Well, I did it, everyone! I made it through My Year of Going Without!
Some of you know about this already (I wrote about it here). In a nutshell, last November I challenged myself to not buy anything for the next 12 months unless it was an absolute necessity. Essentially, this covered things like clothing, books, shoes, sporting equipment, electrical gear, anything I considered discretionary. Not included: items like food, eating out, hair appointments, toiletries, gym membership, cable and/or internet, phone, and of course, my season lift pass.
Why? First, I just wanted to see whether or not I could do it. I have a friend who went 12 months without drinking any alcohol, and this seemed like an interesting twist on that. And second, I already had a ton of stuff. And not just ski stuff. I have a closet full of shirts/sweaters/pants/shoes/you name it. My decision was more a reaction to consumerism and a move toward simplification (you have to read this article about the incredible amount of crap we own). I mean, do we really need five or six ski jackets? Or another fleece when we already have six in the drawer? Probably not. We could definitely all make do with less.
There was an environmental component, too. While buying stuff may be great for the economy, it’s really not that good for the planet. Making stuff to meet growing demand strains our resources and creates all sorts of disposal problems, too. And as someone who loves winter, I want to do what I can to help stop climate change. (See, it all comes back to skiing.)
So in early November, 2014, I stepped off the consumer bandwagon. And I stayed off it for twelve long months.
How’d I do?
Pretty damn well, actually. Yes, I did buy a couple things, but I made exceptions for these going in: a new pair of ski boots, of which I was in dire need (end of season pricing!) and a new helmet (pro deal!) which I also really, really needed. Other than that, nothing.
To be honest, it really wasn’t that hard. I’m not that much of a shopper, anyway. And it’s pretty easy when you live in an area where there aren’t a lot of stores. Oh, sure, there’s always the internet. But I unsubscribed to a lot of the e-commerce sites that used to send me emails. And that made it a bit easier.
Did I learn anything?
Yes. I learned that you really don’t need as much as you think. As I said in the beginning, I already had a lot of stuff. So anything else that I bought would’ve been, well, extra. On a daily basis, I was able to make do with what I had just fine. And strangely enough, knowing that I wasn’t going to buy something didn’t make me desire it more; if anything, it made me desire it less, probably because I knew it wasn’t in the cards. There’s something freeing in that.
I also found that it reinforced something each of us already knows: you can’t rely on things to make you happy. For example, we might think a new sweater will make us more attractive, happier, better able to deal with our lives. But in reality, the good feeling you get is pretty fleeting. Happiness has to come from within. Not buying things tends to bring that home.
Did I miss anything?
Yes — and this surprised me: I found that I missed the actual shopping experience. Many of us don’t shop just because we need to. We shop because it’s fun. It’s a recreational activity, which is something I don’t think I ever really considered. For example, when I visit my parents in Florida, one of the things I always do is go shopping with my mom. Taking away that activity left a bit of a hole, yet it opened the door to other options, too.
Has my life changed, now that My Year of Going Without is over?
Not really. I haven’t gone on a shopping frenzy. Yes, I bought a few things: a new hat, a pair of shoes, a pair of earrings. Recently, I went into a Target and was profoundly struck by how much stuff is packed away in there. The number and variety of items is dizzying. It seemed to clarify that all of us have access to more than we could ever want or need in a million lifetimes. It’s up to us to decide what’s important, what isn’t, and do what makes the most sense for us.
I’m hoping this experience makes me a thoughtful and more deliberate shopper; one who thinks more carefully before handing over my credit card and who asks more questions: Is this something I really need? Will it make a difference in my life? Sometimes we buy things in the heat of the moment just because we want to own them. It’s how we end up with closets full of stuff we never use. And then we’re right back where I started from.