The Things You Learn When You Stop Shopping for a Month
My dad always used to tell me that stuff ruins trips. What he meant was that overpacking is the bane of fun. You’re drowning in a sea of your own belongings in a place that is foreign, which completely distracts you from appreciating the distance and discovering where you are. Apparently, I am very good at compartmentalizing advice because I have never, not once, tried to apply this dearly beholden adage (see: my expert ability to fit a week’s worth of stuff into a carry-on suitcase) to my life outside of trips.
But guess what? Stuff ruins more than just trips.
At the end of December, I told myself that I would do my best not to spend so much money in January for the simple reason that writing a story called “Why Does Shopping Make Me Feel So Good” helped me realize that I have a lot of stuff and a borderline unhealthy relationship with all of it.
What I did not consider is how stupid imparting such a sanction on oneself can feel in January, particularly because it is exactly when sales both rev up and wind down. Heavily discounted stuff becomes even cheaper as a last-ditch effort to invite purchase before the sale is conclusively terminated. So there you are, filling up shopping carts with stuff you probably (definitely) don’t need, but that you’re sure you’ll use. Silver sandals with a heel short enough to walk in, pony-hair slides for when that heel gives out, a zebra-print top that somehow makes leopard look like the inferior animal…floral boots!
But again, I don’t need any of it, so I put it in my cart as if to declare admiration, and then move on to the big leagues — Miu Miu earrings, a lace skirt that is 0% off, this top. Those ended up in my cart, too.
I rack up thousands of would-be spent dollars that practically feel like newly, hard-earned dollars when the impulse of purchase is not acted upon.
Sure, I can’t afford all of this stuff, but I can afford some of it — enough to make me comfortable with the prospect of acquisition, but also overwhelmed, because, see, if I were to get the floral boots, wouldn’t I then also need the zebra-print blouse to go with them? And that’s a particular kind of shirt. One that very much needs it’s own pair of pants. A pair that I don’t already have, perfect for these loafers and OMG THESE EARRINGS, and thus another search ensues.
Before I know it, the preliminary items that festooned my shopping carts become dated and stale (they’re mine already) and I’m on to the next ones, and then the next ones, and the cycle never ends. It’s madness. Madness, I tell you.
I’m kidding but it can throw you into an anxiety spiral for no good reason at all. At least when you’re consumed by work or a tumultuous relationship or any varying degree of your own emotional psychosis, something less superficial is at stake; you’re fighting the good fight for the betterment of a domino effect that starts with you but ends with humanity.
So here’s where I’m at: I haven’t bought anything new. I don’t applaud myself or think I’m doing important work for the world, but I do feel more grounded, more connected. Originally this felt like connection to clothes I already have because with the prospect of new stuff trapped in an ivory tower, the clothes I already have are all I’ve got. So I appreciate them more, I’m not wasting mental time drilling holes into my closet and then pursuing their fillers. And herein lies the metaphor — physical stuff is always a metaphor for something bigger. Science of happiness lesson #1 states that when you stop focusing on your lack and give gratitude to your gains, you become a real life emoticon (the smiling one). Another thing I’ve been thinking: boundaries are different from restriction. Where restrictions might constrain you in a way that makes you resentful, boundaries support you — even protect you — from the draining inundation of insurmountable choice. Setting a boundary (e.g. don’t buy new clothes, only style outfits with clothes you already have; don’t follow so many people on social media, stick to the ones who make you feel good) can actually stimulate you further because you’re still operating freely but within a given frame. Boundaries are kind of like a restaurant menu in that if you didn’t want a “curated edit,” you’d just go to the supermarket. No? Lesson #2: Maybe we don’t need the world to be our oyster. A couple square blocks is ample enough space to impart remarkable change. And finally, I feel less like a pig. Not getting more stuff also means not getting rid of more stuff and thus less guilt about my voluptuous carbon footprint. Wearing and re-wearing the same sweater 463824 different ways is satisfying in the same way that it has been to abandon water bottles for a single glass one. There is so much pressure on us to take care of this planet, particularly now, and it may seem small and menial — trivial at best — but it’s better than nothing. So lesson #3: If you have less stuff, you get rid of less stuff, and inadvertently you contribute to eliminating the amount of shit we produce. The last thing I’ll say is that I totally understand the allure of a uniform. In the past I have thought that in order to wear one you have to really know yourself, really be at peace with who you are and what tenets you want to espouse day in and out. I’ve never been able to commit to this. I still can’t do it, but man, to be free from choice! If only just once every day! It sounds so delightful, doesn’t it?
Actually, that’s not the last thing I’ll say. Patience is an important part of this too. Just because you can afford something (whether a $9 pair of sunglasses or $300 pair of shoes), does not mean you have to have it. Conversely, too, when we can’t afford things, we tend to instill a sort of holiness in them. Or at least I do, and worshiping what you can’t have is a shitty deal. If not shopping for a month is teaching me anything, it’s something so simple, something that we all know but might have trouble genuinely believing — no single tangible thing will transform any of us.
Except, you know, maybe that zebra-print shirt.
Photos by Emily Zirimis; illustrations by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.