Monday, September 7, 2009

Turning

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...

39 comments:

Ronda Laveen said...

This wonderful work. I know I'm not Jewish, but would it offend you if I raised my pattern of behavior in my own way during this time? To raise ones essence and vibration is ultimate work.

Sorry, I love coffee to but take outs are a no+no.

Baino said...

Great idea although it would be a small sacrifice for me. I hate shopping. These days the only shopping I do is for household necessities or to repair broken equipment (although I did have to 'corporate' up a bit for this job and bought two new work suits and a pair of shoes). Six months is a long time but see how you go. And yes, if your PC breaks, buying new one might be regarded as shopping . .nah I don't think so. It's a necessity.

Actually it's amazing how little you really need when you get down to it.

Leah said...

Ronda: Of course I wouldn't be offended! The High Holy Days can offer wonderful themes even to someone totally unaffiliated with Judaism. Partly, it's the beginning of a new year, at least as I have always measured the new year (by the start of school), and a time for a fresh start. I think mindfulness is always a wonderful exercise, and sometimes one just needs a little jump-start.

And unfortunately I think you're right about the coffee. I have a very nice thermos, though, and will break it out and carry my own coffee if I have to go somewhere. Another dilemma: am I allowed my favorite coffee beans? I have answered yes to that, because we're being very flexible with our grocery allotment. We're a family that likes nice foodstuff...

Baino: I'm hoping to get to that point that you describe, where shopping isn't such an automatic habit anymore. I'm also hoping very much to be reacquainted with all my lovely possessions that I think I take for granted!

As for the laptop...if it breaks down, I suppose I will get it repaired. Not a new one though...I do need it for my work as well as my fun.

Emerson Marks said...

Yes, Leah! I'm up for this. Mainly cos I'm skint too, but I like teh idea of giving two fingers to the men in suits. Bit harder to do if you've got kids though. You should try it for a month maybe, blog about it, see where it goes.

otin said...

I am not a big shopping type of guy. I usually wear clothes until they wear out!

Candie Bracci said...

I think it's a great idea Leah!

Maria said...

I'm always surprised by how little spending money is left for us at the end of the month. And then, I take a peek at my check book and see exactly where that cash went.

It is going to Target to get a small birthday gift for one of Liv's friends and then coming out with a big bag filled with things like nail polish, a new frying pan, some funny cards to send to our neighbor, Sven (who would much prefer a picture from Liv), some paisley cotton napkins, sun glasses, a TON of things from the dollar aisle that add up to at least 10 bucks, and treats like chocolate covered cherries.

One month, I told myself that I was NOT going to spend money on anything that was not on my grocery list or whatever I went into a particular store for. And you know, it was over a hundred bucks in savings. Easily.

I think you are on the right track and I am anxious to read your blog and see how it goes....

PI said...

I think it is a great idea and in the long run it will give you much pleasure and will set a good example for Hedgie.
We haven't been into our county town shopping for almost a year - mainly because it's been too much effort but I have to feel really convinced now before I buy anything I don't strictly need.
Good on you and the best of luck.

mapstew said...

A great idea!

Our microwave oven went belly-up a few months ago and we could't afford to buy a new one at the time. And the outcome? We stopped buying convenience food and the girls are all learning to cook meals from scratch, the slow way.
Happier and healthier!

xxx

CSI Seattle said...

Wow. From a financial point of view, this is excellent. The challenge will come as you discover the day to day comforts not yet realized. If I had to give up my daily Starbucks, a new necessity would be loads of Tylenol to rid my headaches.

Movies, going out with friends, my poker addiction, all of it, would be very difficult to pass up on for any length of time. I might suggest that each of you be allowed one vice once in a while. Decide what it is up front for all to know. Otherwise this experiment will be like a hard core diet with no occassional treats.

Leah said...

Emerson: "skint"! I love that. It really pretty much describes where we're at right at the moment. It remains to be seen whether we can do it--but it was Hedgie's idea first, so maybe she can manage. She seemed quite enthusiastic, and she's already going through her toys to check out what she's forgotten about.

otin: Sarge does that too. Eventually I have to take his t-shirts and boxers for rags.

just bob said...

I could use about 6 months of non-discretionary spending as well. Maybe I should move in?

The Unbearable Banishment said...

Once I was laid off, all discretionary spending came to an immediate halt. Once I started working four months later, we didn't pick up the same spending habits we once had. If you stick with it, your lifestyle will permanently change.

Brian Miller said...

i think this is anamazing exercise and i am excited that you are doing it together as a family. there will be moments you need each others strength. i have fasted several times...food in particular...in the end it does some amazing things spiritually...

Karen ^..^ said...

OH MY GOD, you are TOTALLY sticking it to the man!!! I love, love, love this!!!

I did it last year. But, more because I was forced, I barely had enough to survive and eat.

Thank God I had quit smoking, there would have been no way I could have justified paying for cigarettes.

Sorry, babe. Takeaway coffee is shopping. You can make iced coffee so easily at home! It's delicious! Go to world market before you start this and get a bottle of caramel syrup. Make your own! YUM. Plus, you get to control how much sugar and gunk you put in it. PLUS, +++++ You get to boycott Starbucks, another soul sucking corporation that has stuck it to the little guy for years, putting them promptly out of business.

Since my boycott on Walmart, I now find I can much more easily pay my bills on time. When they come in. That's never happened to me before.

I love it. Great feeling.

Karen ^..^ said...

Oh, wait a sec. You live in Brooklyn. You don't have to go to world market, just go to an Italian deli for your caramel syrup!

Leah said...

Candie: thanks, I hope we can pull it off!

Maria: it is absolutely amazing isn't it, how fast the money goes on fripperies! I love your description of your Target haul. That store is my bete noir--SO alluring--it's got a siren song...

Pat: I do think it will be sort of fun, after a bit. I want to get to the point where, as you say, I have to be "really convinced" before I buy an extra.

map: a perfect story of a happ(ier) ending without something you were sure you needed! See, creativity kicked in! That's great.

Brian S.: I totally agree, there are many things we'll be confronted with that we haven't thought of--that'll be the challenge! We're not cutting out things like entertainment, entirely. For instance, we will keep our Netflix account, and we will go out to eat sometimes. The idea with that is, we don't want to jeopardize our socializing with our friends.

But yeah, the take-away caffeine is my own personal form of denial! I really really love getting my iced double shot...

Leah said...

Bob: please do move in! We can all pool our resources. Think how much more bacon!

UB: that's what I'm hoping for--a permanent life change. One that will stick with Hedgie as she gets older.

Brian M.: what's interesting is that Yom Kippur is one of the fasting days in Judaism--we fast from food and drink for 24 hours, while we pray in synagogue and at home. So it's a good way to begin the next phase of our fasting.

Karen: we are so sticking it to the man! hah! That is practically my favorite part of it. Sometimes I like to imagine what would happen in this country if no one used credit and only spent what they had...we would collapse and rebuild? I don't know. I think about that a lot.

And yeh, you're right about the iced coffee although it isn't exactly shopping, it is frivolous. I just can't justify it. The only thing is, I usually get mine from a local place, independently owned, that I like to support. Well we'll probably still have Saturday brunch with our friends there--it's a standing date I can't really give up.

I do make an awesome pot of coffee. I still have four cans of Cafe du Monde chicory, and I'll make pots at night and put 'em in the fridge overnight.

It is going to be such a relief to our bank account.

Karen ^..^ said...

Well, if it's a local business, you simply HAVE to support that. Besides, you did already say that there would be some eating out. How cool would it be to support only local businesses during this emptying out process?

I'm sure you do make a wonderful pot of coffee. I'd love to have coffee with you some day. Sometimes I actually make fresh perked coffee. It's so wonderful I can barely stand it.

You will love how much money you suddenly have!

MJ said...

Since you've gone off shoe shopping for now, I'll purchase an extra pair in your honour and send you a photo.

Kind of like those Foster Child programs.

Leah said...

Maybe the rule should be that I can have coffee out, but only if it's an independent place, and only if I'm sitting down!

Yum. Fresh perked coffee. I know we'll have coffee together someday my dear!

Leah said...

MJ: yes! I want to be a foster shopping child. Or a shopping foster child. Or whatever. I bet you have great taste in shoes.

nick said...

I've never been an impulse shopper, I'm one of those disgustingly self-disciplined people who only buys what I need. Well, with one or two exceptions like muffins in the coffee shop or exotic herbal teas (hmmm, mainly edibles - interesting). Good luck, but I somehow think with your past shopping history the good intentions may not last too long....

Leah said...

Nick, at this point the plan is based on far more than good intentions, and it's a necessity, so I'm pretty sure we've got to make it work!

Sarge is a self-disciplined non-shopper too (is that a man thing?), so I'm not worried about him. Really when you get down to it, it's me! I'm not that bad, but I could be the loose canon in this situation, especially as I'm in charge of all the financials for our household.

plainolebob said...

you buy that tea, hell any woman that can walk down the aisle of any dept. store deserves that.
come by and visit my crazy place.

Cinnamon said...

Once you get into the habit of not shopping, it should be a breeze! Good luck!

savannah said...

what a great plan, sugar! adapting it to y'all's lifestyle will make it easier to do without extras, as we call them down heah, and still maintain the quality of y'all's life. seeing friends for brunch is good for the soul and has only a small impact on the purse in the grand scheme of things. xoxoxo

Leah said...

plainolebob: welcome, and let it be said, I don't so much walk down the aisle of a store, as swerve drunkenly...

Cinnamon: it is all about habit, and I've broken a few of those successfully in the past...

savannah: *leans over to brush off a dab of paint with a handkerchief*--yes, we decided we couldn't let our lifestyle change get in the way of our joy, and our important friendships! We like to have people over to our place too for brunches and dinners, but truth be told, hosting meals is probably in the end more expensive than going out--so, in the end, we just won't put limits on those things. I agree with you.

subtorp77 said...

Leah, this is a great idea and I think I may have started something similar. Of course, it is hard to say no to Princess Cheese at times, but I'm getting better at it. I've even reduced my reliance on the petrol and do a lot of "doubling up" on errands...big savings there, if need be...good luck in this venture of yours, as well :)

Megan said...

Oh, best of luck! I bet you'll do just fine. It will be interesting to hear about it as you go along.

I only wish I had some discretionary income. :)

Mr. Shife said...

Good luck in your quest to end unnecessary shopping. I think it will definitely be tough at first but if you are determined I think you can do it. I am not a coffee guy so I think you should maybe do one a week as a little bit of a reward if you are good during the week.

Madame DeFarge said...

It's an interesting idea but not one that I suspect that I could follow easily unless it was out of necessity. I'm not very good at saying 'no', but I do agree that saying it can be liberating. However, I shall remain a prisoner of 'yes' for some time yet I suspect.

PĂ©itseoga said...

wow, good luck! i'm afraid the coffees are non-essential, in my humble opinion... mr. shife's idea sounds good though!

kylie said...

leah,
i sit still to comment on this yesterday but how i love it!

my favourite fashion writer, maggie alderson, did an experiment like this and chronicled it.

they could but anything they wanted if it was second hand but the only new things allowed were stationery and toiletries (i think thats how it worked)

i've been wracking my brain to remember what she called it and it just hit me: compacting. i think she first heard of it in new york.

they were going to try it for 12months but she fell off the wagon once or twice and then gave up completely in six months. six months changed her attitude completely from what i can tell and she has never gone back to the kind of shopping she did. thats something in the fashion biz!

anyhow, i think it will be very interesting and i wish you luck
xo

Leah said...

subby: one good thing is, in the city I don't drive very often! Saves tons of gas. This year it's all about the subway!

Megan: discretionary income is mighty scarce--here's hoping this will yield more!

Mr Shife: one take-away coffee a week sounds like a good idea, but I might even eschew that! Sarge seemed stunned by my pluckiness when he heard I was going to forgo the coffee!

Mme DeF: a "prisoner of 'yes'"! So funny...at least you're a happy prisoner!

Peitseoga: absolutely non-essential...alas, more's the pity...

Kylie: that is so neat--only second hand shopping! I love it. In NYC though, thrift shopping can be mighty expensive, ironically enough...they like to call it "vintage." Upstate NY would be more the place to put that into practice, where cheap and great thrift abounds.

I like the expression "compacting."

Thanks for the vote of support! xo

kylie said...

i dropped back to read your reply and can believe the mistakes i ade in that comment. new rule for blogging: not on pain meds :)

it was meant to read "i couldnt sit still..."

e said...

Hi Leah,

I already do the no shopping thing as I've always found shopping distasteful...Good luck and let us know how its going!

Thanks for your words about the High Holy Days approaching. You remind me there is much I can do apart from shul...

merelyme said...

Totally cool! Glad the 'baby' is on board! You will be amazed at how much money you have. This will be so fun to read - do allow us a peek into your journey!
Tomorrow starts week three of zero dollars in the food account for us. We are forcing ourselves to slaughter the freezer and pantry. We have had some pretty darn good food. Tomorrow, I suspect, we will eat at home again having raided my moms! ;) We do allow fresh veggies, milk...basics that let us finish stuff up.
You are making me want to get on board with your project too.
That coffee thing? Nope - you are already allowing yourself the Saturday gig - that's it! That alone will save you the biggest wallop.
I am finished now...I'll continue reading but stop commenting...so sorry - playing "ketchup". (Hmm? Is there any in the pantry?)

muralimanohar said...

Yah, it's called compacting, and I know several people online who have done it. It really does change your outlook on shopping, when that much thought goes into every purchase.

As for me, I am compacting, too, but not on purpose. :p I am just flat ass broke. But I am used to it, and am very creative about getting around it. When I moved here, I put the word out in my circle of friends that I had a house and nothing to put in it, and 6 months later, I am STILL being asked by people if I need a couch, or a bed, or silverware, or this or that. Most of my house is furnished with castoffs, and for the most part, NICE castoffs. It's amazing.

And even food. You ever hear of gleaning? There are whole organizations set up around the country for it, but I just do it myself. I cruise my neighborhood, and when I see something edible, I knock on the door and ask if I can pick. Being creative also helps. :p There is a tree here, that just looks like a weed to me/us, but is actually a powerhouse source of nutrition, and a staple in Indian, African, and Philippino diets. I just need to learn how to use it more, lol. Dh is giving me a dirty look at the thought, so I just won't tell him when I am cooking with it. :p

Where was I? Oh, yeah, compacting. Some people I know went COMPLETELY buying free....but they did that by buying bulk, and stocking up, and getting major purchases out of the way BEFORE starting...which is just a copout, as far as I am concerned. :p

Oh...coffee? Yeah, that's a cheat. Get more disciplined about making your own. But, I think the rule is suspended when you are out with friends, and they all buy one. It makes them feel bad to be guzzling, while you sit there empty handed. It's out of the kindness of your heart that you HAVE to buy one when you are with them. So..HOW often can your friends get out and about with you? :p