Ask Katy — Guilt over Consumerism

by Katy on May 19, 2009 · 42 comments


Here is a question posed by Mary on The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook group:

Hello I am new to the group, my question, how do you not feel guilty when you do buy something? Sound silly, but I have been needing new sneakers, I have been putting off buying, but I need them does that constitute consumerism?


I hope I haven’t given the impression that I advocate a complete cessation of all purchasing, both necessary and otherwise.

Shoes are a necessity, and I’m a firm believer in high quality shoes. Poor quality shoes not only fall apart, but cause foot pain and don’t breathe well. 

If you “need” a new pair of sneakers, then by all means buy yourself a pair. Yes, it’s consumerism; but unless you’re going to live in the woods wearing a suit made from bark and leaves, there will be some consumerism in every life.

There should be no guilt involved in buying shoes. Shoes are important. A good pair of sneakers will encourage you to be more active, thus encouraging a healthy lifestyle.

If the issue is that you feel you can’t afford the shoes, then find some other area to cut back. Use the library, cook from scratch, bring your own work lunches, but please — buy yourself the shoes you need.

Tell them that Katy sent you.

What advice do you have for Mary? Do you experience guilt when making purchases, even those that others consider necessary? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Jocelyn May 19, 2009 at 11:08 am

It’s like the same thing with dieting, if you try to withhold yourself too much you may eventually binge. A good quality purchase or two once in a while isn’t the end of the world, especially on something like sneakers which you do need. When you’re on a diet it’s okay to have a little treat, just don’t go making a habit out of it. Plus, it sounds like she has thought over the purchase for a long period of time, so it’s not an impulse purchase and she will really appreciate it once she does buy them. Buy the shoes and strut your stuff!


Stacey May 19, 2009 at 11:11 am

I just bought a pair of my favorite running shoes. I thought it was time to buy a new pair when I noticed a twinge in my knee while running, but I thought, “That will be $80!” Fortunately in the next moment I remembered my good friend’s reply(who heard this lamment from me many years ago), “Yeah, but they’re a lot cheaper than a new pair of knees.”


calimama May 19, 2009 at 11:37 am

The fact that you acknowledge guilt means that you have become aware of the consumerism running rampant through our society. And isn’t that a big part of what the Compact is trying to teach? It’s not just about never buying anything new. Hence the exceptions that only you can determine.

If you buy a good pair of running shoes that are well-made and last through typical wear and tear you are a good Compactor. If you buy a cheap pair of shoes that will need to be replaced in 6 months because they are poorly made and falling apart you might want to reconsider what the Compact is all about. (And the ‘you’ mentioned is the big picture you, not you Mary specifically. You know?)

One pair of shoes in the landfill every 2 years vs. 4 pairs of shoes in the landfill every 2 years. Hmm, the scales they are a-weighin’.


NMPatricia May 19, 2009 at 1:36 pm

I have often wondered the same thing that Mary has wondered. It is not about the shoes. It is about buying stuff – knowing that they are made over seas (I buy fabric – they don’t make fabric in this country where workers are treated semi-humanely). Being green, frugal, and ethical – every purchase is scrutinized and agonized over.


Meadowlark May 19, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Patricia, this sounds like a pointed reply, but please know it’s not… I’m wondering out loud.

How did we get to a place in life where we agonize over things that should be so easy? I realize that it sounds barbed, but please don’t take it that way. I truly wonder what messages we are sending/receiving that cause such responses. Yours is by far in the majority, so again… not you.

Thanks for your input.


Jennifer May 19, 2009 at 4:27 pm

I have an expensive handbag. Like $300 expensive. My husband gave it to me as a gift and it was before our daughter arrived, before we were actively planning when we’d have kids (~3.5 years ago). But it’s the only handbag I’ve carried since then. I use it every day. It’s great quality and I don’t plan on replacing it any time soon (a classic style). So eventually it will pay for itself. When I first got pregnant I felt guilty that I should have spent that money on something for the baby. But since then I have accepted it and moved on so I can enjoy it.


Meredith May 19, 2009 at 4:50 pm

As most of the other respondents have said in one way or another: If you are pondering this purchase, then you are being a conscious and careful consumer. If the shoes are necessary and will lead to a better quality of life for you, then there’s no reason to agonize over it. I also feel that we perhaps make too much out of small decisions. It doesn’t have to be so hard.
In a book by David Suzuki that I once read(I forget which one!) he wrote of the three questions you should ask yourself before a purchase: Do I really need this item? Where did it come from (and how was it made, what does it contain etc)? What will happen to it when I’m done with it?


christajean May 19, 2009 at 5:04 pm

I have a new motto…
“What would Katy do?”
That helps me when I’m trying to decide something. Teehee.

Really, though, the other day when I was noticing that my oldest daughter REALLY needs a new pair of black shoes and a swimsuit, I was reminded to make the resale shop my first stop and resisted the urge to go to Target.

That is a little different from buying running shoes. You wouldn’t want shoes that have already been formed to someone elses feet!


Pennie May 19, 2009 at 6:41 pm

I try to use up, wear out, or re-purpose “things” as best I can.

That way, when they truly need replacing I don’t have much guilt about it. Not too many uses for jeans with big holes in the knees (though I do make some of them into shorts) or a purse with a broken strap.


Jen May 19, 2009 at 8:22 pm

I completely understand where Mary and NMPatricia are coming from. I think about everything I buy, and feel guilty when I do buy. I feel guilty for buying mail order vitamins, for buying new because I can never find what I need at our local Goodwill when I need it, for going on vacation this year. I haven’t quite got the hang of this yet, and it is maddening.


Diana May 19, 2009 at 8:47 pm

I find if I’m feeling guilty about purchasing something, then I should stop and analize why I’m feeling guilty.

For me, the guilt usually means that I shouldn’t be buying the item. If it is an item that I truely need and will use often, then there is no need to feel guilty. Needing things is becoming a bad concept, but it shouldn’t. Our society uses the word much to loosely. There are things that we need and there are things that we want. We need to eat, we need to wear clothes and shoes (most of us anyway!). Make a purchase that is in line with your conscience and that is something that you need (as opposed to something you just want) and you shouldn’t feel any guilt. If you want, need, and can justify the cost, then it’s a great purchase!


hustler May 19, 2009 at 9:02 pm

I work 12 hour shifts on a hard concrete floor. I spend over a hundred dollars about every two years on a good pair of boots. They save my feet, knees, and back a good deal of pain. Some of my co-workers wear regular sneakers and they are the ones complaining of knee and back pain. Good shoes are a definite necessity.


Angela May 19, 2009 at 10:16 pm

I joined The Compact this year and I was very worried about running shoes. I have since put them on my “exceptions” list because of the reasons Katy explained. I want to take care of my health, my feet, and my knees. I’m actually considering putting all shoes on the exception list, because I only want high-quality shoes that fit well and I would only buy 1-2 pair per year.

Also- regarding running shoes and the landfill: I recently read somewhere that Nike will take ANY brand and they make something out of them. Sorry I don’t have more information but I haven’t had time to check it out. I’m sure you could find out on their website.


Jinger May 20, 2009 at 5:12 am

Basic necessities, such as healthy food, clothing, etc should not be something we feel guilty about purchasing. I don’t want to live a life of deprivation…I truly believe “Living Large on Little” can be a very good thing.


Kristin @ klingtocash May 20, 2009 at 6:18 am

I think if you make a well informed decision to purchase a product that is going to last it’s worth the investment. That’s right, good quality running shoes are an investment. They will help save your back and knees (potentially saving you money on doctor bills). There are certain items that I am willing to spend money on. Shoes are one of those items. Most of my shoes are Clarks, which I try to get on sale. They generally cost about $60 a pair but last for years. I’m not really a shoe person but I do have a black and a brown pair of Clarks and I just love them. When I was buying less expensive shoes they would wear out after a few months and the cost was actually higher.


Jacquelyn May 20, 2009 at 6:48 am

I’m of the mindset that I’d rather have a few, well-crafted items that I paid well for that last me years and years, and (although not in the case of shoes) that I can even pass down to the next generation to continue using. It’s best to know what you truly need, spend responsibly on quality, and repair and maintain for longevity. That’s the philosophy I’ve meshed out of my desire to not spend much with my husband’s desire to have nice quality things.


Heather May 20, 2009 at 9:13 am

I have just discovered Danskos. It was such a revelation when I put them on…I literally sighed with relief. Shoes are not the place to skimp. I discovered this years ago when I purchased shoes at a discount store and then never wanted to wear them because they hurt my feet! Better to buy good quality that lasts. Plus, all the aforementioned health reasons…a new pair of shoes is a lot cheaper than a new pair of knees…so true! 🙂 It’s your health, your joints, your happy, pain-free life you’re talking about here! Buying a decent pair of shoes is something you need to do for yourself. No guilt.


Rebecca May 20, 2009 at 9:56 am

As much as I value frugality and living sustainably, I find that I value a few things more highly than that. One of those things is the health of my family, my loved ones, my pets, and myself. If it’s a purchase that will genuinely contribute to their (or my) health and I’ve attempted to find more frugal or more sustainable alternatives, I feel no guilt over my purchases. One of the reasons I live frugally and am working toward a more sustainable lifestyle is so that I am more free to spend my money and resources on things that are truly important to me, and health is one of those things!

What are you trying to get out of frugality, non-consumerism, and sustainable living? If it’s a more healthy lifestyle and the time and resources to do things you love, then I would argue that a new, well-made pair of running shoes is very much in line with those goals, and well worth purchasing!


thenonconsumeradvocate May 20, 2009 at 4:51 pm

“What would Katy do?”

Today Katy would stomp cranky around the house dealing with cat pee linens. And some went into the dryer as the lines were full and this is NOT a task I want to prolong.

That’s what Katy would do.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate

P.S. I set up an extra litter box and they’re both getting used. I’m crossing my fingers.


BarbM May 20, 2009 at 7:04 pm

I can buy new shoes or I can pay the chiropractor to put my hips and back in place again. The realignment costs lots more than new proper fitting shoes.The trick is finding shoes that are not made in China.


BarbG May 20, 2009 at 8:01 pm

One thing I spent a huge amount of money on is my medical grade memory foam pillow. I had whiplash years ago and the pain is chronic. The only time I feel relief is when I rest on my pillow (No other pillow brings relief and actually makes the pain worse.) I bought this pillow 5 years ago for $150.00 but it’s worth every penny. High quality memory foam will likely last 15 years so in the end the pillow will be a better choice economically than a $10.00 pillow that needs to be replaced often.
I also like the fact that it was Made in the USA(even though I am Canadian). 🙂


momentary de lurking May 20, 2009 at 11:28 pm

don’t remember names, so sorry if this isn’t quite accurate but… If you’re feeling guilty about making even essential purchases then you might want to rethink not just the individual item causing controversy, but why it is you’re doing the frugal/sustainable/green etc stuff. The friends of mine who’ve had the worst “yo-yo diet” budgeting experiences are the ones who set out to consume less mostly to impress others. Making lifestyle changes like that for reasons that are motivated by how someone else might react tend to lead to a poor outcome.

Katy, is the answer ever not some combination of “use the library, take public transit, shop at goodwill, cook from scratch and pack your own lunch”?


thenonconsumeradvocate May 21, 2009 at 12:09 am

De Lurking,

Sometimes the blog is about cartoon alligators.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Wendy May 21, 2009 at 7:52 am

Does anyone know where Nike sneakers are made?


Meredith May 21, 2009 at 10:40 am

While I continued to think about this kind of guilt and the choices we face when we need an item that perhaps can’t be found at the Goodwill, I started hunting around for an ethical alternative to Nike or similar. I came up with this:

If you click you’ll see that the problem is the shoes aren’t designed for long-term wear or for exercise. I’m sure there are some other choices out there. And this is the sort of product that, while it aims to stamp out brand “addiction” and to rail against corportate values, just seems like a new kind brand.


BarbG May 21, 2009 at 8:36 pm

De lurking,

You do a lot de lurking for someone who claims to it is momentary but I digress.

I have never lived the way I do to impress anyone. In fact, it is hard at times to live this way. I have lived below the poverty line for many years and it is really hard at times to not always have what I need or want. It is hard to watch most people I know buy new cars, clothes and homes. That said, I am the only one I know that lives without a credit card and no dept beyond my mortgage.

I really don’t think anyone else here does this to impress anyone. It is not a lifestyle that is glamorous but a quiet life of humility.

I have to ask you why you continue to be here of you are not part of this chosen lifestyle. Please let me know what you want. Are you expecting the readers here to “see the light” and start wasting and spending?


Angela May 22, 2009 at 10:42 am

Here’s the link to the Nike program that recycles used athletic shoes:

They make them into athletic surfaces like basketball courts and playgrounds. All you have to do is drop them off at one of their centers and they take care of the rest. And if there’s no center near you, there’s a mailing address.


Jen May 25, 2009 at 8:58 pm

It recently has helped me to think about not what I will buy new, but what I am not buying. For example, I am not buying clothes I won’t wear, shoes I don’t need, makeup, jewelry, magazines, books, cd’s, dvd’s, home decor items, a new car, etc. The things I do buy are important to me for one reason or another. I was feeling guilty, like I didn’t measure up, because my journey didn’t seem to fit in a frugal “box”. This is a personality quirk with me, not a problem with living frugally. I just do some things differently than other people do, and that’s ok. This is a personal journey, and I now realize I don’t have to measure up to anyone else.


Jen May 25, 2009 at 9:06 pm

And maybe I should add that I lived this lifestyle before I started researching it and realized other people were doing it too. It was nice to know I wasn’t an oddball, there were others out there who felt the same way. I just got the (wrong) impression that I wasn’t doing it “right”. My epiphany came in 2005 after I went on a medical missions trip to Kenya. Seeing the poverty changed my life. I am looking at this scaling down and learning to live with less as preparing to go back there permanently.


Kristie-ND May 31, 2009 at 9:01 am

I only have reusable cold bags to shop, and just a few reusable tote bags, that I mainly use at the library or UBS.

How can I get past spending so much money to stock up on reusable grocery bags? The cheapest bags I have found are .75 cents, but we only grocery shop twice a month, so I need a considerable number of bags, and it would cost a small fortune to buy them.

Do I just keep buying the few at a time I am doing? It would take forever that way, or do I just suck up such a large purchase?


thenonconsumeradvocate May 31, 2009 at 9:14 am

Kristie – ND,

Don’t forget that paper grocery bags can also be reused, as well as bags from clothing stores, etc.

An idea would be to put the word out that you want reusable bags for your next birthday, and let that be what people are buying for you. (Instead of yet another useless piece of clutter.)

Good luck!

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


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