Saturday, September 24, 2011
End of No-Shopping Challenge
This week marked the end of my no-shopping challenge. If you count the forty-four days that I didn't shop during Lent, that means for almost half of this year, I have gone without shopping for non-necessities.
I did pretty well as I tried to only purchase food and personal care items. And if I already had a personal care item that filled my need, I didn't go out and buy a newer, better, more improved version of it until it was gone. I did purchase a newspaper once (not a necessity) and a couple of small potted plants (again, not necessities). The biggest purchase I made that was not a food or personal care item was a bed sheet that I had to buy to replace a threadbare one that had started to tear. Fortunately, I had some store coupons that brought down the cost quite a bit. Overall, I stuck to my no-shopping pledge.
Making a decision like this and then going through with it has made me think a lot about our culture and our privilege. I got thinking back to my ancestors who blazed trails across this nation. They had an expectation of certain privileges which included personal freedom and personal individuality. However, these were just two aspects of the personal "three-legged stool." Early Americans also realized that personal responsibility came with the other privileges. We can make individual choices as a result of our freedom, however we also need to recognize that we assume personal responsibility in those choices.
In this nation, we have so many benefits and choices. And we've come to see those choices as rights and needs, rather than as the luxuries they really are. A hundred years ago, a woman was happy to have one good dress in her closet; now we think we need a whole closet full. When I was growing up, having dessert or going out for a meal was a huge treat; now many people eat out three meals a day, and include dessert with at least one of them.
We're now seeing the consequences of this shift in mind set in what we consider necessities and luxuries. We're overweight and broke. Because we have such a wide variety of foods available to us, we indulge in them, all the time, thinking that we'll cut back "next week." Because we see the latest, newest, fastest, shiniest products advertised, we happily hand over our cash and credit cards to obtain them, all the while thinking they are necessities and we will figure out how to pay for them, eventually.
Obviously, we haven't figured it out. The problem is, we never cut back. Instead we push forward, digging ourselves deeper and deeper into debt or obesity. We're in serious trouble yet don't want to do the hard work to get out of it. We've lost that American belief in personal responsibility and its twin, self-control. I remember the phrase that Nancy Reagan popularized, "Just say no." Many people expect "the others" to apply this mentality to their lives when it comes to drug, alcohol, or any other vices. However, all of us need to learn to "Just say no" to the cornucopia of stuff available. We lack willpower when it comes to food, clothes, cars, electronics, even houses, yet we expect individuals with serious addictions and personal problems to have that very same willpower.
Now that my no-shopping challenge is over, I also will have to face the temptation of all the marketing techniques that are thrown my way. Of course I do have advantages over others right now. I've learned the lesson that I can do without much and will appreciate luxuries in small doses. I also discontinued my television service almost a year ago, so I don't have Madison Avenue in my house. Magazines no longer hold sway over me as I don't subscribe to any and, as a result of another challenge, am not tempted to buy them at the grocery store check out. I now look at everything with an eye to whether or not it is a necessity and, if it's not, is it worth the price in the long run.
I encourage my readers to take a similar challenge to gain a broader perspective on needs and wants. You will come out of it a changed person.