Thursday, June 25, 2020

Shop Slow And Don't Settle

Last May, I challenged myself to a year-long shopping ban.

Inspired by a book called The Year of Less, in which millennial author Cait Flanders triple-dog-dared her over-shopped self to stop buying new things, I followed her lead by setting up some rules around what I was and wasn't allowed to buy as part of the ban.

It's only fair to say from the start that I've never been a runaway shopper. That's not a particular problem area in my life; I don't even own a credit card, let alone use one to overspend. So my goal in taking on this challenge was not so much to change troublesome behaviors but to better understand how and why I spend my money, and give myself some guidelines for making good choices while shopping. 

Now here I stand, well past the twelve-month duration of this project, none the worse for wear, glad that I took on my own year of less. And here are the two key takeaways that I learned along the way.

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In the photos, I'll show you everything I broke down and bought during the year, and explain my reasoning. While I'll be the first to admit that I did purchase some things that were not allowed, I also did not get around to buying several things that were.
^ The single biggest violation of my shopping ban was the purchase of these matching nightstands. The vintage nightstands we'd been using for decades were stylish and sleek - square topped wooden models with one drawer each and long slender Shaker style legs - but both my husband and I found that they just didn't provide enough real estate up top to keep us happy. After a long and intensive waiting period, in which I drilled my husband endlessly about his vision of the perfect bedside table, we landed on these just in time for the Covid sale at West Elm. No regrets.
^ At the beginning of my year of less, I'd already been planning to buy a much-needed set of new sheets for my bed so I built that purchase into my shopping rules. Six months later, I finally pulled the trigger on these white linen babies from Garnet Hill. We love them so much that I bought a second set last month. They were a bit spendy but a sound investment. Gracie approves.
^ When running errands with my second-born in Ohio last January, I saw this little kitty plate on sale for a couple bucks. Not sure if I wanted to yield to my whims, I carried her around the store while my daughter picked out some baking sheets. At the check stand, I decided to call her a souvenir and forked out my five dollar bill. Six months later, I'm still in love. 

Shop Slow

The goal of the shopping ban was never to reduce my wardrobe to tatteers, replace my furniture with wooden crates, or take away all my fun. In simplest terms, my intention was to eliminate unthinking consumption. To sharpen my reflexes at detecting and preventing emotionally driven purchases. To work past the intoxicating moment of seeing something that I like in order to rationally evaluate whether I want to invite that thing into my life. 

The shopping ban helped me accomplish that goal. I now do a better job of imagining not just the immediate joy of bringing some new thing into my life, but also visualizing how I might feel in three months, or three years, after bringing said item home. I think of other things that I've bought that eventually failed the long-term test, and remember the cold sensation of dissatisfaction that came from dropping that no-longer-loved thing into a donation box. 

I have gotten a lot better at picking up an object that I think I want to buy, holding it in my hands as I mull over how much I want to buy it, and then reminding myself of all the reasons that maybe I don't want it after all. More often than not, I can relax my consumerist urges, set the item back down, and walk away. 

And of course, the digital version of this process is to drop a beloved item or twelve into a shopping cart and then walk away. A twenty-four hour cooling off period helps me regather my wits.

I'm also a huge fan of thinking before I shop. Now I'll be the first to admit that I can take this to an outrageous extreme; I'll often find myself mulling over a purchase for weeks, months, even years before I finally pull the trigger. And while this can easily fall into a tedious practice of indecision, I also find it a sure fire way to make wise and well-founded purchases. 

The shopping ban has definitely helped me practice flexing my muscles of self-control, and I've become much more better at loving something but also deciding to let it go. This is the sweet secret of shopping slow.

^ This corner of my family room has been lacking a lamp for a long time. I've wanted something warm and inviting, not necessarily of surgical suite intensity but with lots of character. One night, I stuck my head in my fourth-born's bedroom and saw the perfect specimen sitting up on a shelf. So I ordered one for myself. Though this was technically a violation of the shopping ban, and the Covid-era delivery took months, it was worth the wait.

^ Ever since we said sayonara to our hideous family room carpet and welcomed in the hardwoods, our coffee table situation had been in a state of flux. After considerable trial and error, I determined that the room flowed much better without a big table in the middle of the couches, but with a couple smaller models, just big enough to hold a drink, a bowl of berries, and of course, the remote. This purchase wasn't in my shopping plan, but it made total sense for the room's function. So last fall, I sprung for the gold model on the left, and never looked back.

^ So I was in Michael's the other day, waiting on my fourth-born who was picking out markers, and I stumbled upon this lil faux succulent arrangement. Fake plants are not my jam, but cute white geometric planters definitely are. And at 70% off, the price came in under five bucks. Eventually, I'll pry off the plastic greenery and reconfigure this as a home for a live air plant, but for now, I'm content to enjoy it as is. 

Don't Settle

In the past few years, we've been fortunate to take in many of our parents' former possessions. I've spent countless hours looking over serving dishes, art work, blankets, silver ware, coffee table books, dressers, end tables, pots and pans. And what I notice, as I run my hands across these old treasures and lift them to test their heft, is that they all have one thing in common.

They are quality.

Neither my mom nor my husband's parents were rich. Solidly middle class, for sure, and more importantly, careful with a hard-earned dollar. Throughout their lives, whatever they were buying, they bought the best they could afford, and invested in a small number of high value belongings, rather than flood their homes with chintzy clutter.

And so the things they have left behind for me are lovely, and my sense of quality has been reawakened by their treasures. 

Now that's not to say I can waltz out to any high end store I want and snatch up the Tiffany's and Tesla-level best that the world has to offer.

But it does mean that I can choose not to waste my money on low-quality products, even if they would give me that funny little rush of buying something, anything, that's new. I'm looking at you, Target Dollar Bins. I've learned to resist the temptation of novelty, and hold out for the best I can afford. 

In other words, I try not to settle for less.

^ Plants and plant pots. These are my greatest weakness, and definitely my most frequent non-authorized purchase. But over the yearlong ban, I got better at choosing only the pots that I thought I would love forever (or at least a couple years) and resisting the temptation to buy something, anything! just to have a treasure to take home.

^It's almost embarrassing to admit that I spent almost five years gathering the courage to pull the trigger on this puppy. Before I bought the new model, I was using an old and very basic cast iron Dutch oven at least three times a week, and while it got the job done, I desperately wanted - and deserved - to upgrade my game. After narrowing down my brand selection to Le Crucest - the Dansk model came in a close second - I was really stumped over color choices. On Black Friday weekend, I found a great sale price for exactly the size I wanted, and I knew it was time to decide. Red had been the first color I was drawn to, and I decided that was a sure sign that it should be my final choice. So here I am, finally united with my dream Dutch oven, and I have no regrets. 

Shop slow and don't settle. 

Those two mantras capture the best of what I learned in my year of less, and I'm excited to carry them forward into my future shopping adventures. 
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Read all the stories from my year-long shopping ban and my decluttering adventures too:

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