The Age of Online Shopping and Its Impact as Clutter
The popularity of online shopping platforms has contributed greatly to the global market. A 2021 survey saw Amazon as the biggest online shopping platform in the world, with a market capitalization of nearly USD 1.735 billion, due to the platform’s reliable and easy access on a domestic and international level. On the national level, for example in Indonesia, local e-commerce platforms such as Tokopedia and Shopee are also thriving.
In light of COVID-19, social distancing protocols have been implemented by limiting access to public facilities, including malls and other offline marketplaces, driving people to online shopping. In Indonesia alone, it was found that online shopping habits among Indonesians during the second quarter of 2020 had increased around 18% compared to the previous year. While such a habit is continuously becoming a part of the economy to provide consumers with comfort and convenience, the question is how much of it will affect their living environment and end up as clutter?
Problems with online shopping
Prior study has shown that impulsive buying is among the negative aspects of online shopping. Shoppers may feel addicted to the process of shopping and experience constant cravings but tend to neglect the consequences of it. Several factors that may stimulate underlying this behavior are as follows:
- Tailored advertisements
Have you ever noticed that every time you browse the internet, there is always a pop-up advertisement showing an item that speaks to your interests even though you are not specifically searching for it at the moment? Does it make you wonder if the internet is reading your mind? Actually, the interconnectedness within the internet enables algorithms to read your preferences across platforms and predict content that you may be interested in.
For instance, if you just finished looking for a new backpack on Amazon then move to check your Instagram account, you may see backpack advertisements showing on the homepage. This is an intuitive way to help consumers in finding exactly what they need. However, the downside is that it could also induce more cravings as you are exposed to diverse options that may leave you wanting to purchase only one model of the same item.
- Seasonal sales and promotions
Discounted prices have become the main attraction of online marketplaces. In the case of Indonesia, it is very common for online shopping platforms to offer big discounts and special promotions on certain dates of the month like holiday sales. You can get a branded product for as much as 75% discount for selected items — a temptation for most consumers. The sale usually starts at midnight, but this does not stop people who still make time to toss their luck and race to get the items they desire with the cheapest deal.
This phenomenon continues to shape a mindset of pseudo-scarcity. Even though the products are always in stock, consumers may have a mindset that big sales will not come twice. This motivates consumers to buy more regardless of whether they actually need it or not, which eventually ends up as clutter.
- Fear of missing out
A 2020 survey among Indonesian online shoppers found that 70% of respondents saw reviews made by other customers as very beneficial in helping them choose the best products to buy. This complements the perception that online shoppers rely much on product reviews, especially for products on beauty and cosmetics wherein the market is heavily determined by the customer’s experience and opinion on the internet. The role of social media influencers and celebrities in advertising these products also adds to the public’s curiosity.
This leads some to experience a fear of missing out if they do not participate in the trend despite the possibility of some products not being suitable for them. Hence, some purchases made for the sake of keeping up with a certain trend may end up as clutter. These products may overfill your drawers and expire before you even get a chance to use them.
- Online ‘retail therapy’
Online shopping provides the comfort of purchasing items with the convenience of being a click away from having items delivered right to your doorstep. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, this habit is used as a way to cope with the limitation and emotional charges resulting from the obligation to always stay indoors. People filled up their homes with items they bought online until they realized that it was not an effective way to bring pleasure; as a result, these items turned into clutter that overran their living space, regardless of the size of their home.
Aside from accumulating unnecessary items, boxes used to ship items may also end up as clutter. Think about the time when you receive a big package for one small item. Oftentimes, a product can come in a box that is three times bigger than the item you purchased. Due to this, you might find yourself with a house overflowing with boxes that you do not need and add more stress than you originally had.
Managing clutter from online shopping
Excessive purchases resulting from uncontrolled online shopping habits potentially threaten your home with clutter, especially if you do not take immediate action to make a change of habit. While clutter is often considered trivial, it has some serious side effects that some may not realize, such as reducing one’s wellbeing. Here are several ways to combat the clutter problem as a consequence of online shopping:
- Stick to a shopping list and a budget
It sounds cliche, but developing a straightforward shopping list and budget is highly effective to keep you on your toes. Having a list you can regularly monitor will help you to avoid overspending while identifying the items that you can actually afford. There are a lot of mobile apps that can offer such functionality; some are even designed specifically for groceries, clothes, electronics, and so on.
Apart from that, decide how much you are going to allocate for your daily, weekly, and monthly spending and commit to it. Prioritize your expense for daily needs over temporary cravings. You can also set a separate bank account for non-essential purchases to help you stay on budget.
- Create an interval between purchases
An alternative to holding yourself accountable for your purchase is making a fixed interval from the current purchase to the next one. By applying shopping intervals, you can also get a sense of what is essential to you and what you simply want. You can adapt a 3, 7, 14, or 30-day interval, depending on your needs. You can also utilize a reminder app on your phone to make sure you will not forget the last time you ordered something online.
- Consider the availability of space in your house
It is important to analyze the current state of your living space before deciding to make a new purchase. In order to avoid impulsive buying, ask yourself these questions:
1. Where are you going to place it?
2. Do you have adequate space to store it?
3. Do you already have similar items that you can continue to use instead?
4. What would you do with items you already have if you buy a new one?
You might be interested in certain products, but not necessarily need them. If you cannot pinpoint a clear purpose for buying them, it is better to not go for it.
- Implement the ‘One In One Out’ rule
The emphasis on this rule is exchanging an old item for a new one. If there is a desire to acquire a new item, a similar item from the house must be discarded. According to Francine Jay, author of The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify, this is when the rule has the most impact. Letting go is extremely beneficial when decluttering to prevent you from bringing in more items that might become clutter in your home.
An example would be that for every new purchase of a t-shirt, an old t-shirt must go. You may also want to pay attention to the ratio between related categories of items such as having more shirts than pants. One good option is discarding an old shirt when buying a new pair of pants. In this way, releasing your belongings will also allow you to discover the items that you genuinely cherish.
- Recycle or upcycle shipping boxes
Diverse options could be taken to process unused shipping boxes at home. One simple way is to break down or flatten cardboard boxes and put them in the recycle bin to be processed further. Do not forget to remove your personal details, such as your full name, home address, and phone number on the box to avoid others from using your information for unauthorized purposes.
Another alternative would be to reuse these boxes to store your clutter. For example, you can put clothes and books you want to donate or sell in those boxes. In this way, you also get to save money from buying a new container.
Mindful shopping habits are necessary to be developed as a preventive measure from unnecessarily shopping online and adding clutter. Buying items may give you temporary pleasure, but consider its impact on your living space. By raising awareness for yourself and those around you, you can build precautions to avoid clutter from online shopping in your home.