Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, fast approaches, and with it comes the opportunity for t'shuvah (repentance and return to a higher standard of behavior). The concept of t'shuvah is, as with so many elements of Judaism, both simple and complex. One can make t'shuvah in the most straightforward way possible--thinking of one's wrongdoing over the past year, ruing those wrongs, and then righting them, or at least resolving to make them right. Or one can be radical in the approach to this exercise.
This year, I'm going to try for a more radical approach to repentance and return. I've been thinking a lot about my family's consumerist tendencies, from the moral, psychological, practical, and financial points of view. We have a great deal--more than we need. We buy a great deal--more than we need. We don't have a lot of money.
Into the thick of my musings comes Hedgie, who is currently obsessed with something she read about with her bubbe in the NY Times, about a family resolved to spend "a year without shopping," in which they didn't buy anything they didn't need for sustenance and survival. Hedgie was caught up in the adventure of it, mentioned it so often this summer that I finally took a hint that I think she was giving me.
So we've decided as a family to do this ourselves. We held a meeting to decide how long (we voted 6 months to begin with), whether there could be room for cheating (yes--Hedgie's birthday) and of course the most important question: what do we consider strictly necessary renewables, what just plain old unnecessary shopping?
It has been actually sort of fun to figure this out. Most things are obvious--no new clothes, new shoes, makeup, perfume, yarn, jewelry (me); toys or geegaws like comic books or gumball machine prizes (Hedgie); guitars (!) and magazines and cds (Sarge). No more roaming the aisles of Target and leaving with a package of Pokemon cards, new nailpolish, and fancy little notebooks. No more Sephora or Fresh, for new lip gloss or scented soap. No more little souvenirs of our trips to Chinatown or the museum. No new party dresses for Hedgie or myself. No manicures, no new tagine (how much do I want one of those things). We're going to put off the furniture upgrades for our living room, and the new kitchen flooring too. No new cell phones or electronic gadgets or accessories. When I lay out these purchases so baldly here, I think they seem completely wasteful. We really do have enough already. So, starting in a week and a half, whatever gets spent, gets spent on groceries and bills. No more recreational shopping, from the tiniest to the largest purchase.
The sort of sad thing is that I think it is going to take some adjustment, that I am so used to saying "yes" when Hedgie asks for something, even if money is stretched tight (which it usually is, these days). I'm so used to saying yes to myself, when I see a little trinket I like, or a new dress. But I'm already feeling a little lighter, knowing that we're going to have to say no. Living outside of our means, even a little, has just become too uncomfortable. Unnecessary spending is a habit I'm thrilled to break. And I'm tired of contributing to the credit house of cards that America has become. Not spending is, to me, a bit anarchic, a bit like sticking it to The Man.
I realize as I write this that there is a certain hypocrisy, a certain amount of posturing in taking a stand like this. I mean, I'm lucky to have the option to decide whether or not to give up frivolous spending. Still, when all is said and done, I just don't see how it could be a bad thing.
One little addendum here before I shut up: I totally support the right of anyone else to shop and enjoy it! I would never pass judgment--this is just something I think would be good for us personally.
and p.s. do you think daily take-away iced coffee is shopping? I hate to say that I do, but if anyone thinks otherwise, maybe I won't have to forgo it for the next 6 months...