that will genuinely bring me closer to their fulfillment, instead of just the quick thrill and short-lived happiness of a new designer bag.

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