Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Controlling My Impulses

From the bean of Green Bean.

"Isn't it cute?" My mom held up a light brown vest with a faux fur collar.

I shrugged. I already own a vest. Why would I need another.

"For fun," she persisted. "It's really cute," she added, wiggling the vest in my direction.

Long gone are the days when I think about buying something just because it's cute. Sure, I did walk out of that store with a new hat - a handknit one made from organic cotton - but only because I don't have a hat, it's been super cold and we're headed to the snow later this winter. And it was a REALLY cute hat. But, if I'd already had a hat, well, I wouldn't have thought twice about buying it.

Two years ago, when I steered my cart full of kids and knock-offs through the gleaming aisles of Target, I never would have guessed that I would one day NOT shop recreationally. That I would buy only what I needed and not whatever caught my eye.

How did I reach this nirvana of a full bank account, an empty cart and a non-wistful heart? It wasn't easy. I played a few "mind games" to break my shopping addiction.

First, I educated myself on the impact of "shopping". We all see the items we throw away. The plastic packaging. The broken toys. The torn clothes. The scratched Teflon pan. We see how things on our end land in the landfill . . . or the thrift store. What we don't see is what happens to bring that toy or sweater or pan to our home. Watching The 11th Hour, I learned that for every truckload of product sent to the stores, 32 truckloads are headed to the dump. From The Story of Stuff, I found out that only 1% of the stuff we buy is still in use six months later.

After that, my stomach hurt whenever I thought about buying something new. I envisioned in my mind the impact that I couldn't see. The trees cut down to make this product. The holes dug, the habitats destroyed, the villages polluted, the beaches littered with plastic. When people sent my children gifts or offered them goodie bags at party filled with landfill fodder, my head ached. When a "free sample" of something landed at my door, my heart cried. All I saw was the impact.

Guilt is a powerful thing. But guilt can be overcome, overlooked, tamped down. So I also avoided temptation. I stopped going to Target or the mall. If I wanted something, I went to a second hand store. If I needed something and I couldn't find it used, I went to a source that offered less selection and therefore less temptation. Often that source was a locally owned business. Sometimes, it was an online site. Since I didn't have all those impulse buys in my cart, I bought less.

The less I bought, the less I wanted.

The less I wanted, the more I emptied my house of clutter. The less I had, the less time I needed to spend cleaning and maintaining.

Suddenly, without all that recreational shopping and subsequent material maintenance, I found myself with more time. Time for building a Lego city with the boys. Time for laying sheet mulch and planting a pollinator garden. Time for writing a green task force newsletter and this blog. Time for making yogurt from scratch, for hanging laundry, for walking instead of driving downtown. And time to be a bit more picky about where I shop.

It's a happy circle. One that is less cluttered and greener. And one that no longer needs mind games to keep spinning.

This is my submission for the January APLS Carnival on "mind games". Submit your post on the same topic by January 19 to aplscarnival(AT)gmail(DOT)com to be included in the January 22nd carnival at VWXYNot?


Joyce said...

Good post, GB. I went through this process as a young married, learning to avoid wanting stuff by just refusing to think about what I wanted. Now my family complains because I can never come up with a wish list for my birthday or Christmas!

Avoiding catalogues and Sunday sale flyers in the newspaper is another good method. It's all about the way we use our eyes, I think.

Marsha Hudnall said...

I went through a year of buying whatever I wanted after years of being 'careful,' then realized I didn't really want anything else. I've spent much of my time since then trying to find ways recycle things I've bought and will never use. I also find the joy of shopping disappears when you don't want or need anything. It opens up a lot of time to do things you really want to do!

ruchi aka arduous said...

Great post, GB. I totally agree! Just ... don't ask me about the pair of insanely expensive jeans I bought over Christmas.

In my defense, I hadn't bought a single pair of jeans for three years, and my favorite pair ripped and the thrift store jeans were fugly!!

Don't hate me for my lack of principles! Who will feed me jam?!

Kel said...

ohh i love love this post. its exactly my words on your page! on a juxtaposing note, i find that you have to be happy to give up shopping, truly happy in yourself, else the addiction just cant be kicked. lol

Kellie said...

Couldn't agree more! I'm far from perfect, but we no longer go shopping on a Saturday for something to do as if we were going to the park or museum.

greeen sheeep said...

I worked in the mall for six years and was a certified shopaholic. Had the full closet and empty bank account to prove it. Over the past year I have been clearing the closets and reevaluating what I truly need and value.

Now if I go to the mall I might as well be stepping foot on another planet. It's strange how someplace I once considered home can now feel so foreign.

Kicking my shopping addiction has been extremely liberating! It has allowed me focus on more important matters. Like insulating my home and buying organic food.

dairy princess said...

Have you been listening in on my internal dialogues? :)

I've only recently gone through the same 'wanting less' exercise...I think I've just found that 'stuff' isn't that important to me anymore. What a revelation!

In fact, this last week, I finally spent accumulated amazon gift cards from two birthdays and one christmas on stuff I was finally able to admit I needed. :)

Jenni at My Web of Life said...

This is a fantastic post! Isn't it amazing that such a basic, simple concept as reducing your personal consumerism would be such a difficult thing to do? Thank you for showing the full cycle of how it works and how big of an impact it can really make!

I've added this post to my list of favorite posts for the week that I post on Fridays. Thanks again!

JessTrev said...

I think our whole country is going to go through a similar shift in perspective when we realize that our GDP/consumption can no longer healthily drive our economy. I agree so much with the twin ideas of avoiding opportunities to consume and finding yourself with a lot more time to do interesting, worthwhile things as a result. Great post!

Anonymous said...

I hope it doesn't get too cold if all you've got is a cotton hat!

Green Bean said...

Joyce: I so agree. Getting rid of the catalogs not only reduces waste from junk mail. It reduces temptation. Of course, seed catalogs are exempt in my household.

Marsha: Thank you for the comment. Great example of how we waste our time and resources shopping instead of doing things that we would really want to do.

Ruchi: For the record, I bought a very expensive new purse in December. My last purse (a $15 Target special) had lasted two years, was faded beyond belief and had three holes in it. I splurged and bought something that I think will really last and continue to look nice for many years. Having one pair of killer jeans is so worth it.

Kel: Good point though I think, with all that shopping and stuff to maintain, it is hard to tell whether you are happy or not.

Kellie: God! I totally used to do that too. Pack up the kids and stroll through Target for the afternoon like I was taking them to the zoo.

Sheeep: It does feel strange, doesn't it, to go to the mall or a big box store and see folks shopping for fun. I feel like an alien in those places.

Dairy Princess: Yes, I have!! Your comment made me smile. I too finally admitted that I needed a new purse and bought one last month. See my response to Ruchi. I guess I really really needed a new purse because my husband and mom separately wanted to buy me one for my birthday.

Jenni: Thank you. I'll have to check out your list tomorrow.

Jess: I think it is time for a country-wide shift. I have to say that, had I written this post last year, I think it would be a lot more radical. Now, it's almost mainstream.

Anonymous: My bad. Just double checked. It is organic wool knit. Nonetheless, I live in California. How cold does it ever get here! ;-)

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Great stuff, thank you for your contribution! The carnival is shaping up really nicely.

suzannah said...

this is a fantastic post, full of much wisdom. thank you.

Steph @ Greening Families said...

One of the links that became very apparent when I was in the throes of debt reduction was that the more restricted my finances were, the more I wanted to buy.

When I finally took the advice of many financial writers (Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey, the folks at Motley Fool, etc.) and created an emergency fund, my desire to spend money decreased significantly. I would think about how nice my savings balance would look with the addition of the money I was considering spending and would almost always walk away.

Thanks for a lovely post.

Beany said...

GB: I'm struggling with this controlling my impulses thing now. It was easy in Philly when I had everything I needed. But now I don't have a mattress. Do I buy some environmentally well made one that would cost booku bucks? Do I buy something cheap and comfortable shipped in from Timbuktu made by child labor (or worse)? I strongly desire things that are designed to make my life feel comfortable despite me knowing that it inherently won't make it so. Since I haven't figured out the answer to my question yet, I'm living in a 185 sq ft room with furniture provided by the management and not actively looking for a place to move to

Betty Black said...

I was so exited to read your post I wrote a blog about it:

Thanks so much for your wonderful words!


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