I’ve changed the way I shop over the past few years. And although the shift has been subtle, I’ve found that I’m much happier with the things I buy.

If the thneed I wanted was particularly expensive or important, I might expand my search to multiple stores or multiple websites. But usually, I stuck with the first store I visited.

The key point here is that I allowed the places I shopped to impose limits on the thneeds available to me. I think of this approach as “store-centered shopping”. Whatever the store has in stock defines my universe of options.

Now that I’m older, I’ve flipped the script. Instead of allowing the marketplace to define which thneeds are available to me, I decide exactly what I want before I begin my search. I put myself and my needs first. Once I know what I want, I take the time to locate it. What I want is almost always out there somewhere — if I’m patient enough to track it down.

I think of this approach “self-centered shopping”. I’m putting me first, and that’s a Good Thing. In fact, that’s an Excellent Thing! This method consistently leads to greater satisfaction with the things I buy. Instead of picking up cheap, mass-market thneeds, I’m buying thneeds that feel as if they were specifically made for me.

Let me give you a concrete example.

Every five years or so, I need to replace my wallet. The old one wears out (or gets lost), so I buy a new one.

The way this has always worked for me is simple. My wallet falls apart (or turns up missing), so I head to a nearby department store to look at their selection. I browse the wallets on display, pick the one I like best, then buy it. It becomes my wallet for the next five years.

This is how I’ve always bought wallets since my very first one. I’ve been doing it for more than thirty years.

In 2019, I noticed my wallet was beginning to fall apart again. “Time to buy another,” I thought to myself, and I realized I was dreading the experience. Just as always, I’d go to the store and choose from a wide selection of sameness. But here’s the thing: I don’t like most wallets. They work for other people, but they don’t work for me.

I’m not George Costanza. I don’t carry a lot, and I certainly don’t pack much cash. I just need something that fits in my pocket and allows me access to a few cards. I don’t want bulk, and I don’t need leather. I wanted to buy a wallet that worked the way I worked.

I made a list of the things I wanted in a wallet. I wanted:

With these parameters in mind, I scouted Amazon. I checked REI. I visited other stores and sites. I found plenty of minimalist wallets – including lots of Secrid knock-offs — but nothing that met my needs.

My wallet story is a simple example that illustrates my new approach: self-centered shopping. I used to allow stores to define my universe of options, which meant that I rarely bought the thneed I actually wanted. I simply bought the closest thing available to my ideal.

Today, I’m fussier. I’ve learned to take the time to think through what it is I truly want in a thneed before I buy one. I quite literally take out an index card and make a list of requirements so that I don’t forget something important while I’m shopping.

I feel like self-centered shopping is one of those things that some people will consider blindingly obvious: “Of course that’s how you should buy things! Why would you do otherwise?” But for me, this is a new concept.

Today, though, I’m older, which means I’m more patient. I have more money than I did when I was younger. And, most importantly, the internet exists. When I want a thneed, I’m not limited to the stock on hand at the pharmacy and department store. Without exaggeration, I can buy any thneed in the world…if I can find it. And that’s why I start by defining exactly what it is I want before I begin my search.

There’s been an interesting side effect to this self-centered shopping. It’s made me very loyal to specific products from specific companies. When I find something I like, I buy it again and again and again. When it’s time to replace my wallet, for instance, I’ll buy the exact same wallet from Tom Bihn.

I’ve been wearing these boots almost daily for fifteen years, much to Kim’s chagrin. I’ll be sad if they’re ever discontinued.

So, my old shopping process was: Realize I need a new thneed, go to the store (or website), and buy the best match.

My new self-centered shopping process is:

Looking around my writing desk this morning, I see that most of the things I use every day have now been acquired through self-centered shopping. Here are a few of the tools I bought by searching for exactly what I wanted. These are tools that I buy (or plan to buy) repeatedly because they’re perfect for me.

Actually, my desk itself was bought my self-centered shopping method. I’d been using a $90 IKEA desk for more than a decade, but it was woefully inefficient. And messy. I hated it. When we moved to Corvallis last year, I took the time to figure out what my “dream desk” would look like. Then I spent a couple of weeks shopping online and off to locate a match. I eventually found an excellent L-shaped traditional desk at a local furniture store, and that’s what I’m using today.

There are still a few tools at my desk that I acquired with my old “buy whatever the store has” method: my microphone, my second monitor (so awful!), my pencil sharpener. But you know what? These things work just fine. I’m in no rush to replace them. When I do replace them someday, I’ll use my self-centered shopping method.

Here’s another reason I think self-centered shopping works so well for me.

With self-centered shopping, though, I don’t have a lot of options. Often, it’s a struggle to find even one perfect match. This means that I can search until I find one product that fits my criteria, then call it a day. I’m not overwhelmed, and I don’t experience the regret that usually comes when you have too many options.