One Small Change: Putting Things Back

Abby Norman (at Accidental Devotional) seems like the kind of person I’d be Mama friends with in real life if we lived closer. She’s a beautiful writer with a graceful take on life. Enjoy her brilliant One Small Change post here…which is completely relatable and packed full of wisdom, particularly for all of us who find ourselves in Target at least once a week. 

vintage shopping ad

At the end of every shopping trip, after I have checked my list and made sure I didn’t forget anything, and before I see if our favorite cashier is working, I look in my cart to see what I can put back.

I’ve never gotten through the process without humbling wheeling my buggy down a previously walked aisle and carefully placing whatever it is back where I found it. I worked retail too many years to just abandon things all over the store, however tempting it may be.

I’m not sure when I started putting things back. Maybe it was when my husband and I started actively tracking our purchases and I discovered I was spending a few hundred bucks every month on things that were “just ten dollars.” Maybe it was when I read that store clerks were being given roving check out devices to give shoppers less time to change their minds. It occurred to me then that when I put something in my cart I feel somehow obligated to buy it. Maybe those things collided in my brain one day while I was in line at the Target, but now I do it everywhere. I put stuff back.

As I learn about ethical spending, there is one thing everyone seems to be able to agree on: the most ethical way to spend my money is to buy less stuff. If I don’t really need it, and I don’t really want it, I shouldn’t buy it. So, when I find things in my cart or basket that I don’t really need or even really want, I am learning to put them back.

It is a humbling experience, following my tracks, placing the skirt, the nail polish, the fancy salsa back onto the rack or shelf. I feel like everyone is looking at me. Sometimes I already feel a loss, I already feel like that thing belongs to me. It seems my spending is linked very much to my feelings. The putting back has allowed me to better understand the feelings behind the purchases I make.

putting things back

I over buy when I am overwhelmed. If I can’t decide between the various colors I get two or three or four. The thought of choosing wrong can paralyze me, so I don’t choose at all. I especially over buy if I am choosing for someone else. Instead of three kinds of cheese for the cheese plate, I get seven. I don’t want to choose wrong, so I don’t. Often I am overwhelmed because I am equating what I buy with who I am. I want to be the perfect host, the trend setter. I am believing the lie that if I don’t get it all right, people won’t love me.

I over buy when I am afraid there is not enough. I put things in my cart that I don’t need or particularly want because they are on sale. Buy one thing I don’t really want and get another one free! How can I resist that? This shower gel that I have never tried is being discontinued? I better buy two! I am afraid that somehow if I don’t get it now, at that price then I will never be able to. When I ask myself if I really need or really want it, I find I am afraid of missing out on stuff I don’t even want.

I over buy to make myself feel better about things that have nothing to do with what I am buying. If my children are having a hard day and I am feeling like everyone is judging me as that mom, the one who cannot control her children, lipstick, candy, a bottle of wine go into the cart. If I am feeling frayed at the edges, like there is simply too much for me to do, t-shirts, a pretty dress, a new pair of shoes. I work hard, I deserve it. When I am lonely, I hit the house-goods. I want my home to be ready for those friends I wish I were hanging out with. The stuff never makes me feel better. It just makes me feel like I over spent.

Putting things back has become not only a way for me to spend less, but a way for me to fight back against the lies that the world is trying to sell me.

So, if you see a lady with two small daughters dropping three bottles of nail polish into her cart, and twenty minutes later sheepishly putting two back, don’t mind her. She is learning to put stuff back, to buy the truth instead.


abby normanAbby Norman lives, and loves in the city of Atlanta. She lives with her two hilarious children and a husband that doubles as her biggest fan. When not mothering, teaching, parenting or wifeing, she blogs at

She is a lover of all kinds of Girl Scout cookies and carries a book about teaching in her heart. Abby loves to make up words and is excited by the idea that Miriam Webster says you can verb things.

24 thoughts on “One Small Change: Putting Things Back

  1. What a fantastic piece of advice! I’ve never heard anyone say this before and yet it makes such sense.

    Since being a stay at home mum I have started watching my spending more closely and I have occasionally kept those ‘extra’ grocery items until last at the checkouts while keeping a close eye on the total. If I’ve gone over my budget I have simply apologised to the sales assistant and asked if I could leave these items behind. There have, however, been many more times that I should have done this but have become distracted by my kids or worried about holding up the queue or just straight out embarrassed. Then there are the times when I’ve been within my budget but still shouldn’t have bought the extra items because I’ve really not needed them.

    You’re strategy is a much better one and as tomorrow is my scheduled shopping day I shall start a new habit immediately.

  2. abby, you are so awesome. i just recently read that target designs its doors to open veeeery slowly, forcing the shopper to walk less quickly, which causes them look at more stuff, and put it in their cart, and buy it. SO TERRIFYING! i will never look at those doors the same way . . .

    1. What!?! And then there is the dollar spot right there! You don’t know how often the putting it back finds me right back at the dollar spot.

    2. I work at Target. The doors open no more slowly or quickly as any other store. In any case, once through the doors, you can walk at any pace you choose. It’s not that I disagree at all with the point of this blog, I just want to set the record straight. Yes. Target does many things to get your money, but this is not one of them.

  3. Putting things back has become not only a way for me to spend less, but a way for me to fight back against the lies that the world is trying to sell me.
    You nailed it. Glad to have found your blog, Abby, look forward to more of your insights. Maybe we can all help each other when we’re out shopping, so if some of you see me giving you a thumbs- up after you peruse and put back, I’m not just some weird old lady, it will be my way of saying yea, me too.
    And thanks, Addie, for widening my blog horizons.

  4. Abby,
    I know that I use buying stuff as a salve for the soul at times. To have a new toy diverts attention at times. So I put things back at times but sometimes I don’t get a cart at all. I will get a basket or nothing and all I can buy is what I can carry; tends to make me only get that which I really need.

  5. As one who, in semi-retirement, works at Target getting things from truck to shelf, may I say, THANK YOU” for putting things back where you found them. I know that’s not the point of the post, but it still helps me. Perhaps it will help others as well. When I have been brave enough to go shopping with my wife, I’ve appreciated how she’s able to take things out of the cart. Putting them in the cart, keeps her from over-dwelling on the possibility of purchase. She then has great liberty to take them out, quite often. Now, if I can just get her to put them back where she found them!

    1. I think everyone should have to work retail for a year, just so thtey know how important putting stuff back where it belongs is!

  6. wait, you put things back too?! I’ve been practicing the graceful art of putting things back for as long as I can remember. I’m always mentally calculating how much my budget is against what it in my basket or cart. my mom taught me how to check prices, so I will often stand in an aisle at the grocery store, pacing back and forth, comparing prices, sizes, and whatnot. It’s almost a game to me, and I do enjoy it! There is something exciting about saving money, and getting the most out of my shopping trips.

  7. My mom-in-law will put something in her cart she likes and calls it “owning it for a while” And puts it back before she leaves. I’ve tried it, and it really does let you enjoy the idea of ownership -especially something frivolous- without actually biting the bullet. Sometimes making time to mull it over makes me say yes, and sometimes no, but at least I was thoughtful about it, which is key.

  8. I’m careful about what I purchase, but I still give myself time to “put things back” after I buy them. I keep receipts in the bag and don’t remove tags right away, especially with clothes or shoes. I try on everything at home, see how it fits with what I already have, and wait at least a day or so before removing tags. It’s amazing how different things look when you’re home and out of that “shopping fog.”

  9. I have a fabulous retirement gig at Trader Joe’s schlepping groceries. I did my time, 40 years in a cubicle, and now enjoy every moment working alongside kids one-third my age. Yesterday, I bought a dozen things with the word “pumpkin”: pumpkin butter, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin waffle mix. pumpkin cranberry scone mix, pumpkin muffix mix, pumpkin macarons, mini pumpkin pies, … you get the idea. None of which I need. Very little of which I can actually eat (I am hypo-glycemic). So tomorrow morning, I’ll get up early, make a batch of pumpkin muffins, take them to work and give back the pumpkin butter and ice cream. The 6 AM crew will love it. And, hopefully, I can sneak in and out again before they know who is putting things back … with love. Does that count?

  10. So interesting, especially that comment about owning something for a while.
    I’m a compulsive under buyer, so I have different issues. When I’m faced with too many choices, I take nothing and am tempted to walk out of the store, and that has its own problems.
    But when the kids are with me and slip foolish things into the cart and I notice them at the check out, I give them back to the cashier. Somehow, I’m stronger there than in the aisles.

  11. Oh, my! I buy the 7 kinds of cheese as well! I so connected with your explanation: “I am believing the lie that if I don’t get it all right, people won’t love me.” I had wondered if anyone felt that same way when buying gifts or taking something to a potluck. Now I know that I am not the only one. Thanks, Abby.

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