Is buying a sign of loneliness?

My across-the-road neighbours Allan and Fiona, both recently divorced and each with a prestigious city career, spend all weekend, every weekend shopping, alone. The latest gadgets, designer clothes and ‘occasional’ furniture (the ‘just in case’ stuff you sometimes need!) occupy their time and their money. Their lives are a constant cycle of researching what’s bigger or better, scouring shopping malls, buying things to impress people they don’t even like and throwing out the ‘old’ to make way for the new.

They’re not alone.

My colleague Carol, a single mum with teenage kids, told me that she goes to the shopping centre every Saturday afternoon without fail, regardless of whether she needs to buy new ‘things’ or not. “It’s a habit” she says “an addiction, a way of life and the only thing I do”.

Some researchers believe that loneliness is twice as deadly as obesity.

  • Recent studies by Independent Age revealed that severe loneliness is rife amongst young adults and over 50’s.
  • 20 per cent of older people report that the television is their main source of company.
  • A survey by Boston College found that people with a net worth of $78m felt lonely.

The television, celebrating material aspiration and our obsession with fame and wealth, enables us to stay at home and reinforces the desire to buy/shop instead of pursuing passions and hobbies, and it’s likely to be part of the reason why more than one fifth of kids in Britain’s say they ‘just want to be rich’.

So I’m asking “Is buying a sign of loneliness in cities?”

Yes I think it probably is.

I’m buying nothing new or second hand for one whole year. I’ve just completed the tenth month of my 12-month (2014) lifestyle experiment and there is absolutely nothing that I want, desire or need. I value days out and quality time with my family and friends much more than shiny shopping mall ‘stuff’ and it’s strengthened my lifelong belief that I don’t need material items to be happy – less really is so much more.

Nothing makes me happier than a day at North Stradbroke Island walking, picnicking, surfing and talking!

So what can we do to quit buying and stamp out loneliness?

  1. Let’s discover what’s on our doorstep, with friends we don’t yet know

A couple of years ago my mate Jon Giles created ‘Style Over Speed’. Three or four times a year on a Friday night, 100 or so people get dressed up – think fine dresses and dinner suits – and cycle around Brisbane city centre. They discover what’s on their own doorstep (public spaces, café’s and bars), they make new friends and have a lot of fun for free.

  1. Let’s play, for free, with strangers

My Lazy Sunday Cycle co-founder Amy Saunders-Grey is passionate about encouraging interactions between people of different generations, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. She founded Games Night @ King George Square to help break down barriers in society. Once a month giant board games can be played, for free, by anyone and with anyone. Amy, and her dad David, don’t have a big budget but what they have proven is that people crave interaction and a desire to be part of something fun. I guess that’s why, with the help of social media, several hundred people attend these events.

  1. Let’s ‘show up’ and get involved

In a not-so-pristine park in Berlin, my mate Joe Hatchiban draws crowds of more than 3,000 people … and that’s before the karaoke has even begun. Since the winter of 2009 Joe has been using portable, battery-powered boxes on a ‘hacked’ cargo bike to help people unleash their inner Rampensau. The real reason that people show up every Sunday afternoon for Bearpit Karaoke, isn’t because they don’t have access to iTunes. It’s because they want the buzz of being part of something fun, the supportive applause that comes from peer-to-peer performances and the serendipitous connections with people they wouldn’t normally meet – and all of this for free!

I’ll be at the Brisbane River Stage this Sunday at 6pm (gates open at 4pm) for the Queensland Ballet Company’s Coppelia. Grab a picnic blanket and join me. It’s free!

It all sounds easy, right?

If we really want to quit buying and lessen the epidemic of loneliness we need to stop searching for the bigger or better, end the cycle of buying things to impress people we don’t know or like and put an end to throwing out the ‘old’ to make way for the new. Let’s switch off the TV, get outside and focus on things more interesting. Let’s focus on people not products, let’s love people and use things and let’s embrace the things in our towns and cities that are free. And finally, let’s not educate our children to be rich instead let’s educate them to be happy so that when they grow up they’ll know the value of things, not the price.

Do you agree?

What inspires you?

What excellent free events have you seen?


My 2nd book “Underspent – 7 steps to break your impulse shopping addiction and buying ‘stuff’ habit without dramatically changing your life”  (working title) will be on sale in December 2014 in e-book format (approx. $2.99). To pre order your own personal copy please email me now


This blog was first published on My Making Money Magazine

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