Make Do, Do Without
At the end of last year, I decided to try not buying anything except consumables for the whole of 2009. It was a pie-in-the-sky project with vague rules and no real consequences or penalties for failure. I blogged my progress and this is the final report.
The first few months sailed by smoothly. I restricted and restrained myself for about half a year without too much pain. I kept a wish list of things I wanted to buy but wouldn't. I retrained myself to not shop as a waiting game. The plastic smell of shops became unpleasant. My main failures were supplies - fabrics and hoop tubing - and gifts for friends and family.
When summer came, I gave in more easily to shopping temptations for myself. I bought some clothes and more fabric. Cosmetics sneaked into the house and so did a new pair of sneakers to support my sprained foot. I stopped keeping my journal in August. Autumn arrived with flurry of buying for Spin Matsuri, partially materials for the event itself and partially costumes for me. Our trip to Thailand and Singapore saw purchases of books and clothing. I replaced my filled up sketchbook with a new one. I bought an old, used telephone that I have wanted for years. And in the last month, I have caved in to the point that I bought all of my Christmas gifts and not many of them were consumables.
Shopping is a slippery slope. It is hard to put the brakes on and so very easy to get rolling again. Here is my scorecard, based on the original goals I stated last December.
- No accumulation of things
- Partial success. I ended up with more hoop costumes, hoops, makeup, and clothes than I started with but most of the durable goods I purchased were given away as gifts.
- Purchase only consumables
- Fail. See above.
- Become mindful of my consumption
- Success. However, consciousness and conscientiousness slipped later in the year.
- Exercise creativity by repurposing what I already have
- Partial success. I had a few good moments, like the shoe clips in May, but I found this surprisingly difficult.
- improve skills in repair, maintenance, & construction
- Partial success. Though I did repair and maintain things, I didn't do so with new or improved skills.
- Build networks through bartering and trade
- Partial success. I bartered and traded with friends as I always do, but did not build new networks.
- Reduce my "ecological footprint" by decreasing waste and increasing the life of my things
- Partial success. As an example, I eked another year out of our 12 year old mattress and put the 5 year old computer in for repair instead of replacing it.
- Refocus my desires to more meaningful things, rather than an LED hula hoop
- Fail. I still want hula hoops. They are meaningful to me.
This month has been illuminating.
As seems typical, very few of my purchases will remain in the house. I've bought gifts for friends' birthdays and supplies for Spin Matsuri and other hooping events. I think I can justify these things without guilt. I splashed out on a trio of Uniqlo shirts & a pair of purple leggings to fill in little gaps in my wardrobe - I've already worn all of them but I could have survived with out them, so that was a fail. I bought a hat at a flea market. The woman and her smiling baby made me feel good about it, so not too much of a fail.
I also put together an emergency kit in case of earthquakes - resupplying our stock and adding some new essentials. That is a "I hope this is never consumed" item that I do not regret or feel at all guilty about shopping for.
Tod & I started tracking our daily purchases, including monthly bills & transportation costs. Basically anything that comes out of our wallet gets marked down in a notebook at the front door. It is surprising how much money we spend, even without many durable goods. Our daily average is 12,000 yen for the past month. That is pretty amazing, since I don't think we spend huge wads of money. But I guess I have the notes to prove we do.
Where does it go? Well, utilities are high, we don't skimp on groceries, we are generous with gifts and we eat out a couple of times a week. Trains and taxis cost us 34,000 this month; utilities totaled over 30,000; I had a 5000 yen hoop class; the emergency kit set us back 8,000 yen; Tod's workday lunches about 1000 yen daily. So anyone who thought I was going to ruin economic recovery by not shopping...you were wrong. I am still spending plenty of money.
At least not too much of our cash is spent on things that persist.
Short report: FAIL.
Long report: I have a lot of interesting new clothes, many of them from a second-hand shop.
Of the above, two pants, two skirts, one jacket, and three tops are brand new; one skirt and five tops are second-hand. In other words, 14 of my 44 wardrobe pieces are newly purchased.
It was my intention to go window shopping with Jeanette last Sunday, not to actually buy things. It was meant to be a lesson in cut and color but the clothes fit so well and they were on sale...I got stuff at 3 different stores. Here is my shameful accounting: 8000 yen at H&M for 2 skirts, 2 pants and a jacket; 7000 yen at Zara for 3 tops; and about 9000 yen at Kinji for a skirt and 5 tops.
I should feel guilty but I have a completely coordinating wardrobe that gets me compliments when I wear it. With so many matching pieces I will be able to don a different outfit every day for the rest of the summer (and the next couple of summers, too), so I have no reason to want any more clothes.
Shopping is a slippery slope. Now I want shoes and accessories. Sigh. Brakes on. Can not have.
Clothes weren't my only fail this month. Feeling the sadness of not having any glowing toys for our weekly evening spin gatherings, I bought 4 Cyalume LED glow sticks to make glowing poi. They are quite spectacular in motion. 890 yen each. I knitted the leashes myself, at least.
The last few weeks have been quiet on the shopping front, though the change in seasons has made me wish for things like new shoes, summery interior goods, and a juicer. Instead, I bought four books to give as gifts and some bento molds for a little pressie to MJ. The other day there was a fabric and thread purchase for stuff I will sell on Etsy. That's it for the non-consumables. Ultimately none of them stay here in the house.
The worst craving has been for fresh summer togs. But I have refrained. In lieu of new clothes, I spent a wad of cash on a service. Jeanette, the StyleSmart Sensei, came over for a wardrobe consultation. Before our session, I explained my dilemma: my wardrobe is uncoordinated and confused but I am not shopping this year. She said it would be no problem.
We spent several hours together while I tried on every piece of clothing I own - even the winter wardrobe I'd just put into storage. When she left, she took away about 20% of my clothes: all things boxy, ill-fitting, or an unflattering color. A few of my old favorites were in her bag and even some nice newer things, but I understood why. I really ought not wear pants that two people can fit into nor a jacket that is simply too large and the wrong color.
Of the remaining clothes, I need to alter 2/3 to fit me - mainly I'll be taking in shirts, reworking waistbands, and dying all the beige and white things to make them teal, pink, green, or red. So I have crafty homework to do - and I will have to work quickly or risk not having any clothes to wear after a couple of days. Next month, we will be going on a learning expedition to the stores to see what I might buy if I were shopping (and it will be very difficult not to buy anything, I know) and to a flea market to see the vintage dresses (and I will feel not too bad if my resolve fails there).
Jeanette really gave me good advice and suggestions. I am sure that I will follow through with some of them in six months' time when I am shopping again.
For the last couple of days I've been out of sorts and down. Before I started my year of not shopping, I probably would have gone browsing at stores and purchased some little bauble or toy to cheer myself up. That's quite a common thing to do. It even has a name, retail therapy. I don't know a single person who doesn't practice it at least sometimes.
I thought about retail therapy as I indulged in my own therapy yesterday - eating lunch out while doing my Japanese homework - and had some thoughts about why we shop to try to feel better. Shopping isn't good therapy in the least. However, it does supply:
We need space and time away from our problems. Retail environments offer lots of distractions, including mood-setting music, eye-catching displays, demos and testers to explore, and other shoppers to watch. Oh, shiny kittens!
Whether these distractions help us process our issues in the background of our minds or just keep us from finding a resolution may depend upon the situation. Problem solving often benefits by distraction so that the subconscious can reach the eureka moment, but this only applies when one can solve the problem solo. If the problem is of the relationship variety, I think shopping becomes procrastination of a difficult conversation with another person, or avoidance of action or therapeutic thought.
New things are exciting. They promise a better future, an easier life, an improved you. The anticipation of listening to a new album, the beauty claims of a face mask, the imagined compliments from wearing the latest fashion all offer a mental lift and mood boost. Whatever is distressing us in the rest of our world can be momentarily forgotten as we fantasize about ourselves with this new object.
But future-building via acquisition rarely comes to much. After playing with, listening to, wearing, or using the item we bought, it's likely that we are back to our original unhappy state. Unless we gained some insight from playing/listening/wearing/using it, nothing is changed. Or worse, we're disillusioned because the hope placed in the improvement and curative power of the purchase didn't come to anything after all. Worse yet, the item broke or didn't function as it was designed. Hope truly shattered.
Being part of a group helps us feel better about ourselves and makes our problems seem smaller. When we become the proud owner of a new iPhone, BMW, Gap sweater, or the latest novel by Haruki Murakami, we join a tribe of people who also bought these things. We are connected both to other owners and to the company that spawned the products. We associate with a brand image; we are now a cool hipster; someone who has made it in the world; on-trend but practical; a quirky intellectual.
Real connections and community are important, but the connection we get from shopping is pretty shallow. We are one of 14 million iPhone owners. Aside from earning profit via our wallet, any corporation wants little to do with us. Shopping doesn't build connections that help our troubles much after the initial glow of association.
Shopping puts us in control when our life feels a mess. It gives us something to "do". Retail therapy involves lots of small actions based on personal decisions - where to shop, what to look at, when to make a buy, which color/size/model to choose, whether to pay in cash or on credit - and while they are mostly minor choices, they are still decisions to be acted on. Making a decision and following through with it is empowering.
Maybe empowerment explains the crux of retail therapy and its extreme cousin, shopaholic behaviour. "Gee, I might not be able to get a promotion/stop my husband from drinking/cure my aunt's illness, but I can buy this pretty green shirt and shoes to match. Yes, I'll do that." This same action and control factor plays a role in eating disorders, too.
Is consumerism in general a huge blanket for soothing society's and individual's woes, fears and sadness? Now that is a depressing thought. What do others think about this?
I was sure that retail therapy would be a subject of great exploration and research, but there isn't much on this topic, at least not on the Internet. Paco Underhill is a subject expert with books like Why We Buy and Call of the Mall. I found a 2004 paper by Andy Pratt at the London School of Economics that starts out calling retail therapy "anti-therapy" but quickly moves into academic jargon like "acceptance of the quasi-anthropological dictum" and is actually discussing economic analysis of consumption.
In less academic circles, a report from Cotton, Inc's Lifestyle Monitor explains that women like the social aspects of shopping together. Discovery Health claims that women experience pleasure and power when they shop to improve their environment and express creativity. An ABC News article about a 2008 study says feeling sad leads to self-centered thinking and higher spending when shopping. Not to be outdone, CBS News discusses the release of dopamine in the shopping brain, creating a shopper's high. There's a Guardian article about how the walking involved in shopping is a health benefit.
So I am glad that I am not shopping as a therapy. Doing my homework offered the distraction, hope, connection and action that shopping might have, but didn't cost anything, improved my Japanese vocabulary, and inspired this writing, too.
A ballpoint pen somehow ended up in a basket of mixed colored laundry. Now the colors are even more mixed. My beige underwear, pink t-shirt, and a few unmatched socks are poxy with flecks of blue.
I'm not shopping so I won't replace them. Here is my chance to make do or do without. The underthings aren't really a problem but the pink t-shirt, one of my favorites, presents a challenge. Possibly the ink will fade after a few more washes, but maybe I can embellish it with sequins on the ink stains and pick out a pattern in between them?
This has been a bad month for not shopping. I experienced some shopping marathons, but all done for love.
It started in the airports on the way to the US for Maureen's wedding. I didn't buy anything except juice and crappy food, but the whole airport experience is set up to separate you from your money. Shops market impulse purchases to tired, weak people with time to kill. Who else would buy those lame souvenirs? Disgusting. Put me in a bad mood for the rest of the trip.
Weddings require a lot of purchases. In addition to a half-day ingredient excursion to Costco and various supermarkets, there was a trip to JoAnne Fabrics for draping material, a bunch of hoop supplies purchased at Home Depot, little pots of bubbles, garden lights, and myriad other bits and bobs. And that was just Maureen's wedding.
When we returned to Tokyo, it was time to prepare for Tracey & Ashley's nuptials. Tracey's hen's party, which we enjoyed last night, has also been a buying overload. I was able to reuse some of the fabric from Maureen's wedding to make costumes for karaoke, but I didn't have enough time or material to make them all so a trip to the Donki discount chain was necessary. While I was browsing cheap wigs and animal costumes, I saw a man masturbating while staring at the girls buying maid costumes. This is not unusual there. Disgusting shopping on another level entirely.
Since I've never been to a hens/bachelorette party, I had no idea what to do. Thanks to the Internet, I decided that a crown for the bride seemed a necessity, so I made a confection of beads, wire and veiling. And we needed games so that everyone would get a present or a prize. I hit up the 100 yen shop for a bunch of "junky-dos" as my Grandmom use to call them. Prizes included origami paper, gauze towels, zebra-print stockings, roasted plums, and odd bits of stationery. Silly things that peole smiled about.
Gifts have been a troublesome aspect of not shopping. Earlier in the year, I decided not to buy any, period. But I regret that decision because it means that I didn't send my mother flowers on my birthday like I usually do. I wish I had. For Tod's birthday I was able to buy consumables - lots of nice bath products - but I caved in for Elliot Mason's first birthday and got him a bunch of summer outfits from a shop. At least wedding gifts are easy; cash is definitely consumable.
I did have one spot of strength this month. I thought I would need to buy a pair of shoes to go with the coral colored dress I am wearing to Tracey's wedding on Sunday. This is the dress that was to be the prototype for Amanda's wedding dress. It is a fun party dress and I am excited to wear it but coral is not a color I have anywhere else in my wardrobe, so I don't have shoes that match it. Black's too dark; silver is too cool grey and I have no dressy white shoes. I actually went out to look for shoes but there was nothing suitable. Thank goodness! I ended up making some shoe clips for the silver shoes from dress scraps and old hair clips. The silver shoes are transformed into exactly the right thing. Shoe clips are a retro miracle.
I think the coming month will be much, much easier than the past four weeks. No weddings, no birthdays and no other events to run. I have more hoops than I need. I can content myself with refashioning my summer wardrobe if I want something "new" to play with. I only need to consider gardening expenses. More on that next month.
I'm still doing well on my goal of no shopping. I cheat a certain amount on sewing supplies, but I am buying more cautiously than last month and otherwise I have not purchased anything other than consumables since the start of the year.
My birthday was a bonanza of new things, thanks to the generosity of family and friends: 5 new hula hoops, a large pile of books, tasty treats, a beautiful top, lotions and potions, a handmade necklace, and lots of fabric and notions came into my life at the beginning of this month. Thanks, everyone! You've helped me to not buy stuff.
Which is not to say I don't spend money. There are lots of things that fall into the category of consumables. In fact, over 40,000 yen has floated away from my wallet in the past week. Here is a rough accounting:
Thursday 5,000 - PASMO card charge-up; 11,000 - train fare to/from Shimoda; Friday 2,000 - vegetables; Saturday 3,000 - hoop class; 10,000 - groceries and food gifts; 12,000 - 3 hour dinner at Aoi Napoli; Sunday 0 - I stayed in and sewed all day :-) Monday 1,000 - a variety of good breads; Tuesday 2,000 - laundry detergent, toilet paper and groceries
So you can see that the money goes quickly. But just imagine how fast it gushed out when I bought clothes and other stuff.
Speaking of clothes, I was very proud of myself a few weeks back when I mended a big hole in my favorite sweater. I crocheted into the knitting around the hole, then crocheted in a spiral towards the center. I added a coordinating patch on the other elbow, too. The repairs look funky and I am happy to be wearing the sweater again.
That experience has lead me to want to rework all of my clothes. I've already done some surgery on a t-shirt that didn't fit right - I turned it into a tank top that still doesn't fit but matters less- and a skirt that was too long is now a better length. My serger is amazing for that sort of thing. I have other old things I want to reshape, tear apart or simply embellish. And thanks to Mom & Jenn's generosity at my birthday, I have more fabric to work with in the coming months. My wardrobe is going to get a real overhaul.
Now here I am, more than a 1/4 of the way through the year, and I don't feel any lack or need. But my daily notebook/sketchbook is getting perilously close to being filled, so we'll see what happens next month.
Another month has gone by in my year of not shopping. I have shopped, a little bit. Almost everything I purchased was for a specific project and much of it has already exited the house.
- 4 rolls of electrical tape and a tube of glue to finish the hoops I made in November
- 6 small skeins of yarn immediately knit into a housewarming gift
- 1 meter of pink spangle for Spinbirds costumes
- 3 cuts of cotton knit fabric from the Okadaya sale table
- A craft punch & some paper samples for Tracey's wedding invitations
I haven't used the cotton knits yet and that indicates that I am finished buying fabric for a while but not for too long. Since I will be making Amanda's wedding dress, I will have to buy material and because the dress will be an original design, I am planning to make two of them: a prototype in color that will be my "wedding guest dress" for this year's round of celebrations; and then Amanda's all white bridal version. So I will buy fabric for a dress for myself in the next week or so and start sewing.
Shopping as entertainment is something that I knew would be difficult to let go. It is a convenient way to kill time (really kill it dead forever) when in between activities and I am slowly retraining myself not to go into a shop to look at things that I won't be buying. As a result of staying away from retail most of the time, I've noticed how very awful stores smell. All plastic-y and chemical fumes. Ick. Chemical poisoning - another reason to avoid shops.
Over the weekend, I did a big spring clean and kipple pitch. Even without buying much lately, there was a lot of stuff hiding in corners and weighing me down. We stuffed 5 garbage bags full of broken & worn out things, old promotional items, plastic deli containers, and a lot of scraps from my fabric stash. There was a pile of cardboard and magazines to recycle, too. It wasn't too hard to get rid of it all and I'd be happy to pare down even more. I need to have a garage sale.
I thought I would develop a hording problem. It certainly makes sense to hang on to stuff that can be used as raw materials, like old clothes and cardboard boxes. But those things need to be stored somewhere (where?) in an easily accessible organization (how?). So in the end, it is easier to toss everything and Do Without.
In general, I can say that it is becoming more and more simple to ignore all the stuff in stores when I am out and about. I am still drawn to bright colors and pretty textures, but it is sort of like looking at flowers in a public garden. I don't want to pick one.
I've passed up all the Winter Bargain sales without any trouble and even got annoyed at the eye-catching ads for them on trains. At the Australia Day ball, we only bid on service items - no goods at all. I wore an old dress and accessories to the Ball and the same nondescript black high heels I have been wearing for years. It wasn't really a sacrifice at all.
There was one moment a few weeks back, walking with Jim in Akasaka when I saw a stationery shop and was a bit sad I couldn't go in and buy stuff. Moments later I saw a cute dress that left me feeling regretful that I couldn't buy it. I laughed, commented on my emotion, and the desire to shop evaporated.
But there is one big Fail this month. I blame it on a late Christmas present - a new serger/overlocker. It arrived four days ago and I have been on a spend-fest to get appropriate thread (sergers use up to 5 cones of special thread at a time, so I now own 20 spools in various useful colors) and a range of fabrics to test the new machine. I splashed out on some knits that I didn't have in my stash because I never would have considered sewing on my conventional machine. Fuchsia ruffled tricot panties anyone?
Aside from my fervor with the serger, I have noticed that my desire to craft has decreased. Maybe I am concerned about using up all my supplies; maybe I just don't want to make more things that will accumulate. I am not sure, but I don't read crafting blogs so often anymore. I used to read them daily.
Fabric wasn't my only purchase in the last month. I also bought some music to use in hoop classes that I am teaching. As I wrote in my journal, "Does this set a precedent that it is OK to buy music? In general, or for justified cases? Does this purchase mean other supplies are fair game?"
I want to use the supplies I have and not buy anything more, which is tricky because patching together odds and ends and random supplies I have on hand is sometimes more challenging that I wish. Buying something purpose made (whether is it a completed product or a particular part) is so much easier than thinking creatively. Maybe a stronger, more robust creativity is part of the essence I want to find in this No Shopping year.
1/1 - hoop tape to finish the 160psi hoops
1/1 - keitai battery to replace my dying one.
1/1 - serger (a promised Xmas present, arrived 2/5)
1/1 - archival photo boxes
1/20 - a few more sports/hoop outfits for teaching
1/20 - "indoor shoes" for gym wear
1/28 - Fashion Design Idea Notes (oops, I already had it!)
1/29 - photo album (or two)
2/9 - 4-way stretch cotton fabric for unspecified hooping outfits
2/9 - Burda World of Fashion 11/2007 issue (yoga pants pattern)
2/9 - patterns for sportswear
2/9 - sewing books on overlock/serging
I decided to go through with my plan to not shop for a year. I am certainly not the only person to be doing this, as I discovered after my first post on the topic at the end of last year. There are lots of groups and sites dedicated to reducing consumerism in various ways. I'll post about some of them later on. Today is just a personal report of my progress.
The first two weeks have been pretty easy. I haven't had too many "I want X" moments. There was one afternoon, while waiting for a friend at a train station, that I would have liked some hand cream to soothe my dry skin. But I didn't have any and I refrained from buying some. I felt virtuous and made a note to myself to do a better job of packing little necessities into my bag. I still haven't put any lotion in, though.
Mostly I have been avoiding shopping by doing things at home, going for walks and excursions, suffering a migraine, and hooping. The usual things, but more of them, I guess. My Japanese study is getting greater attention. That is good.
That is not to say I haven't looked at all. Tod & I made our traditional swing through Ameyokocho during the new year holiday. We bought food - yummy Chinese onion buns and a lot of peanuts - and ignored the durable goods, though it was a bit of a challenge to pass by all the pretty scarves and interesting cheap clothes. And one afternoon last week, Jim & I were browsing the antiques stalls at Ueno Park. There were a few temptations, like glass laboratory equipment and handmade beads, but I enjoyed looking at them without buying them. Soon enough I was bored of the whole thing and dragged Jim off to ride in a swan boat with me.
I must admit that there was one actual shopping experience. It was not for myself and it was in a true emergency. I'm forgiving myself for it, but I did note it carefully in my journal with a drawing of what I bought and a record of the price. Here's what happened: Jim needed clean underwear and pajamas when he landed in the hospital with a fractured skull (a long story not related to the swan boat and he is recovering now). I was asked to get some essentials and bring them to the hospital. At the time, in the stress of the situation, I didn't even consider an alternative to popping into Uniqlo and dropping some cash on new things. Reflecting on it later, I could have found a non-shopping solution. I might have loaned him some of Tod's stuff. Or I might have had time to go over Jim's place and root around for clean clothes. Neither of those options were in my head on the day, though, so I shopped. Mea culpa.
I have a roof over my head, a closet full of clothes, cupboards of dishes and pots, furniture to sit and sleep on. I have books to read, music to listen to, a computer to help me communicate. There are bins of fabrics and boxes of art supplies in my studio, and plenty of tools to use on them.
I think I have enough.
So what if I stopped buying things for a year? I mean no more clothes or furniture, no tools or gear. No new toys or books or supplies. Food and consumable daily essentials excepted, of course.
Can I make do with what I have? I think so. I have enough.
But why would I stop buying things? Largely because I dislike consumer culture (easy for me to say, since I think I have enough stuff). It is more satisfying to me to make my own stuff, as you probably realise from reading past entries here. But not buying anything for a year is broader than my DIY skillset. So doing this is definitely a personal challenge, but to what end? Here are some points that I'd hope to achieve:
- become mindful of my consumption
- exercise creativity by repurposing what I already have
- improve skills in repair, maintenance, & construction
- build networks through bartering and trade
- reduce my "ecological footprint" by decreasing waste and increasing the life of my things
- refocus my desires to more meaningful things, rather than an LED hula hoop
But what implications am I overlooking? What grey areas am I going to have to clarify? Before I jump into this, which I am likely to do for the new year, what hurdles can you think of that might make me stumble or fail?