Over the past 6 months a few key and un-ignorable themes have emerged in my reading, viewing, and conversations. The one I’d like to discuss now is that high consumption and ownership of material goods equal unhappiness. A few documentaries speaking to this (all available on Netflix)….
- I am.
- The True Cost
Blayne and I have experienced it ourselves. We moved to a giant house in the ‘burbs, bought lots of furniture to fill the rooms, and had ample space to store our stuff. We quickly found we had more than we needed and were constantly considering ways to improve our home and decor. 14 months later we moved back to South Tampa, the epicenter of our daily lives and reduced our square footage by half. For us location mattered more than space. The process of downsizing and refusing to invest in a dreaded storage unit, welcomed a cathartic purge of the possessions that would not fit in our new home, including furniture, keepsakes, and lots of CLOTHES! My new saying regarding tupperware is, “if it doesn’t fit in [the one assigned drawer for tupperware] then we don’t need it” and in the recycling it goes.
Throughout my life I was raised with a healthy sense of humility that actually resulted in feelings of shame when I caught myself trying to be “fancy” or attention-seeking. I now believe those feelings were a manifestation of something rooted deep within me that had not yet matured into healthy feelings of empowerment and self-assuredness. There are moments still when I catch myself thinking about what I’d call material improvement, you know, things like how to improve my appearance or keep up with fashion trends, those moments of awareness immediately transform into deep, sometimes dark, thoughts about the meaning of life, my purpose, and why the hell with all the issues in the world would I care about the color of my hair or if I have a great cocktail dress. Another illustration of this frequent awakening occurs each time we travel to Central America. Our luggage consists of one backpack per person and we spend the week adventuring, we wear workout clothes, and my hair is wet and unwashed 90% of the trip. Most notably for me is that I leave with makeup on and often its as we’re working through stateside customs that I announce, “I’m going a whole year without makeup!” A wild declaration for someone self-conscious about her skin and often caving to the self-imposed pressure to fit in amongst the Tampa beauties.
I know not all people feel the way I do about possessions and let’s be honest here, I do care about dressing well, wearing clothing that I believe conveys who I am to the world. I believe that people see how you look and how you dress and it forms their opinions. These are natural mental shortcuts that evolution has bestowed upon us to make good decisions quickly, I don’t think we should condemn snap judgments, I think we should be mindful of why we have them, what they are telling us, and where they come from. I also care about having a home where my family is comfortable and our guests are comfortable. This means comfy furniture, colorful artwork, and the occasional functional yet cute Ikea table.
Before I get to the point here, let me quickly revisit the purge mentioned above. Although we cleaned out our closets and thus our souls (maybe a little dramatic, but seriously…) there was one holdout as it turns out. Last week I stumbled upon a bin full of old clothes. I remember packing these away, I figured they are good clothes and I like them but they’re out of style right now. I suppose I had the foresight to know I’d want to wear them again someday. Well, I was right, I put most of them back into rotation and now my old wardrobe has become my new wardrobe. With that said, let’s get to the point…
…This post is not to provide instructions, advice, or clarity, and its definitely NOT intended to make anyone question their values and things they like and care about. Selfishly, this is for me. I honestly believe that what matters in life is relationships. As a girl who leans a little more heavily to the introverted side of the personality scale, sometimes its tough for me to focus on relationships because I love the comfort of my sunny kitchen, typing and researching at my super-cool and functional Ikea table, and (recently) I find my greatest sense of Flow when I’m cooking and analyzing recipes. Nonetheless, strong relationships with my family, friends, and colleagues make me the happiest. So I’d like to try something. I’d like to reduce the amount of “new material things” entering my life and my space. The place to start, for me, is a no-brainer… clothes. I’m not even very fashionable but when I’m bored one of my defaults is to check out a boutique or see what’s new on Modcloth (great site if you’re style is a little quirky and vintage… but I digress!), how the heck could I possibly need a new dress when I have no fewer than 4 unworn dresses hanging in my closet?!
So, without further ado….
“I, Jenifer Smith, will not buy a single new piece of clothing for myself for one whole month, 15 Jan 16 to 15 Feb 16. At the end of this first month, I will reassess, at which time I hope to challenge myself to then two whole months of no clothing purchases. The one sole exception will be in dyer need of undergarments but only when in absolute need. Additionally, this does not extend to homemade items in which I purchase raw materials inexpensively for the purpose of sewing my own clothing.”
Ok, so I have a few caveats, underwear and home-sewn clothing. Let me explain, sewing, like cooking, is my hobby and while making your own clothes used to be cheaper than buying clothes, the times have changed, the cost of fabric is so high and the ease of buying a $5 t-shirt quickly wins when compared to making one that may not even fit well. But, I’ve always wanted to make my own clothes, find inexpensive ways to do so, and share these tips with other people interested in achieving relative self-sustainability. However, I’m not whipping out my sewing machine just yet, I’m simply giving myself the option : ) Let me make one other comment here that may serve as a caveat if anyone ever decided to challenge the integrity of my declaration, I’m totally in favor of a clothes swap with friends. And if anyone would like to take me up on it let’s get serious about organizing something like a book swap! I think it could work locally and maybe electronically if we can find a way to get shipping costs down.
Oh ya! These three documentaries and one podcast really spoke to me and inspired this pursuit, I highly recommend them.
- Living on a Dollar a Day
- 180 Degrees South
- Freakonomics Podcast: The Suicide Paradox
Anyone out there connect with this message or have similar feelings? I’d love to hear from you and know what you’re doing to reduce material possessions, and what you’re doing to enrich your life through better relationships and experiences. Please comment below or shoot us a note!