How To Quit Hauls – For Good!

Curbing our addiction to packages stacking up on our doorstep.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch / Pexels

Anyone who grew up or lives in rural Ireland knows about ‘going shopping’. Not grabbing groceries, not buying essentials, no, ‘going shopping’ is a distinct experience. Back in the day, it involved the whole family stuffing into the car, and travelling to the closest urban area. Once there, it was sweet freedom, as you escaped from the cramped car, and headed straight into the shops, basking in all the glory brightly lit department shops had to offer. Eventually, you’d return to the car with arms full of paper bags, then it was back home.

Once you’d returned to the house, it was time to unpack, showing off your purchases and raving about the good deals, knowing that it would be months before you’d be back. They were the OG hauls that have become so popular today.   

While shopping trips are still beloved, we have much more variety nowadays. Online shopping has opened up a world of possibilities, but also a world of waste. The massive purchases of shopping trips only occurred every once in a while, giving you plenty of time to use up your new makeup or haircare and wear all your fab new outfits. 

But as shopping entered the digital age, suddenly items and brands that were harder to come by could now arrive on your doorstep with the tap of a screen. Distance proved to be a powerful impulse control, but as it became less relevant, hauls became much more frequent.     

What used to be a boot full of paper bags, is now a doorstep stacked with parcels, and those packages are arriving on a near-constant basis for a lot of shoppers. Modern-day shopping habits aren’t good for the planet, or our bank accounts, with over-production significantly contributing to pollution and high emissions. Still, they have become a core part of the new shopping habits. While hauls aren’t new, the way we’re buying is, and it has been designed to make us buy more.  

Online shops, just like brick-and-mortar locations, have various tricks to get us buying more, but online versions are very effective. Offers like free delivery if we spend a certain amount, encourage shoppers to add more to their cart. Websites can also inform us when an item is “almost sold out” creating a sense of urgency. While presentation online is much more tempting as a fully styled item being worn is much more appealing than a dress hanging off a rack. But one of their most powerful tactics is open return policies.      

As Damian O’Reilly, Senior Lecturer in Retail Management at TU Dublin explained: “People are buying three or four items, keeping one and sending the other two or three back.” Which creates a shocking amount of waste as “50% of that is not reusable. So basically it comes back and it’s maybe slightly damaged or it’s got a stain on it. The cost of removing…is going to cost more than the money that you make. You’re talking about stuff that’s not recyclable, then basically goes to landfill.”  

Photo by Sam Lion / Pexels

Our love of buying in bulk is actually down to our biology. Having you ever felt devilishly excited while waiting for a parcel? Checking its location way more often than is needed? Thinking about the items you’ve bought and what they’ll be like IRL? Well, that’s because you’re in the midst of a dopamine rush.  

Dopamine plays an important part in our brain function, as a part of the body’s motivational process, creating positive feelings to encourage certain behaviours. So a pretty powerful thing, huh? Dopamine has been proven to release when we shop, but interestingly it can be even stronger for online shopping. Research from Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University suggests that dopamine rushes don’t begin when we receive a reward, but when we are anticipating one. So while in-store shopping can provide a positive mood boost, online shopping can create a longer-lasting dopamine hit as we anticipate our purchases.   

Adding to our ever-increasing world of constant shopping is social media. Hauls went from a casual occurrence to a constant on our screens. And their success made sense, watching haul videos can feel like a catch-up with friends, like the end of a shopping trip, chatting about the day, and trying on all your new clothes and makeup together, creating a network and a sense of community. But while seeing those beloved shopping bags being held up on screen can evoke plenty of positive feelings, they also make us want to buy.

“Social media stimulates the need that’s probably not there. Academic research will show us that impulse purchases are increased through social media, through blogs to influencers, so people see it and then they buy instantaneously, the link is always there to bring you to the website, to buy the product,” Damian explained.  

But avoiding content that leaves you itching for a spending spree is easier said than done, after all the online world is hard to avoid, and randomised algorithms can take away some of the control over what content you see. However, a digital detox might not be necessary. While online content can influence what we buy, it also plays a part in what we don’t buy, and if used right can make you one savvy consumer. Paying attention to reviews and opinions on products can stop you from buying something that isn’t right, saving plenty of abandoned half-used shampoo bottles and bad quality clothes, never to be worn.

Apps like The Beauty Buddy, an Irish business that provides reviews for products, and trusted influencers can steer you away from buying-and-trying, but it’s still important to keep tabs on your shopping impulses while engaging with social media and adjusting accordingly. There are other steps you can take as well, like implementing a no-buy-till-finished rule, where you avoid purchasing products like makeup and skincare until you’ve emptied the ones you have.

There are plenty of outside factors influencing our shopping, so buying less can be a big challenge. But understanding the powers at play can help you make more conscious decisions, and cut back on your purchasing.      

This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of STELLAR magazine.