Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I'm Almost Done

Five months ago I arrived home from New York determined to halve my possessions. I'm getting perilously close to finishing. In some ways it's an ongoing process; like any other mother, I'm always going to have to sort through old clothes, toys, and papers that my children accumulate and then outgrow.

But I really have gone through and weeded out a large proportion of my possessions. My house seems very roomy when I walk around it. It seems much too big.

Just because I've halved my possessions (or maybe "thirded" them at this point?), doesn't mean that my work is finished, however. It just means I've cleared the ground for moving forward. Now comes the hard part: changing the way I live my life.

My husband brought up the point this morning that we need to become more deliberate about our consumption. When we identify a real need we should stop to consider our purchase instead of acting in haste. We should reward the best producers when we spend our money, and it that way we'll end up rewarding ourselves, too.

If I need a new sweater, for example, I can look at that purchase from several angles. I could simply buy yarn and make one myself, assuming that I'll both enjoy the experience and get exactly what I want. Or I could cruise the local thrift and consignment stores, with the intention of getting more use out of an object that's already been produced. Or I can buy a new one.

I don't know about you, but I've gotten into an awful shopping habit. I walk into a clothing store, look for a "great deal" - two for one shirts, for example - and pick up a bunch of them. I feel so much more virtuous when I walk out the store with six shapeless cotton t-shirts than I do if I buy one gorgeously tailored shirt that fits me perfectly. Then I get home, put one on and look in the mirror and wonder why I look like crap all the time.

There are several issues here. One, when I buy a shirt that costs five dollars, I know someone isn't getting paid a living wage. Two, I know that shirt has been shipped halfway around the world. Three, I know it's going to fall apart within a season or two. It's supposed to; otherwise I wouldn't go back to the store and buy more. Four, I bought six of them! I spent the same amount of money as I would have on the gorgeous shirt.

Five, at the end of it all I still wasn't happy.

And that's what I'll talk about more and more in the coming weeks. Most of our consumption isn't based on need at all - it's a senseless pursuit of fleeting feelings we identify as happiness, but aren't anything like the real thing.

It's time for a sea change.


L Harris said...

I did that very thing today! First I went to our second hand store and picked up about 4 skirts and 4 shirts that still had some life and that I figured I would love. I paid 7 dollars for all those items. We then went on to Fields and I purchased (among other things) 2 fairly shapeless and poorly made long-sleeved tees. May have to re-think my purchases for next time.

Jennifer said...

I don't mind buying in bulk at a thrift store - it's a form of charity, right?

But it's the buying at places like Fields that I trip up on. I used to do that at Walmart and rarely was I really happy with my "bargains".