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Image credit: The Tribuna of the Uffizi, Johan Joseph Zoffany, 1772-77, Royal Collection Trust. Used with permission. (Bonus: See how many works of art you can identify!)

First, a quick check-in re: the Win List. Mine, with almost 300 items, is going pretty strong!

Please note, this includes “little” things, and as you know there’s no such thing as little on a Win List. Example: I managed to see Dune II before it left theaters. Do I deserve a medal? No, I just deserve to notice. You do too! Because that’s how we keep going in a good direction.

So tell us how you’re doing.

Now, then. Lets talk about scarcity and abundance.

Today we live in abundance—of a certain kind. Even people of modest means mostly have access to things that kings and queens not so long ago lacked: flu shots, cheap textiles, world news, coffee.

But species-wise, we came up in a time of lack. It made sense for us to concentrate our energy on getting enough food, water, warmth, and mates. Because survival: weve always liked it.

And its much more likely we will survive with a drive to seek anything that keeps us alive—even when weve got a little set aside. If enough is good, then more is surely better.

But this old more-is-better brain lives in a new world. And it’s a mismatch.

Nor is that all. Humans are now smart enough to tinker with our scarcity brain for profit. Think about slot machines. Or the snacks you cant seem to put down. Or perhaps that One Weird Tip.

Ultra-processed foods, clickbait, eerily well-timed discount notices: these things are all designed to capture our attention—and wallets—by setting off what journalist Michael Easter, in his book Scarcity Brain, refers to as the scarcity loop.

Easter’s book is an engaging read and I recommend it. Here’s just one takeaway for you. The first step in the scarcity loop is always a perceived opportunity to score something. If there’s no anticipated win, there’s no interest, and the loop never kicks off.

Along with the anticipation comes a feeling of urgency. We all know this feeling. It flares up when we read that “doctors don’t want us to know” the real answer. Now we must learn the secret!

Urgency spikes when we get an email from our favorite retailer who’s got just what we need—for a limited time only. Now we have to click the Buy button, before it’s all gone.

It’s a trap!

Here is the thing: We do need stuff, including stuff that goes on sale. And while we don’t need ultraspicy chips, for example, we might want some from time to time.

So it’s good to recognize the scarcity loop when its around our ankles, and be able to step out of the trap if that would be smart. Here are some ways people do this:

  • When you feel that urgency flare up, move away from the trigger. For example, you can have a rule that you always set a timer before hitting any Buy Now buttons. Catch your breath while doing something else.
  • When the urgency is built into the very experience of “satisfying” the urge, as it is with the snacks we can’t stop eating, give yourself a limit. Put the chips in a bowl and put the bag away. (Unless you know you never walk away, like me with those pillowy pink shrimp snacks. I will always eat the whole bag and still want more … so I mostly don’t get started.)
  • Ask if this urgency is coming from the current moment, or perhaps the Pleistocene? The truth is there’s more information out there than you’ll ever make use of, they’re producing a surplus of cute shoes every minute, and even potential mates are not as scarce as they tell you. I mean, talk about abundance: there’s 8 billion humans here.
  • Finally, there’s our old friend the Gratitude List. Turning our attention to what we do have, whether plenty or “just” enough, helps keep us out of Scarcity Brain and the urgent need to act while supplies last.

I’ve made it sound easy to pop out of the scarcity loop. It isn’t. But I hope these not-very-weird tips will be there when you need them.

If you have more ideas about how to stay out of the scarcity mindset when it’s out of step with reality, please add your thoughts to the comments below.

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • How long does it take to break a habit?
    How long before the traps get boring?
    Saying no without even stopping to see/ hear what the offer is, is the first step in a process that gets easier each time you do it…..kind of like learning to say no on every level❤️

  • I love the tip about setting a timer before hitting the buy button.

  • My mom used the “I’ll just come back for that” strategy ; if she really wanted it later, or the next day, she would indeed remember to go back for it. I also like Gretchen Rubin’s approach as an under buyer: “store things at the store.”

  • Love this. I fit right in, and she nailed it!

  • Sometimes I ask myself: Will it really make me that happy? If I buy that new outfit, new car, or whatever right now, how long will it make me feel good? How much pleasure will it give me?

  • How is it that your post arrived at the same time as a “Additional 30% off” ad from a clothing company that I like?

    Thanks, Max, for the reminder that I don’t NEED all of these things!

  • Thank you, Max! I really enjoy your columns. One thing I love to do is when a retailer text comes thru on my phone, and I type “STOP” and hit send. A great loop ender.

  • It’s good to remember that retailer is urgently trying to sell to us. Their urgent need doesn’t have to trigger action from us. Especially the available only for today type offering.

    As a maker from a family of makers, my usual reaction is: do I need/want that enough to make it? That tends to put the brakes on!

  • Good article. My weakness is the yarn stash: oh wait, I don’t have that particular shade of color or yarn or ….

    I’ve done pretty well holding back this year, but will be visiting an LYS next weekend with specifics in mind.

  • An amazing article at just the right time……for me, anyhow. Thank you!

  • I saw that painting! (I think.) I was in den Haag (The Hague) and the Mauritshuis museum there had an exhibit – at one point there was a fad for art collectors to have a painting made of their collection, with art lovers admiring the works. It was a lot of fun to see all the different renditions of private collections.

  • This is the best article you have written. It explains so much about who I am. I have purchased the Scarcity Brain book and am looking forward to reading it. Thank you so much for this helpful information.

  • Thank you for this interesting article. I could have used this advice ages ago before I let my yarn stash reach the SABLE limit! But is yarn the exception? Unfortunately, I can’t knit fast enough to keep up with my purchases. I put on the brakes when I pass a yarn shop, and Oh! how I love a fiber festival! Speaking of which, I live in the Northeast and some good festivals are coming up! Oh well, I’ll try to keep this article in mind when tempted to shop for not so necessary items, whatever they are. Everyone has to have something to keep them sane, knitting and shopping for yarn may be my one big exception! Say a prayer for me.

  • I am bewitched by a particular indie dyer whose colors are complex and stunning. Now when she announces her next update, I go through my stash of her yarn and really pay attention to what’s there. Sometimes that motivates me to skip the update entirely but, when that seems too cruel, the process helps me see what really is something I can use and what I should leave for someone else. Nothing like limited edition releases to trigger scarcity brain!

  • I appreciate hearing the phrase “scarcity loop” and how to deflect this way of thinking about things, Max! Thank you.
    Do I need this now?
    I answer yes very quickly a bit too frequently, especially for a 3rd cookie or another tv episode. And about stuff, too. I have a lot of stuff because I feel a need to keep it all forever just in case. So why am I always tempted to add?
    Great to see you here, Max! Thank you MDK.

  • ” The first step in the scarcity loop is always a perceived opportunity to score something. If there’s no anticipated win, there’s no interest, and the loop never kicks off.” I really like this. Bargain! Discount! My siren song. I just put Easter’s book on hold at the library. I often do this, then when I read the book I can decide if I really want to buy it. Unless the wait is too long…

  • Great article! You always give me pause for thought, Max. Thank you for that.

    I find the library is a good place to indulge a desire for abundance. It’s not yarn or clothing, but I can go to a library, pick up as much as I can carry, and take it home. And 3 weeks later, I give it back. If I need or want it badly enough at the end of that time, then I can consider buying it.

    Where yarn is concerned (something that’s much harder to say no to), my husband and I had a deal: no yarn comes into the house without a plan for it being made into something. It doesn’t always work (my own handspun and de-stashed yarn from friends doesn’t count, for some reason), but it keeps my stash to a relatively reasonable level (ie I have storage space for all of it).

    • Yes! I had this epiphany about the library last year. It’s such a great place to give your scarcity brain a party without doing any actual damage to your wallet/waistline/domestic storage capacity.

    • I’m the same re the library. It’s like going to a big, free bookstore! I always come home with a nice big haul that I get to swap in 3 weeks time, so good.

  • When I’m tempted to fall into the trap of buying something I don’t need, I stop and think about where I will put it in my already-too-cluttered abode. Will I get rid of or use up an old item to make room for the new thing? This thought often yanks me out of scarcity mindset and plants me firmly into reality. That being said, Yarn Con Chicago is taking place this weekend! Uh-oh.

  • Very wise article. Sheep and Wool Festival is coming right up. I am hoping to continue to resist the yearly urge to buy and bring a wagon. I like to take photos of the patterns and supplies, pick up business cards, and bring home just those rarified air-type things. One year, early a.m., a line that was at least 20-30 people deep wound out of a barn and up the hill. Sock yarn was on sale!!! I wouldn’t miss the Sheep Dog Trials for standing in line. There’s always a puppy at the end! Point is, I’m pretty sure I had a fair stash of sock yarn in one of those bags.

  • Thank you!

  • This was a very provocative essay. Well said, but more succinctly, one might just say to oneself: ” do I need this, or do I want this? ” And the second question would be: “where will this go and what needs to leave the premises in order to accommodate this new item?” It is amazing how my stash leaves the studio to make room for new fibres…. to the great joy of my fibre pals and thrift stores!

  • Very timely article, saw a sock pattern I’d really like, but, do I need another sock pattern? Thank you for this article, no I do not need another sock pattern.

  • Great essay, as always, Max.

    Over the winter break I sorted out my horrifying stash. On January 1st I unsubscribed from most of the stores and retailers whose emails I felt I really didn’t need on an almost daily basis. I stayed subscribed to a couple of LYSs… I am fortunate to live in an area where there are enough LYSs to do an annual shop hop (just ended) and, of course, I remain subscribed to MDK.

    It’s been really great to have a pared down inbox. I don’t miss what I don’t see.

  • Thanks for this article. Excellent! One of the things I do (and I have to based on my shopping addiction) is put things in the cart and go back the next day. Chances are I changed my opinion about them.

  • I am downsizing into a smaller space. Getting ready to move, I am shedding 30% of all possessions (every closet, every drawer, every picture, and yes, the yarn and fabric stashes!). It’s an arbitrary rule, but you know what? Easier and more enjoyable than you think!

    Then, there’s a strategy for life in the new space. The last time I lived small, I had a “one thing in, 2 things out” rule. If I want the shiny new thing, I have to think of 2 things I currently own that I can give up. This process brought me to living with very few things that I really adored, over the course of 5 years. And now it begins again.

  • Thank You for this fabulous reminder of having enough and being Grateful! Just in time for me today!!

  • All of this excellent info in the column and the comments does not in any way apply to the purchase of yarn. Having beautiful yarn nourishes our souls and hearts.

    • Agree!! The purchase of yarn, especially from thoughtful, committed shops like MDK, is for *making*. And of course, handmade items, crafted with love, represent the exact kind of scarcity we all want to embrace.

      Is it paradoxical to say we actually need more of this kind of scarcity? I think it’s true of beautiful handmade goods 🙂

  • Tip: when you receive one of those “follow-up” emails after you have read a retailer’s email, as in window shopping, do NOT open it, simply click “delete”.

  • Boy, have I fallen for the scarcity loop. I used to buy yarn on sale because it was a good deal for some project in the future. Too often it wasn’t really a good deal. It wasn’t a color I really liked, or I didn’t have enough yarn for the pattern I wanted to use, or I forgot what I was going to knit, or I lost interest in knitting it! So, I finally stopped looking at sales. I gave myself permission to buy yarn at full price for a project I want to start NOW. (after I’ve checked my stash, and any current sales!) This has really helped save time & $$.

  • I have a new thing now where I save links to all the online impulse buys that tempt me throughout the week. The “rule” is that I have free rein to buy anything I want, but only from 2-5 pm on Saturday. It’s pretty strict; if I’m busy and don’t make the purchasing window, then the want list waits until the next Saturday. Often I find that by Saturday, meh, I don’t want it anymore, or at least don’t want it THAT Saturday. I do fall off the wagon from time to time, but my “new thing” has been working pretty well for me.

  • Contrariness, lol. The more desperate retailers are to get me to spend money, the more determined I become NOT to spend it. Especially if they use shaming or you‘re-not-good-enough in their ads!

  • I have a list of things I’m saving up for. If I get the urge to add to my Hoard, I ask if I need it immediately for something definite or if it will help me get to my goals. Usually I can do without. Sometimes I get it.

  • This is me whenever I read about a book, author, my preferred subject matter knitting, noteworthy people (ie: ordered 4 Truman Capote books while watching Feud) etc. I immediately turn to second hand online book sellers and get that book.

  • For awhile now I only buy yarn for my next project & finish what I start before moving on. I collect patterns I like, most in my favs in Ravelry, & later, if I still like a pattern, then buy the yarn. After 40 yrs, my stash isn’t skeins of yarn (although there are some) but finished items. I gift some but I like using luxury yarns, mostly wool, that need delicate care so even though I’d like to gift more to friends I don’t because it feels like asking a lot of someone to hand-wash & often reblock a hand knit item especially lace or brioche. Does anyone else have this problem?

  • My gratitude is on. high alert after having gone from food stamps and disability benefits to an inheritance that was unexpected and truly a gift that has changed my life forever. I still have a budget and I am conservative but the freedom that it has given me I can’t put into words. We live in a world where our resources are wasted at the drop of a hat. I’m grateful for having lived in both worlds.

  • I use thrift shopping like a library but recently (yay for middle age!) have learned that even at the thrift store I can tell myself “that’s someone ELSE’s perfect thing” and leave things on the rack for the next person. Took a long time to figure it out though!

  • Love this post. Would have loved to have a hot link the the original Hit List post.
    I had to hunt for it and I suspect I’m not the only person so here’s the link:

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