Non-Buyer’s Remorse: All the Things We Didn’t Buy and Now Regret

The way we think about the ones that got away.


A closet hung with the ghosts of things we didn’t purchase. | Main image

Someone in the Philly area owns a blue and white ceramic elephant that looks just like this. It’s part of a pair of matching elephants, both of which were recently for sale at a Pottstown thrift store, $20 apiece. I know this because my coworker Sandy bought the other one.

She didn’t buy the pair of them because, well, how many ceramic elephants does one really need, and also her husband Doug probably would have killed her if she came home with two. Once home, though, she regretted it: If a matching pair of anything is available, why would you only buy one?

“Because I am an idiot,” Sandy said. “I went back the next day. Of course, it was gone.”

The lost elephant. Another item buried in the collective graveyard of Purchases We Did Not Buy and Now Deeply Regret. 

“Yes,” wrote a colleague, instantly, when I asked her on Slack whether she’d ever regretted not buying something. “An MM6 dress.* It went on sale at Shopbop and I didn’t buy it because it was French sizing and final sale.” And now?, I asked, thinking maybe her pining had cooled. There was the slightest pause, and then she typed back:

“It inhabits my dreams.”

Another friend, similar story, hers a pair of slouchy forest-green suede Céline boots. “They were on sale for $200 from, like, $899. I couldn’t rationalize it at the time, but looking back I should have freaking done it because they were perfection.” Hindsight, a sneering beast. 

Experts warn against impulse shopping. It’s how you wind up with closetfuls of stuff you never wear, or a basement of weird decorative things you don’t even really like. But I’d argue that sometimes this sort of shopping is necessary, because what is truer than an impulse? A sudden burst of longing for something before you second-guess yourself: Is this too tight? Too short? Can I really pull this off? Should I? 

I mourn the loss of a pink shrimp purse. It was wildly expensive for a crustacean-shaped clutch – something close to $500 – and, like Sandy with her elephant, I had visions of my husband killing me if I dared walk through the door with it. I visited the shrimp online for awhile until it sold out; the only versions now available are black, white and gold, all perfection but not pink, as I think a shrimp purse should really be.

A friend of mine, also an Emily, had a near-miss with a black leather moto jacket at Madewell. She debated buying it for months, unsure as to whether she could come to terms with spending so much money on a piece of clothing. (We share a name, but not shopping habits.) She held off, but talked about it once in a while, the way you talk about a long-lost love, or a dead pet.

“It was almost $500 and I don’t spend $500 on anything ever, but then for that whole year I thought about how if I were to spend $500 on it, it would be an investment in really good quality as opposed to my normal cheap-o route where I will spend $70 on a knockoff that will either fall apart or isn’t quite what I wanted, so I will hate it in a year.” Her husband bought it for her as a birthday gift, the black leather moto jacket now the one that didn’t get away.

Having missed connections with things, not people, is far more common than you might think. In fact, Paris-based e-commerce site Vestiaire Collective just launched ‘The One That Got Away,’ a platform on which users can post an item they wish they’d bought, so that an entire fashion community can help source it and facilitate a reconnection. It’s the romantic-comedy treatment for stuff!

But some purchases we don’t make are probably for the best. As one friends puts it: “Purchases I’m So Glad I Didn’t Buy: Michael Kors watch, Ugg boots, Beats by Dre.” You know how the old saying goes: If you love something, set it free … 

Still, though, I am considering posting my pink shrimp on that site. You know, just in case.

*This is the MM6 dress, in case you’re wondering.