My Fellow Amazon Prime Members — Earth to Us, It’s Time to Detox

I quit online shopping cold turkey for 30 days and here’s what I learned

Elizabeth Crane Fleming
Jul 31 · 4 min read
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

I know you. At this very moment, you have an Amazon box on your doorstep, or in a delivery truck, or in-process at a fulfillment center near you or more likely, all the above.

I know you because I’m one of you and have been mainlining books into my mailbox since Jeff’s garage.

Now there are over 200 million of us. Since we all retreated to our houses in March 2020, online shopping is an even more essential part of our coping toolkit, along with drinking, lounge wear and puppies. Buy Now has become a reflex. We do this during Zoom meetings, from the car while driving, and on the toilet.

As I’m sure you heard, unless you’ve been in orbit, Jeff appreciates us. For making his space dreams come true. We’ve also been helping him make his other dreams come true. He built the Spheres as part of Amazon’s $4 billion campus and now he has the rocket to go with his balls. He’s building a $42 million 10,000-year clock in a 500-foot-deep vertical shaft on his property in Texas. He even tells us on the website 10000yearclock.net that “It’s a special Clock, designed to be a symbol, an icon for long-term thinking.” And in addition to future thinking stuff, there’s the $200 million worth of today’s Courage and Civility he just gave to some cool celebrities. I feel better, don’t you?

But Jeff’s spending habits aren’t the problem. It’s us. In 2019, I ordered 84 items. In 2020, that number jumped to 146, a 74% increase. My husband, Paul, recently turned to me while reading in bed and asked: Could we please stop having cardboard boxes show up at the door every day? I put on my neutral face while mentally building my case against this idea. But Paul so rarely gets what he wants, especially in bed, that I agreed.

All you have to do to quit Priming is don’t buy anything new except food and essentials (see note below on essentials) for 30 days. I suggest making note of what you wanted to order but didn’t. The first day will be the most difficult, you’ll probably want something about once every hour. But contrary to what some might tell you, not Every Day is Day 1. After suffering through some night sweats (well, ok not really, but I was in my sweats during this difficult time), I felt Amazon’s tentacles start to lose their grip on me. I started online yoga. I found small relief in not having to break down yet another cardboard box and fit it in to the recycling. My relationship with my kids changed from me as supplier to me as someone-who-would-play-a-game-we-already-own with them.

You may flirt with a purchase or two. For me, this meant browsing Etsy and eBay and bargaining with a vintage pottery dealer. You may also need to purchase something essential at an actual store, like a toothbrush. Not to worry — this will enlighten you. You’ll realize that online shopping has hidden from sight the crappy working conditions and low pay of retail jobs and that is part of why you like it better. And when you look over the list of stuff you didn’t buy, you’ll be relieved not to own most of it, like another dog bed or bird puzzle.

If you try this at home, and I really hope you do, your mind will try and justify some purchasing. Based on my experience, the stories you tell yourself boil down to these:

1. “It’s for the children.” If you have children or know any, this is one of the most powerful rationales out there. You think you’re doing something nice by purchasing that Lego set but really, you’re just training children to be an addict like you when they grow up.

2. “It’s about to sell out!” Why do you think online retailers bother to tell us that there are only one or two items remaining but don’t mention when there are thousands available? Our Neanderthal brains get really worried when there’s just a few of something left.

3. “I’m planning ahead.” I almost bought myself a set of nesting penguin dolls (one of a kind, on sale) because I would love to have my family give them to me for my birthday. This one can also be known as “I’m doing my family a favor.”

4. “It’s essential.” Ask yourself, is it really? Do you really need that book, or could you get it from the library? Do you really need new plastic glassware for the patio, or could you find some at Goodwill?

Here’s what I’m suggesting. We’re hooked on the dopamine rush every time we scroll a search results page or click check out. Let’s just step away for a sec from what feels good in the moment and try some long-term thinking, you know? We need to stop fulfilling Jeff’s boyhood fantasies. We’ve bought a ton of stuff we don’t need and have literally sent our money in to space. And who knows where it will go next? Amazon has not only become the world’s dominant player in online retail, AI assistance and cloud services, but also moved in on entertainment, grocery, prescription drugs, home security and health care. Not to mention, our purchasing helped burn through 140 million barrels oil last year — Amazon’s carbon emissions are growing too, up 19% in 2020 to over 60 million metric tons of CO2. And we’re ok with this, all in exchange for a quick thwap of a box hitting our front door.

Hi, my name is Elizabeth, and I’m an Amazon-aholic. I haven’t shopped online in 60 days. (Ok, last week I bought some stuff. But it was for the children.)

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