Reflection: 2.5 months as an intentional shopper

Like many projects that I have embarked on before, I start strong and then, after some time, the great fade comes.

I blogged earlier this year about my goal to become a more intentional shopper after being inspired by Ann Patchett’s “My Year of No Shopping” essay in¬†The New York Times. Many friends shared their own pursuits to live a more minimalist life; to increase support for local business; and to break the habit of instant gratification.

January = I rocked out. I crafted detailed lists when I went to the grocery store and stuck with them 100%. I shifted out of the “I need to buy” mindset; I evaluated what already lined our pantry and freezer shelves and attempted to become creative in the kitchen again, letting go of adhering to recipes. For meetings scheduled at coffee shops, I carried a bag of change from our collection to pay for those 12 and 16 ounce drips. Less reliance on the credit card. Using resources I already had. More shopping at the Farmer’s Market and at Compare Foods. More coupons. One Amazon purchase where I could cash in my points.¬†And, no, I didn’t buy a book.

One month in, and I was winning! 

Then…February.

I’m not sure what happened during those 28 days, but I essentially pulled the rug out from underneath myself. More eating out; less accountability on how and where I was spending my dollars. Now, I didn’t completely fail in my goal for that month; some ways that I tried to be more intentional about my shopping included:

  • Using a gift certificate at The Scrap Exchange to purchase supplies for Valentine’s Day card-making rather than buying cards elsewhere
  • Cleaning out my bookcase and selling more than a dozen to Letters Bookshop in downtown Durham [transparently: yes, I have absolutely leveraged that credit to acquire a new book]
  • Seeking out more free activities/spaces where I felt less pressure to make a purchase.

Yet, I still slipped. Instead of purchasing one item to bring to a meeting, I justified purchasing two. I had more drinks out.

And this is why it is wonderful to have such thoughtful friends. One of my favorite nonprofit & public television rockstars, Sarah, forwarded me another NYT article on March 1st as she checked in on my shopping challenge. One of the “a-ha” moments for me in reading this piece was the advice to “confront your triggers.”

I can definitely be an emotional shopper. Running by the grocery store after finishing a workout or before eating a meal spells trouble for my ability to stick to a plan. I’m hungry and tired; I want to reward myself and that’s when I see my cart filling with items like Ben & Jerry’s vegan ice cream or Kite Hill cheese that are both delicious and unnecessary (and really expensive!).

Another one of my triggers is seeing products and events on social media.¬†I want to do it all! But, I can’t — due to time, money, and capacity. But the desire remains and can propel me into purchasing tickets or showing up to a space where I will no doubt spend money.

Like I reflected in my prior post, none of these actions are inherently bad or wrong. It’s more about recognizing the “why” behind these choices and being at peace that there will always be more. Our world loves to promote scarcity, which is so far from reality.

After taking a few steps back last month, I’m feeling good about getting back on track. It’s about finding a balance between militancy and blowout.

 

How I will re-think shopping this year

Do you have the Amazon app on your phone?

How often have you opened the app while waiting in line/hanging out with friends/out at an event/sitting on the toilet and ordered something?

These questions are asked without judgment as — confession time —¬†I have been/am a habitual, knee-jerk reaction shopper became it is so convenient.

Oh, we’re out of cat food?

Click.

Gosh, I really want to read that book I just heard about on NPR.

Click.

Even better: options like Subscribe & Save take the effort of remembering to purchase a new bottle of shampoo or more coconut oil every other month!

My friend Cassie shared on Facebook¬†Ann Patchett’s¬†New York Times¬†opinion piece “My Year of No Shopping“, and I read it with eyes wide open. I used to be a serial shopper. Hello, I was raised in the 90s! The mall was¬†the place to see and be seen. At least, in my case, the only things I was looking for were the latest Babysitter’s Club paperbacks at Waldenbooks, a sassy shirt from the Rave, CDs from Sam Goody’s, and giggle-inducing adult toys at Spencer’s Gifts (those lava lamps were like a Siren’s Song).

Shopping — even just window — was a coveted weekend activity during my formative teenage years. So, it seems reasonable that I would continue such habits into adulthood. While I can attest to shedding much of my previous shopping identity (or even the desire to wander through the mall for hours….where malls still exist), online shopping quietly took the throne as the activity that doesn’t quite¬†feel like shopping but absolutely is:

Image of woman sitting behind computer with text: "Why yes, I will spend $50 more to get free shipping to avoid paying $3 for shipping"

How quickly those seemingly one-off purchases add up! Not only financially but they take up physical space; they add weight to our consumer-driven lives. They may shape our identity, or our perception of reality. They project values and priorities. Do they project the values and priorities we¬†want to reflect? That’s up to you.

After reading Ann’s narrative on her year of not shopping (inspired by her friend Elissa’s commitment to negate purchasing clothes, shoes, jewelry, and purchases), I took a little self-inventory on my own shopping predilections and where I could make change. One of my goals in 2018 is to save more money — and I realized that I spend money on things that I don’t really need anymore.

As Ann works on following her self-determined shopping rules and begins to run out of certain items, she writes that she makes “gleeful discoveries” of lip balms, lotions, soaps, and other tucked away products that have consumed space under the sink for years.

Y’all: I have four boxes of shampoo + conditioner in the bathroom closet now. How did that happen?

For me, shopping — the act of acquiring new items based on a sense of need or want — had become a non-mindful activity. Even at the grocery store, which is one of my favorite places to spend money, I move through each aisle with my list in my hand…but always with a swift justification ready in case I want to pick up a few additional items not written on the aforementioned list. (Oh, my favorite Kombucha is only $3.25, not $3.50 — I can totally put it in the cart now!)

I want to make it clear: there is zero judgment regarding feelings of joy connected to shopping. In fact, shouldn’t shopping be joyful in some ways? If we’re able to shop, that means we have economic resources to make choices. Many people in this world do not. What a privilege for me to wander around the Kroger, the Whole Foods — wherever — and have essentially limitless options.

This is what I want to work on moving forward this year:¬† I want to be mindful of the act of purchasing products. I want to think about the impact it has on my own budget; on my life with Aaron; on my ability to make other financial choices down the road. I want to be mindful about the impact my shopping choices have on my community; on the people who produced the product; on the people who will benefit from the purchase of this product. I want to think about the impact my purchases have on the environment; on labor; on the health and well-being of people that I may or may not know. I want to be present during the act of shopping — whether it is online, offline, local, or international. I want to shop less and give more. I want to find more opportunities to shop in places that bring positive change to the lives of others.

The one item — the onnnnnnnnnnnnnne item — that is going to be the hardest for me to let go of purchasing at whim:

Me reading a book on a train

No, not ridiculously large plastic waterbottles (but no, I won’t be buying those in 2018 or ever again). It’s¬†books. I love books. I love them so much. I like the way they feel, the way they make me feel. I like the way they draw me in, sometimes slowly, sometimes from the start. They rarely let me down; they comfort me when I’m sick or stuck on an airplane.

But, I have so many books. SO MANY BOOKS. And so many unread books.

This is it, my dear readers. If it’s on the Internet, it must be true right.

Sigh.

I will not purchase a book in 2018.

My intention for this year is to become more mindful throughout all aspects of my life. More to come on mindfulness in my next post after having the pleasure of attending a workshop this weekend with mindfulness/yoga/Type-A/leadership guru Robyn Fehrman.

Do you practice mindful shopping? After reading Ann Patchett’s piece, are you inspired to re-evaluate how you shop and what you buy? How can you free up space in your mind in 2018?