Here are some reflections on the month of no spending as I near the end.
The world I live in looks like one big shopping mall
Unrequested, flyers are delivered to my doorstep almost every day. And you know what? I finally read them. I decided for our next kettle I want one that has a variable temperature setting for green tea, and aaaaaaaaaaaaggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh….Canadian Tire how do you know how to show me what I didn’t know I neeeeeeededdd.
My work is within a comfortable walking distance of Yonge Street, a cornucopia of adorable unique shops and coffee shops and restaurants. I almost justified buying stuff from Roots because they had a 40% off sale. Then I realized the sale was only 25% off, and I felt strong enough to resist. Clearly my integrity has a price, and it’s 40% off.
I go to the gym three times a week in a strip mall. Even in the gym, there are things for sale: clothes, meal replacement and snack bars (chocolate mint!!!), and this past week has been a bake sale (!!!) to raise money for breast cancer.
I pick up my medication in a Shopper’s Drug Mart, which sells absolutely everything under the sun.
I am not just shaped by my culture. I am not just “influenced” by it. I am a PRODUCT off my culture. And what does our culture make? Consumers, of whom I am the worst.
CONSUMERISM. 1. the promotion of the consumer’s interests. 2. the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; also : a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods.
Even though I bought things for my dad, or for my job, and went out to social events (in order to not socially isolate myself in an attempt to spend less), I still felt like I was missing out. It felt unnatural, like I was depriving myself of something good. This is – honestly – not a challenge I could have accomplished while struggling with anxiety like I was a year ago.
And here’s the crazy thing. I’d find myself scrolling through websites, pinning things, and doing research on products, and adding items to my favourites on Etsy, because I knew the month would eventually end. Other days, I would open up a website and eventually get bored because I knew I couldn’t make the purchase. That high, that satisfaction from “getting” something, wasn’t available to me.
My entire life, it seems, has been built around deals and shopping on my way to or from other destinations. It was a habit so deeply ingrained I wasn’t even aware of how I taught myself to know all the stores in my neighbourhood and what they sold, so could mentally go through a check-list to see if I “needed” anything when I drove past.
The sad reality
I felt like I had more time. That’s right, the constant QUEST to search out and find the next thing I “needed” and to get it “on sale” (if possible) took time. So. Much. Time.
With that time I was more creative with what I already owned. I used my art supplies and started watercolour painting for the first time. I created meals I’d never made before to use up freezer foods and pantry items. I wrote a letter to my sponsor child for the first time and mailed it. I started my first sewing project in a year using supplies I already had. I even read the books I’ve been waiting to have “time” to read.
Consumerism, it turns out, makes us fairly boring people. I know the appeal – trust me, I know the appeal – it gives you a sense of security, your possessions become part of your identity. New, shiny, beautiful, functional, cool, whatever it is, you get to share in that glory when you own that thing. We strive to have the right stuff, to curate our image – which is really an image of us with our stuff.
But then life is short, and maybe we should be a bit more of a homebody, inviting people in to our kitchens, inviting people over to chat and play some old board games. Maybe we should have “down time” to explore the art supplies in our closet, or the books on our shelf we wanted to read. Time to be “bored” so-to-speak so that we can have some peace and rest. To have enough time to go for a walk because there’s nothing more pressing to do.
When I talk about giving money away
The “No Spend” part of the “Living Well Spending Zero” challenge suggested that I don’t purchase things for myself. But it doesn’t say anything about giving my money away for nothing in return.
When charities asked for money, when people were fundraising, I gave, and I gave freely, without thinking too much about it, because I knew I had not spent what I normally spent on myself. I was USED to spending. It came easily. But this month, I wasn’t obsessing over what I might want/need, so I was more open to listening to the needs of others (and not surprisingly, their needs were way more compelling). Key to this freedom to give, I believe, was that I realized just how much I had. At the beginning of the month I did an inventory. I have a drug-store’s worth of first aid and cold and headache medicine. I have a full pantry (slightly less full now, but still surprisingly full). I had a full freezer. I knew I had enough.
And I suppose when you know you have enough, you can be more free to meet the needs of others.
Would I do it again? Yes. Will and I are already talking about doing it again next year. The coolest part? I realized I could save AND give more money away, if I just didn’t buy clothes for a month or go out to restaurants. Now THAT does more for inner peace than a thousand McDonald’s coffees.