Enough is enough. My resolution for 2013 is to suspend my acquisition, for one year, of any additional non-consumable tangible goods. No clothes, no shoes, no earrings, no throw pillows, no magazines, no lamps, no dishes and definitely no banana slicers. I will still, of course, purchase consumable goods such as food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, paper goods, and office supplies. I will also still purchase things my husband and children need and gifts for others, but will not buy more things for me that sit around taking up space and demanding attention.
I am not doing this to save money or to practice self-denial. I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with buying and having nice things, as long as you also give generously and avoid debt. But I am doing this because I think it will make my life better, and I think I will learn from it. And it might help me hone my skill in “thinking like a lawyer.” Scented candles are consumable and therefore allowed, right?
In my life, and the lives of many people I know, too much is a greater problem than too little. Our houses are bigger than they need to be just to hold a lot of items that complicate our lives more than they add value. We become slaves to our stuff, devoting too many of our limited 24 hours each day to acquiring, storing, organizing, and cleaning it. Often we don’t own our possessions – they own us.
I realized something was wrong when I broke a bowl and was happy to have broken it. I could then throw it out and not have to store it in a crowded cabinet any more.
I started giving more things away. On the advice of the Flylady website I decluttered — going through shelves, cabinets, and closets. I asked each item, out-loud (much to the amusement of my husband): “Do I love you? Do I need you? Do you make me happy?” While I have tossed a lot of things that didn’t pass this test, I have held on to some things I know I should let go. While most of my house is tidy and organized, my closet is a wreck.
I give away a lot, but I still have too much stuff. And why is this? It is not rocket science. I keep buying stuff! No matter how aggressively I bail the boat, the water is going to keep coming in if I don’t plug the hole.
So I decided some kind of drastic change was in order, but I wasn’t sure what. Given that I own a laptop, iPhone, new iPad, old iPad and Kindle, all with internet connections, I Googled it. I was amazed at what I learned.
Many other people feel the same way, like they are drowning in stuff, being strangled by affluence. Some call it “affluenza.” There is a growing realization that excessive consumption has a price beyond wasted money. It also wastes time, which for many is more precious. We are led to believe that new things will satisfy us, when often these same things just weigh us down. We seek to define ourselves by what we consume, rather than by what we produce or create, or just who we are.
I was intrigued by the variety of anti-consumerism movements out there. Here are a few sources I looked to for inspiration and ideas.
Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton college grad Dave Bruno challenged himself and others to live life for one year owing only 100 personal possessions. The challenge of owning just 100 items, or even 1000 items, is completely unworkable for my life but his reflections on his experiences are instructive and inspiring.
This site features “an experiment in living with less” where you shop from your closet for a wardrobe of 33 items to wear over the next 3 months. Everything else you pack away.
Tips and ideas on this site encourage you “to simplify your life and learn to live with less to enjoy more and be more.”
Amusing and effective writers who advocate keeping things simple, The Minimalists now have over 100,000 followers and have published several best-selling books. Like me, their aim was not reducing spending but increasing the quality of their lives and learning from their experiences. From them I got the idea of going a year without buying anything non-consumable.
I’ll be writing about this “No More Stuff” exercise occasionally in the weeks ahead, sharing the challenges and lessons learned. Perhaps I am naïve, but I don’t think it will be that hard. I am not sure how it will affect me but perhaps in the following ways:
1. Time and Peace: Now that I will not be buying more, and will continue to give things away, the level of stuff around me should start to recede. I expect that will give me more time and more peace.
2. Self-Discovery: I expect that this exercise will teach me something about myself. I don’t think I have wrong attitudes towards acquiring stuff, but I don’t want to be in denial, like an alcoholic that says he can quit drinking at any time, but really can’t. I don’t want to use shopping as an emotional Band-aid, what we jokingly call “retail therapy.” It will be interesting to see how quitting “cold turkey” affects me.
3. Appreciating more what I already have: I will likely develop a new appreciation for the things I already have. Unlimited choices almost always lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. It is hard to be content with what you have if you think there is always the possibility of an upgrade. Imposing limits on acquisition should help me value more what I already have.
I hesitated to write about this exercise. All too often those who rant against consumerism come across as self-righteous. Some seem to believe that anyone who consumes more than they do is bad, ignoring that when compared to the rest of the world’s poverty they themselves are living recklessly consumptive lives.
I know that the things I will do without are things that 99% of the world would consider great luxuries. Nothing of real sacrifice is involved here, as I am looking to “make do” with a closet full of clothes and a house full of lovely things. I really do have all I need and much more.
Even so, that reality alone wouldn’t have kept me, recently, from purchasing a darling handmade scarf from a ski shop in Big Sky or a pottery mug like we drank from each morning in the cabin in Montana. But resist I did. And while it was not exactly fun at the time, when I was back home unpacking I felt a sense of relief that I did not have to find a place in a full house for the items I left behind.
And come to think of it, I already have a similar scarf, knitted by a friend.
Now, if I can only find it in this closet of mine!
This essay is written by Molly Lindsey Powell for the blog In-House Counsel. To Follow this blog via email, please visit https://ihcounsel.wordpress.com.