Friday, September 7, 2007

Hamster Wheel Update

So, I'm three weeks into the conspicuously-not-consuming thing, and here's how it's going.

1)  I've been working.  A lot.  Typically, when this happens, I tend to go shopping because I get stressed out or excited and need to mentally vacate for a while, which is what going to the mall does for me.  I'm convinced that it literally puts me into a different state, like a drug would.  But I've been working so much, and steadily, and on things I really care about, that I haven't had the time to do the shopping.

I have had one or two urges to go and check out.  But I realized immediately that's what they were, and was able to take other action, because I had agreed not to spend.

2)  I've been working out.  A lot.  I might now, officially, call myself a runner.  Just three or four miles every other day or so, with maybe a longer run on the weekends.  And some yoga or volleyball here and there, and also some conditioning exercises every night for my core.  This has had multiple benefits:  stress relief, of course, so I haven't needed the mindless shopping experience.  But also my body is in a little better shape, and so my weight isn't yo-yo-ing as much.  I've only realized this recently, but my weight has always varied by ten pounds or so, depending on how I take care of myself.  When I get a little heavy, I feely shitty and get rid of a lot of clothes and buy bigger ones.  Then, when I lose the weight, I get rid of the big clothes and get smaller ones.  Somehow I never caught on.  I just figured the clothes were getting baggy, then shrunk in the wash.  Amazing the things I told myself.  You can imagine how expensive this got.  Maintaining an even weight through exercise has really eliminated this need.

3) Taking spending off the table was a huge relief.  I had no idea how much energy I was putting into figuring out what to purchase.  Should I stop at that garage sale or not?  What should be on the shopping list?  Can I afford a trip to the BR outlet?  I'd better go to Target and get some new underwear, and what else should I buy while I'm there?  And so on.  But just deciding not to buy anything for thirty days made these extra trips and mental expenditures unnecessary.  And it is AMAZING how much stuff you really don't need. 

For example?  Our teapot was getting really gross (you know, because it sits on the stove).  Also, I think we burned the water out of it a few times, so our tea was starting to taste metallic.  Blech. 

I put "teapot" on the shopping list, then remembered I wasn't buying anything this month, and agonized for a few minutes.  But we need a teapot, I was thinking.  Then I realized, hey!  We don't need a teapot.  Fact is, we're not huge tea drinkers.  And we buy a new one every six months because the old one gets so foul.  And it's just as easy to heat up a pot of water as to use a teapot.  And having a teapot is just more crap in the kitchen that we don't need. 

I crossed it off the list.  Problem solved.  "Need" eliminated.

4)  All this had made a huge difference to our bottom line.  We did finances a couple of days ago, and I can't believe how much money we've saved.  This was an amazing revelation for me, I suppose because I really believed everything I had been buying up until now met a need, and that therefore we were destined to always be somewhat paycheck-to-paycheck.  So not true.  I am a believer.

5)  I was a little worried that this experiment would be unbearably hard, and that I'd get to the end of the four weeks and go on a giant spree.  Whether that happens remains to be seen, but I don't think it will.  This has been something of a conversion experience for me.  It's hard to imagine going back.  But I'm also aware of how powerful the drive to consume is, so I'm not going to underestimate it, either.

In many ways, I realize what an artificial exercise this has been.  Not buying anything--in effect, talking myself out of "needs"--has made me realize how much we actually have.  There has not been one moment of real need or want this month.  If we needed groceries, we bought them.  Eric needed some jeans for work that didn't have holes in them; he bought them (he hadn't agreed to follow my spending moratorium, after all).  Everyone was well-fed and clothed, and had lots to keep them busy.  And, for a number of reasons including this experiment, I've felt really happy, fulfilled. 

I don't miss the treadmill.

That said, I did slip up.  Once.  I was at Costco buying groceries and bought some make-up that I didn't really need.  Fifteen bucks.  I got home and immediately felt dumb about it--after getting out of the big store with all the big, cheap things, and getting back into the comfort of my home, I realized what I had done.  And I feel like I learned from doing that, from messing up.  We needed groceries today, and I was near Target.  I went in there, with its bright lights and beautiful displays, like an alcoholic in a liquor store, and came out not having bought one thing for myself, mostly because I remembered how I felt after leaving Costco.  Mostly remembering that my values were not represented by those racks of clothes and scented candles.

It's not that I'll never go shopping again, or that I've given up buying myself things.  But I was definitely caught in a consumerist spell for a long time, and getting on the wagon has revealed that to me in ways I don't think I would have seen otherwise.  It's been hugely helpful.

One week to go.  And a lifetime.

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