Confessions of a Former Purse Addict

FIRECracker
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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
FIRECracker
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Gaze upon my shame and weep.

Last Wednesday, Wanderer wrote an article about forgiving yourself, and in the spirit of confessing past sins, I’m going to tell you about one of my own (and no, it’s not hot naked lesbian orgies. Why does everyone keep assuming that?)

You see, I wasn’t always this spread sheet-loving, super-disciplined Budget Nazi. My ability to hoard money like Fat Albert hoards cake developed out of necessity because I grew up poor, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have any money skeletons in my closet.

In fact, back in 2010, right after Wanderer and I got married, right after I got my second promotion, I decided to treat myself to something “fancy”. Big mistake. Because just like the Lay’s motto of “betcha can’t eat just one”, I quickly fell for the sweet siren call of something so vapid, so pointless, I’m STILL ashamed to admit it.

That thing was…

Coach purses.

That’s right.

I, a self-proclaimed clothes-hater and judgy bitch of purse-owners, had for the better part of the year, a full-blown Coach addiction.

I knew how to authenticate real Coach purses from fakes, how to figure out when and where a bag was made just from the serial number, and recall the exact Coach model from seeing it on a stranger’s arm from twenty feet away.

Every time I bought a Coach bag, I would stick my entire face inside and inhale. New purse smell. Mmmmmm….

One day, Wanderer came back from work to find me sitting in front of the computer, eyes glued to the screen, completely oblivious to the unattended stove in the kitchen.

“What’s that smell,” he asked, sniffing the air. “Is something burning!?”

“SHHHH!” I said, not looking up from the screen, annoyed.

He sprinted into the kitchen, turned off the stove, just as the smoke alarm went off.

“What the HELL, babe,” he asked. “Are you trying to burn the place down?”

“Check out this hardware, it’s so cool!” I said, completely ignoring him and instead gesturing at the computer screen. An 18-year-old girl was explaining all the metallic parts or “hardware” of a Coach Penelope Soft Pebble Leather Satchel as she carefully removed it from its official Coach packaging like it was a newborn baby.

“You’re watching a video of people unboxing a purse?” Wanderer asked, incredulous. “WHY?!”

It hadn’t dawned on me at that point, but that was the moment I realized I’d reached a new low.

I was watching “purse porn”.

YEAH BABY! Spread it for me…

I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I was basically doing was sending hits of dopamine to my brain, over and over again.

You see, dopamine is the “pleasure chemical” that gets released by our brain when we do something we find exciting and pleasurable like sex, drugs, eating tasty things, or accomplishing something we’re proud of.

Shopping is the EASIEST way to get that dopamine hit. Because all you need to do is pull out your wallet. You didn’t need to struggle by cooking the food, courting a partner, or overcoming hardships to accomplish anything

So when I was buying those Coach purses, I had basically turned into a lab rat with an electrode connecting my brain to a big red button. Every time I pressed that red button, the pleasure-generating part of my brain would light up. And that button was labelled “Buy Now!”

It was AWESOME and so EASY.

By User:Yskyflyer (own work (2 feet from my computer, On my Desk)) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

But what I realized over time that the high was short-lived. Every time I bought a purse, I’d get bored of it after a week, and start looking for another one. The hunt was intoxicating but when I actually bought the purse, I’d quickly get bored of it and need another one. Like a drug addict needing another hit.

At this time, I’d also been writing for a couple of years. The manuscript I’ve been shopping around had been turned down so many times I could build a paper fort with the rejection letters and still have enough leftover for a bonfire.

Unlike the easy high of the purses, trying to find an agent for your first manuscript (or the “query trenches”) was the 9th circle of Hell. Not only was I writing everyday, I also went to as many writing conferences and joined as many online writing groups as I could. But it didn’t seem to be paying off.

At least with the purses, I could get that quick shot of dopamine that I wasn’t getting from writing. Even if that high didn’t last…

But then one day, I got an e-mail that changed everything:

“I just finished reading LITTLE MISS EVIL and I LOVE it!!! I would normally be making a phone/skype call to you at this point however I am in the process of driving across the country with my pets and family so it would probably be a bit chaotic. I would love to offer you representation!”

I had to double-check the ceiling because I was pretty sure there was a FIRECracker-shaped hole up there. I had no idea how I was still sitting. In my mind I’d already shot through the ceiling, broken through the roof and was now rocketing through the stratosphere.

From that point on, I knew what a real “dopamine high” was. From that point on, I quit consuming. I stopped buying purses and returned 4 of the 5 I had. The remaining one I’m STILL trying to sell to this day.

The high I got from writing not only lasted, it kept getting better. The more I created, the more I loved it.

What I learned from this whole experience is that the high we get from consuming is short-lived. Once we get that shot of dopamine into our brain, it quickly fades. And then we need another hit to make us happy. Eventually we just end up drowning in a sea of stuff that doesn’t make us happy, while continuing to chase that elusive long-lasting happiness high.

On the other hand, learning something new and building things is insanely difficult at first. And that’s why so many people give up. They feel frustrated at putting in so much effort without getting any reward. But what’s really happening, what’s completely invisible to them, is that their skills are gradually improving, and with each day that goes by, they are getting closer and closer to that ultimate high. They are getting closer to that coveted feeling of “flow” you get only when you’ve mastered a skill and are using it to create something beautiful.

In my case, I didn’t feel that flow initially, because I was struggling to write for many years. But I forced myself to continue, even when every neuron in my brain screamed at me to stop.

And guess what? It paid off.

Literally.

Instead of throwing money into a dark hole like I did with the purses, we ended up getting PAID when a publisher agreed to publish our book.

One day Wanderer came back from work to find me sitting at the dinning room table, happily hammering away.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“Check out this hardware!” I said. “Isn’t it cool?”

I showed him a picture frame I had just finished putting together. Inside it was our first royalty check.

That framed royalty check STILL makes me happy whenever I look at it.

What this experience has taught me is that consuming gives you easy highs, but creating gives you BETTER highs. Highs that last forever.

So don’t fall for the cheap thrills that consuming gives you. It won’t last. Master a skill and use that to create something beautiful. Your brain (and your wallet) will love you for it.

Note: Shout-out to Chautauqua attendee and reader Brandon for inspiring this post! This is why we love hanging out with our peeps. Hanging out with cool people always shakes loose cool ideas!

50 thoughts on “Confessions of a Former Purse Addict”

  1. I absolutely love this contrast between Consuming vs. Creating and the resulting happiness. You could do a great exercise in self-awareness by categorizing all your activities by either consuming or creating, like a pros and cons list.

    1. That’s why hanging out with FI peeps is the best thing ever. “Creating” always happens, whether you want it to or not. Thanks for inspiring this post!

  2. You dopamine addict you! Here I thought you were this sensible gal who only needed one handbag to keep her sh*t in! 😉

    Yes, I’m teasing. Don’t feel bad. There are far worse addictions to have. Some people have an addiction to luxury travel, cars, food, shoes, and all kinds of other stuff.

    I think you hit-home on something very important — The real ‘high’ comes from accomplishing those BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). Those stick with you.

    I’m working on several right now, and I can totally understand the frustration of putting in a lot of effort with very little return. One day maybe…

    1. “sensible”? HA HA. Insane maybe, but never sensible 😛

      And yes, I’m quite ashamed of my bag addiction and glad I kicked the habit. Can you imagine if I didn’t and had to buy a house to hold so many pointless bags? *shudder*.

      1. I used to keep a lot of gamebooks to the extent of lacking the storage books. It took me a while to get rid of this habit. I adopt the mimimal approach and it has save me a lot of hassle.

        Ben

  3. Haha we all have our weaknesses that we need to try and control, even the most disciplined frugalist gets tempted from time to time. Glad you managed to kick the habit, I wish I could do the same with some things I know I’m wasting money on.

    1. It’s okay to waste money on some things. I still do that from time to time. As long as it’s not a reoccurring cost (like the bags would’ve been), it not a big deal at all. The pointless, never-ending consumerism is what gets you, but once you realize it’s a cheap thrill, it’s much easier to not fall for it.

    1. HA HA, if I hadn’t kicked the bag addiction, I might’ve bought a house to hold all that crap. Glad I dodged that bullet! 🙂

    1. From hoarding hordes of purses to hoarding hordes of ETFs. It’s a good trade 🙂

      Thanks for the typo correction!

    1. Yup. No one is perfect! The trick is to not fall for the trap over the long term. I’m SO glad I kept those Coach receipts.

  4. This used to be me and MAC makeup, years ago. It was a full blown addiction. Everything you described was me to a T.. from watching Youtube videos on people giving makeup tutorials or talking about their makeup “hauls”, etc… Spot on. I gave all that up and I’m much happier without it. I now do my best to focus on creating instead of obsessively consuming crap! Creation is a high unlike any other.

    1. Oh yeah, they had bag “hauls” too…I’d forgotten about those. So many hours wasted. *shakes head*

      Glad you were able to kick the MAC habit! I still buy their black paint pot and purple pigment, but 1 pot and 1 pigment will last me 3-5 years! But, man is it ever easy to fall into that consumerist trap. I have no idea why people need more than one when the quality is good enough to last for years.

      One of the biggest advantages I found from creating, is that there is no urge to go kill time with shopping anymore. It holds zero attraction for me. I’m glad we’re both there now! Hooray for making cool shit!

  5. Great post! I totally agree. I was actually just talking to a friend last night about something similar.I guess you could call it the 4 categories of dopamine supply: creating, consuming, socializing and what I call “doing” (going to events, doing extreme sports, etc.) and how everyone samples from 2 or more categories and depending on if you’re an introvert or an extrovert you will place more value on certain things than others. My mom used to judge me and my spouse pretty harshly because we never went out and did anything. One day she tried to rub it in my face that my brother was always “doing things” like going to concerts, getting scuba certified, going sky diving, etc. Saying some people had bucket lists and actually want to do things before they die. I threw it back in her face and said “yeah, i do too but it doesn’t involve jumping out of a plane, it involves things like volunteering at cat shelters and cutting off my hair and donating it so they can make wigs for sick people” which shut her up because those are both things I had done.

    I agree that the best high is from creating and having your talent/creativity recognized and appreciated. I write songs and there is nothing I love more than playing them for people and sharing the stories that inspired them.

    The way that I get my shopping dopamine fix is art supply shopping. I’ll buy a bunch of supplies and then I use those supplies to create something (which gives me a proper dopamine hit). Just creating is enough for me but recently i did start posting some stuff online so i can start learning how instagram works so later I will know what I’m doing when I create my spouse’s art account and it is pretty exciting to see new followers and likes coming in (the dopamine high that people say is the reason behind social media addiction).

    1. The type of dopamine shot I enjoy the most (by far) is watching my bank/savings/investment account balances go up. Which category is that?

      1. technically it would be consumption, i’d compare it to passively playing a game like checking your sales on the warcraft auction house or collecting things in those social media games except much more rewarding.

      2. I would consider that creating, because you’re creating wealthy for yourself by increasing your ‘Stash and getting them to work harder than you do.

    2. Preach it, woman! Absolutely agree that not everyone has to go out and “DO” extroverted things to be happy. I’m am ambivert so I’m happy either way. Sometimes I get bored staying in and need to go meet people. Other times, when I’ve had to be “on” for too long, and I need to go back to the airBnb and just write or watch a movie. So I can totally understand where you’re coming from.

      Good for you for donating your hair and volunteering at cat shelters, you awesome person you!

  6. I encourage everyone and anyone that is coming to this conclusion to check out “Minimalism: A Documentary” on Netflix, and maybe, play the 30 day minimalism game

    http://www.theminimalists.com/game/

    I’m in no way involved with these guys, but it really helped cement a part of my life I knew existed but ignored. FC, you recommended “Your Money Or Your Life” which, after reading it with your recommendation had me realize I USED to be like that (growing up in a small military sized bedroom having very little), but somehow got away from it and chalked it up to just having an accelerated OCD. Your Money or your life + Minimalism documentary & a passing of a relative who lived an amazing life had me realize stuff is mostly meaningless. Mostly…not totally 🙂 Consumption is ok, it’s compulsory consumption and “filling voids” is the issue.

    Sorry for rambling, but your post was perfectly timed 🙂 Great read, once again. Keep up the great work you two.

    1. Minimalism has intrigued me of late, being a frugal person, but that documentary totally sucked, sorry to say it. It seemed to completely miss the point of HOW to become a minimalist, WHY people should be more minimalist and WHAT the benefits of minimalism are.

      I turned off after 30 minutes of watching two guys going around the US trying to sell their book while demanding hugs from everyone they meet, without ever actually talking about minimalism in any sort of informative way. All they yammered on about was how society uses up too many resources and how damaging consumerism is. Great?

      I’m sure minimalism is an interesting topic to anybody who is frugal, but this documentary really missed the boat.

      1. Hey to each their own 🙂

        But there really is no “archetype” for minimalism and they say that in the beginning, about how it’s a recipe and use parts of what work for you. The two guys are only a small part of the doc, lots of interesting interviews.

        They do try to sell a book because they aren’t allergic to money 😉 but for the record they usually give a lot away st their shows. I’m going to see them on 9/21 so I can report back

        But again to each their own, sorry you didn’t get much out of it

      2. I think this might be because they talk about all the philosophies behind minimalism on their blog already. A lot their essays about “why” and “how” are extremely well written, but I don’t think it would translate well to the screen. That’s why some books are great as books, but flop as movies.

        So maybe for someone like me, who’d read articles form their blog, ended up getting more out of the movie because I already read a lot of their concepts so this was more of a big picture movie about the backstory of the 2 guys, rather than the strategies and the philosophies they already wrote about on their blog.

        I think for “how to become a minimalist”, a book would be a better format than the movie.

        1. I agree with that. A lot of their essays wouldn’t transfer to screen. I remember in one of their podcasts they said they had a “film festival” version of their documentary which got trimmed down into what we have now on Netflix, i’m assuming your statement is the reason why.

          I got a lot out of the movie because it had a lot of different perspectives. I didnt really connect with the 2 guys (Josh & Ryan) until after I watched the documentary and read one of their books (for free, from a library, less clutter! lol). When I first watched it, I thought the same thing, that they’re trying to hustle and sell books 🙂 But as I read more, watched more, it was more about the message then the revenue.

          Though I don’t know why people hate on them for selling books. They aren’t allergic to money, none of us are. Its the need for the things it buys that separates. They still follow their own advice about not over consuming, being intentional with your time and resources

        2. Probably true that most of the good stuff doesn’t translate too well into movies, seems a bit odd to make a Netflix movie so niche that their target market is only people already well informed about minimalism though. YouTube might be a more appropriate host if that’s the approach they were taking.

          I can only imagine how rousing a movie about financial freedom would be…

    2. Saw that documentary! Loved it!

      “Consumption is ok, it’s compulsory consumption and “filling voids” is the issue.” -> This says it all 🙂

  7. Love the reference to flow. We’re hardwired to seek pleasure, sure. But we don’t have to go the route of cheap, easy, and routine. We can go for the far-off-but-better satisfaction that only comes from finding a purpose and honing your skills to that calling.

    Still, I’ll admit that I like buying Mrs. Done by Forty bags. It is my blindspot, and every international trip, I’m there convincing her that she should come home with a new purse or two.

    1. *tsk tsk tsk * such a bad influence 😛 Mrs. DbF must have willpower of steel to not drown in a sea of purses.

      Honestly though, buying shit every now and then isn’t a bad thing. It’s using buying to generate highs and needing more and more that’s the problem. You’re clearly not in that category.

  8. I so get this. I have struggled with the male version of this, and still do to a certain extent.

    Apparently, I like to collect things. When I was young, it was diecast cars. Then it was automobile literature. Then I moved on to old brewery advertising. I found the history of these things very interesting and spent a lot of time researching and, unfortunately, buying things. I got my dopamine hits via the thrill of the hunt.

    I never allowed it to be a burden financially. However, when I finally started developing more of a FI mindset in recent years, I began to view my collecting habits as pretty strange. I mean, think about it. We call collecting a hobby, but isn’t really just a form of hoarding to a greater or lesser extent? We obtain things for the sole purpose of obtaining them. Then we just stick them in a display case or, worse, boxes to be stored away.

    I came to the conclusion that all I really need to do is occupy my time outside of work with more productive pursuits which are currently finance(duh), biking, bike repair, and rekindling my relationship with my guitar. This has definitely helped to reduce my collecting habit, however, I still feel that urge from time to time if we happen to be at a yard sale or some place with cool old stuff to look through.

    Fortunately for me, I was able to turn those collectibles into cash when I decided to sell and did pretty well. In the end I didn’t lose much of anything, except all the time it took to hunt all that stuff down. I’ve developed a good eye for things over the years and actually do pretty well flipping things on ebay and craigslist these days. So now, when I do buy “Collectibles”, its mostly with a business mindset… at least that is what I tell myself 😉

    Thanks for the opportunity to get that off my chest. I’ve been thinking about writing on the topic for a while to see if anyone else out there can identify. Great post!

    1. The love of collecting things is interesting. It makes me think you like doing that because it’s a goal, and you have milestones along the way to achieve that goal. That’s why it feels productive. Also, when you turn it into a business, instead of just hoarding and accumulating for the sake of hoarding, you end up flipping it from consumption to creation.

      Thanks for sharing your story!

  9. Used to be me with clothes. And I actually felt it was an “artistic” thing to buy and have and match lots of clothes every day lol. Also, my tastes change quite quickly so I ended up throwing away lots of them at the end of the year. Fortunately things have changed A LOT in the past two years. I use my money to buy just essential stuff and focus my time and energy to make my dreams come true. Hard work but it will surely pay off!

    1. Glad you were able to kick your clothing habit! Focusing your time and energy on making your dreams come true will definitely pay off. Keep going!

  10. The struggle is real with this addiction cycle. I have gone through the same thing with tools for my hobbies. It is easy to chastise a loved one for buying purses or things that we don’t find “useful”, especially when we can justify our binge purchases on “useful” things. Thank you for spilling the beans on your skeletons. Great lesson to be learned here.

    1. Tools for hobbies is another area where it’s easy to fall into the consumerist trap. When I first started to write, I kept thinking I needed nice Moleskine notebooks, fancy pens, writing software (like Scrivener), etc etc. Then I realized, NO, I’m just stalling and trying to “buy” my way into being a good writer. None of that stuff helps. The only thing that helps is WRITING and EDITING. I didn’t need any of that stuff. Just my existing computer and the discipline to park my ass down into the computer chair and write for hours. It’s hard but worth it in the end.

  11. That’s must be pretty awesome with the framed royalty check. Since I started blogging and vlogging a few months ago, I have been enjoying every seconds of it. I must admit that it gets hard from time to time, but really without the passion, it wouldn’t last. And that’s a completely different joy than materialistic consumptions.

    1. Glad, you’re enjoying blogging and vlogging, Mao! You’re absolutely right about needing the passion behind it for it to last. It’s hard to keep working on something you don’t enjoy. That being said, part of enjoyment is skill. It’s hard to have passion right away when it’s something you’re not skilled at yet. But if you want it bad enough, you will push past the pain, get good enough, and realize the ultimate joy from creating.

  12. (and no, it’s not hot naked lesbian orgies…..)

    Kinda got stuck right there for a while ;-D

    Once I composed myself, another great article was digested. My prior vices were guns and wine (fortunately, not at the same time). Sold off some guns and kept (for me) the practical ones. Now, I enjoy modestly priced wine and keep the wine fridge inventory for guests and special occasions (heck, I suppose guns could be for some guests or special occasions as well).

    Once again, a great story!

    1. Wander got stuck there too when he was editing this post 🙂

      We can relate to the guns. Went to shooting ranges in Las Vegas and DC back when we were vacationing, and it was super fun. But definitely don’t need an entire collection to enjoy it.

      Glad you’re keeping just the practical ones and having modestly-price wine now. Good work!

  13. I’ve been reading your blog for months, and it’s about time that I commented! I’m a Gen X gal who is learning so much from the two of you. Thank you, Firecracker, for your sharp wit and insight. This was a great post.

  14. Great post and timely for me.

    I do own a Coach purse. I decided to purchase it from an outlet as my one and only designer purse (simple, basic, black). I absolutely love it. I feel special every time I use it but I think it’s because I have a single one to enjoy.

    The moment we have more than one of anything, it dilutes how special the original is to us. It’s as though we’re trying to recreate or enhance the feeling by getting more, but it never works. Sure, there’s a rush, but it will never be able to replace that first and most important purchase.

    I’m pleased to hear you’re beyond Coach’s influence. Yes, creating is SO much more rewarding and no one can create as we can because there’s only one of us. 😉

    1. I think that it’a good idea to keep the possession to one. However, I prefer to keep to the bare minimum – none. It eliminates the storage space.

      Ben

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