I Stopped Going Shopping

Shopping and trading have been human activities from the earliest civilizations. Going Shopping in the twenty-first century sense of the phrase, however, has been around for fewer than two hundred years. Going Shopping means going out to see what is on display, to be tempted as at a carnival midway, by the many things displayed in department stores, supermarkets, malls, and big box stores.

My parents could never “get ahead,” as Daddy used to say. Mama’s favorite entertainment was going shopping, and it became mine too. Daddy was a blue-collar wage earner, and Mama stayed home cleaning and cooking. We had a comfortable house in a safe neighborhood, but there were much grander houses with a lot of stuff that we didn’t have. My paternal grandma lived in one of those houses, and so did the McCalls, where my mother worked as a baby sitter and maid-of-all work from age nine until she married my father when they were both nineteen. The McCalls’ gave me Neiman-Marcus hand-me-downs.

I was thoroughly and continually prepared for Going Shopping by a barrage of advertising that encouraged me to covet not only my neighbors’ possessions but those of the rich and famous and of models who didn’t even own the things or live the lives that they so artfully tempted me to covet. Coveting is big business. Far from being a sin, coveting is the heart and soul of the American Dream. It is woven tightly into every waking hour and creeps into my dreams. The goal of advertising is to keep everyone dissatisfied with what they already have. The ecstasy of a brand new iPhone or Lexus is cut short by the announcement that the NEW iPhone with MORE features is available and that there is a car still better than the brand new Lexus for showing the world how successful I am. I have legitimate needs, of course, for food, clothing, and shelter, but the truth is I have acquired enormous numbers of things that I don’t really need or even really want. I have spent inordinate amounts of time shuffling those things around, dusting them, storing them, eventually selling them in garage sales or hoarding them in ever larger and more cluttered houses and storage units.

Breaking the habits of constant coveting and Going Shopping has been a long process. Like a recovering alcoholic, I can say only this: “I’m a shopaholic. It’s been three years since my last shopping trip.” I’ve saved time, money, and storage space in those three years. I really enjoy the things I buy because I plan for them and set aside money to pay for them without guilt or doubt. I have a use for them and a place to put them. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy. Ingrained habits die hard, but I no longer Go Shopping, and I think I’ve made some headway in overcoming covetousness.

My Winding Road to Minimalism

Minimalism has been practiced accidentally for a long time with names like “thrift” and “good housekeeping.” In this age of consumerism, excess, waste, and chaos, it has been revived as “minimalism.” Like many other good ideas, it gained impetus in its extreme and radical forms because extreme and radical get attention. Dave Bruno came up with the idea of limiting his possessions to 100 objects. Marie Kondo thinks 30 books are enough. Tiny house enthusiasts are in a race to see how much tinier their dwellings can be. Extremists like Bruno and Condo challenge our customary ways of thinking. It took some extreme Minimalist thinking to set me on my journey toward a better way to live. I have made progress, but I still have a long way to go. I am not aiming for 100 objects, but Dave Bruno has shown me that I can probably get along with fewer than 100,000. I don’t even want to follow Marie Kondo’s 30-book guideline, but she has convinced me that I don’t have to emulate The Library of Congress. I don’t really want to move into an old school bus, but I have learned a lot of space-saving tricks from people who have, and I have started thinking about what kinds of spaces are inviting and happy-making. I think composting toilets are ecologically a great idea, and I admire the people who have committed to them, but I am not ready to give up the water flush.

  • GRATITUDE. Marie Kondo recommends verbally thanking an item for its service before discarding it. I have to admit, that feels a little awkward, but I like the thought. I am not rejecting the object but dismissing it. When I start to covet some new doo-dad, I look around at the doo-dads I already have, and give thanks for them.
  • MINIMALISM IS A NOT A DESTINATION BUT A WAY TO TRAVEL. My house will probably never look like the dream house in my head. Those houses so carefully staged for magazine photos or for a reveal by Chip and Joanna Gaines of “Fixer-Upper” will never look that good again, and my house will never look like Pinterest pictures because PEOPLE LIVE IN MY HOUSE, and people living life can be messy.
  • GOING SHOPPING. By “shopping,” I mean wandering through stores looking for things to tempt me. As a rule, I buy something only if I have decided to buy it before I leave my house, then I comparison shop for the best value.
  • WHAT TO KEEP MORE THAN WHAT TO THROW AWAY. I ask myself why I am keeping something and answer as honestly as I can. If I think I should discard or donate it but I find it hard, I put it in a box labeled “DONATE” or “DISCARD.” When I’ve lived without those things for awhile and haven’t missed them, it’s easier to take them to appropriate places. If I decide to keep something, I give it a place, and store it so that I know I have it and will be able to find it when I want to use it.
  • SMALL THINGS EVERY DAY. If I can’t spend six hours putting my closet in order, I can spend six minutes, or even one minute, or just take care of one thing that is bothering me.
  • LIFE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS AND I’LL NEVER GET CAUGHT UP. I rid my mind of the fantasy of getting “caught up.” I’m learning to be contented and grateful every day and to do more things that really matter instead of trying to get “caught up.”
  • STOP TELLING MYSELF I HAVE TO DO THINGS AND DECIDE WHICH THINGS I WANT TO DO. I may decide I want to do some things that are not especially fun, like washing dishes, so that I can enjoy other things, like eating a nice meal from clean dishes.

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