Thursday, February 28, 2008

To Buy or Not To Buy

Last night, Ecogeofemme wrote a comment that got me thinking:

I have kinda wondered about this. I think of you sometimes when I buy things. It will cross my mind that I could probably do without the thing I'm buying and I think "Arduous wouldn't buy it". Sometimes that thought makes me put the thing back on the shelf. :) In a way, I'm glad to know it's still a little hard for you because somehow it makes me feel less bad abut myself for being a consuming loser. I'm not sure how that logic works...Are you going to start shopping again when the year is up? If yes, do you think it will be fun or make you feel guilty? Are you going to write a book about it?

First of all, I think it's important that I'm honest with all of you. Yeah, a lot of times, I'm a reasonably happy non-consumer, but there are days when I'm not. I have also been known to over-compensate by buying more food than I really *need* just because I desperately want to buy something. I also buy more experiences these days, like concert tickets and theatre tickets, partly because not buying stuff means I can afford more concert tickets, but also because buying concert tickets gives me that momentary "thrill" of buying something.

So my point is, yeah, sometimes not buying stuff is hard. It's not always hard. And Beany's experience which she also commented on has been similar to mine. The less you shop, the less you desire to shop. And I've found that for about 90% of the things I covet, I forget about them a week later. Even the Wii, which I really want, I know I wouldn't play that often. I know I'm better off just playing it occasionally when I go to a friend's house. As for the baking dishes and mats, I obviously don't REALLY want them or I'd find them used. And that's what not buying new does to you. It makes it harder to find stuff, because you have to go to Craigslist or Ebay or garage sales. It's still not that difficult. But it's more difficult than going to the mall or Amazon or what not. Which means that when I buy stuff, when I go through the hassle of searching for something used, I know it's something I really want, as opposed to just a whim.

Which leads to the question, what am I going to do when my year is up? And the answer is, I don't know. I've had moments where I thought I'd go on a shopping spree, and others where I thought I'd keep up the non-consumerism. Obviously I can't keep it up to the rigidity that I'm maintaining now. I'm not buying any clothes until August at all. Eventually, I'm going to have to buy some clothes. They might be used, but I'd still be buying. And as I'm never going to buy used socks or underwear, I'm eventually going to have to buy new clothes sometimes too.

I think in some ways I could do okay as a more or less permanent non-consumer. I was never a huge shopper to begin with. The things I really like to buy are things like books and CDs that are widely and easily available used. But I feel a little guilty about buying all my books used. I've enjoyed many a book since August, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Not Buying It, Garbage Land, etc, and not one of those authors has seen any money from me. That seems ... wrong somehow. Music is a little easier. I can buy music off of iTunes and the artists receive their royalties. But, it's not the same thing as buying a CD from a member of the group after their show at Spaceland. Buying off of iTunes is necessarily impersonal. That doesn't mean it isn't worth the savings of plastic cases and plastic CDs. It probably is. But I think it illustrates that the politics of not buying are more gray than black and white.

I think, regardless of what I decide come August, that what is important is to be a mindful consumer. A lot of the tips you read about on financial/debt blogs are relevant to everyone. If you want to buy something, sit on your impulse for at least a week. If you still want it after a week, buy it. If you're like me, after a week, you'll have completely forgotten about whatever it is you wanted to buy.

I want to always think about my purchases, and ask myself if I really *need* them. This is tricky because I know I'd probably win a gold medal for rationalizing at the Olympics. But I have to be honest with myself. Will I use this every day? No? Once a week? Once a month? If the answer is fewer that 2-3 times a month, then I probably don't *need* it.

And ultimately I have to keep in mind, that you can't take it with you. Ultimately it doesn't matter if my pans are Calphalon or not. What matters is the time I spent with my friends and family. What matters is experiencing the art that makes the world a more beautiful place. What matters is living life, not accumulating stuff.

So no matter what I decide in August, I won't choose to be the same consumer I was a year ago. Because even if I buy, even if I buy new, I will be buying with my eyes wide open. And I think that's the important thing.

Oh, and no plans for a book. But if someone wants to offer me a publishing deal, I won't turn them down. Just sayin'.


Green Bean said...

I haven't been as much of a non-consumer as you - by a long shot. I've still bought plenty of stuff used and the occasional item new (if it's something I really want or need and that feeling hasn't changed over a matter of weeks or months). I absolutely agree that the less you buy, the less you care about buying. When I first stopped buying new, I would hit the thrift stores for a thrill. I went today because I need a mixing bowl and my oldest needed new shoes. While there, I though about looking at the other items, the clothes, womens' clothes, books and honestly just couldn't get up the energy to care. I just wanted to go home and plant some seeds in my garden, put my laundry out to dry and clean out the bread machine. Funny, huh?

You rock for sticking through this so well. And when it's all over, I think its okay to reward yourself with a Kleen Kanteen. :)

EcoGeoFemme said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. It's extremely interesting to read about your conflicting emotions.

Last year, when I resolved to pay off my cc, I really cut back on my buying. Not that I went shopping all the time, as the grad student stipend imposes some restraint. Anyway, now the cc is paid off and I can't believe how much I'm able to save on my stipend. I'm by no means a non-consumer, but I buy a lot less stuff than I could and I don't miss it all that much.

On another note, I have been thinking what a wonderful world of blogs focusing on nonconsumerism that I'm missing out on by mainly reading sciencey blogs. But I just can't add any more! I think I should not add another blog unless I take one away, like people do with items in their house. :)

Anonymous said...

I wrote Garbage Land and I am a-okay with you not buying it. Support your library, share books, pass them along to others. I'm just glad you read the thing. I admire your consumer restraint. Best, Elizabeth

ruchi said...

Wow, Elizabeth, I'm honored that you commented on my blog! I loved Garbage Land. Thanks for writing such a great book. :)

Chile said...

I've always hated shopping, until I discovered thrift stores. And then I finally realized it's the thrill of finding something totally unexpected at the thrift store that I like, not the actual buying. I cruise craigslist sometimes just to see what oddities people are selling. I think I can go on as a non-consumer. Having a limited budget helps a lot, too!

Cindy said...

I am a non-shopper, but Target used to kill me. I would walk in to get toilet paper and walk out with $100+ items, most of which would be tossed aside or to the trash within a couple of days. Now that I have not set my foot into Target, I don't seem to have the urge to go anymore. What is it with us humans that seem to be sort of genetically coded to want stuff when faced with stuff.