Ok, I have a problem with shoes. And boots. Probably boots more than shoes. I have shared some photos of some of my purchases in the last year. One would think I wouldn’t feel the need to buy three new pairs of boots in one shopping trip, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It is a little humiliating to admit this and I wouldn’t want to give most people a tour of my closet. I have ramped up my consumerism to a ridiculous level and today I am going to talk about it. I wrote in my last two blogs about the book $aved, by Ben Hewitt. He wrote a very intriguing book about money and our love affair with stuff. I have just followed it up with a book called The 100 Thing Challenge, by Dave Bruno. You might have heard of this guy. He garnered a lot of media attention with his quest to break his addiction to buying stuff. He took a year to whittle his possessions down to 100 things, and then lived a whole year with them alone. He did make some ground rules that eased the pain a little, like he could count his library as one thing. And he could buy something new but had to get rid of something in its place. And if someone gave him a gift he had seven days to either keep it or get rid of it, again following the rule that if he kept it he would have to get rid of something else.
It would seem like 100 things would be enough for anyone, but he had to get rid of enormous amounts of stuff. A huge portion of it was clothing items. At the end of the book he gives a really good guide for doing your own 100. It takes a lot of thought and planning, but he is finding that even now that it is done, he is finding it easier to keep his total below 100, and has seen his life open up in some very significant ways, both internally and externally. Feeling the need to shop all the time does take up a lot of time and mental energy. And just having to go through some things that were a bit humbling, like the time he went to give a talk somewhere and as he walked onto the stage, realizing that his pants had become two inches too short somewhere along the line so he felt like a geek-well, you get the idea. It is a really good book and I highly recommend it.
The most useful takeaways for me, since I am not sure I will be paring my belongings down to 100 things anytime soon, were a couple of epiphanies that he had as he was going through his belongings and figuring out which to get rid of. The first was when he was looking at a set of electric trains he had in the attic that had been gathering dust for a number of years. As he decided to let them go, he realized that he had kept them all this time because he had thought that someday he would make one of those huge model train layouts with trees and mountains and stations and little people and animals that you have probably seen somewhere or other. And why did he think he was going to do that? Because when he was a kid, his dad had had model trains and they had spent a lot of time talking about making a model train layout together. But it never happened. And that was a huge disappointment to him. As he sat there in his attic staring at his model trains, he realized that he had bought them to try to mend a disappointment in his past. Which you can’t do. Ever. As I read this I realized that my boot buying had its genesis in a similar disappointment.
When I was a kid, one Christmas all I wanted was a pair of knee-high brown leather boots. My friend Susie had some and she was the coolest thing going, so I wanted to be like her. I think it was all I actually asked for that Christmas. And so I spent the entire month of December dreaming of those boots and how cool I was going to be. Christmas morning came, and I received a pair of black plastic boots that came halfway up my calves. My mother enclosed a note saying, “I know you wanted brown and high, but these will keep you warm and dry.” Amazing, isn’t it, that I remember that little ditty so clearly? It was crushing. I hated those boots.
Now this is in no way to slam my mom. We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, and she had four kids to make Christmas for. But it does go a long way to explaining why I seem to feel the need to buy every pair of boots that catches my fancy now. if you think about your life, maybe you will be able to come up with some things in your closet or garage or barn or attic that you bought precisely because you were trying to mend the past. And the point is, those possessions will never fill the bill. They will never replace that thing that you didn’t get or that didn’t happen when you were a kid. So you run the risk of buying more and more stuff in that category because whatever you already have isn’t doing the job. I may not get my possessions down to 100 items, but I plan to go through everything I own and weed out stuff that falls in that category. Because it just weighs you down! It doesn’t fix anything.
The other takeaway for me is the idea that we have that buying a certain thing will make us a certain kind of person, someone we clearly aren’t. He used the example of rock climbing equipment. He went rock climbing a few times and really enjoyed it. He loved the image of the rock climber, the adventurous loner scaling cliffs, using just his fingernails or some very slender ropes. And so he bought all the paraphernalia and even built a climbing wall in his garage. Which he doesn’t use. Because when it comes down to it, he will almost always choose to do something besides rock climbing. So all his expensive gear (and that WALL!) reproach him every time he looks at them. Talk about a burden.
For me, the best example I can think of are my musical instruments. I have too many. Because I want to be someone who plays a lot of instruments. But I’m not. I am a decent guitar player so that is what I pick up when I feel like playing. Although I really want to learn to play the banjo. And the piano. And the hammer dulcimer. And what do these wonderful instruments evoke in me when I notice them sitting around gathering dust? Pleasure? A sense of anticipation? Motivation? No. Guilt. The make me feel guilty. They are a bunch of “shoulds” to add to all the other “shoulds” in my life. Before I even read this book I had realized that and was beginning to take steps to selling some of my instruments. I also sold a horse. I really only need one. Having two just made me feel guilty, every time I went riding, about the one I wasn’t riding. Having more made me less happy. What a concept.
I am going to be thinking long and hard about everything I own in the next year. We actually are getting ready to move, probably to a smaller place, so it is a really good time to do this. And I feel excited about that because I don’t think I am going to feel deprived. I am going to feel freed up. My life is going to feel lighter, better, simpler. I will probably use the things that I keep way more because I won’t be paralyzed by the sheer volume. Reading these two books has definitely changed me. In the words of the inimitable Bruce Hornsby, “There’s gonna be some changes made.” And it’s going to be a really good thing.
I know you are wondering about the pink high heels. The ones in the picture at the beginning of this post? Yeah. Those are actually mine. I bought them to wear to a Mardi Gras ball with a pink boa and a pink mask. And a pink dress of course. It was really fun. Will I ever wear them again? Well it is possible I will go to another party sometime where they will be appropriate. So I keep them. How many things do I keep because I might, just maybe, need them again sometime? A lot. I’ll be asking that question too.