I am in shock that we are already on the eighth week of this experiment. It feels like time is flying by fast now. When I first started this experiment, I was literally counting down the days like I was serving a prison sentence. Now, I feel like I only have a vague sense of time passing as I watch my clothes get a little rattier. I am really starting to sink into the project now. I reconciled my accounts for August, and I managed to save two thirds of my take home income for that month. This is the most I have ever saved from any pay cheque I have ever had. It is a clear indicator to me how unintentionally I was spending my money before. I am impressed with this savings ratio so far, but I know I can do better. I added up what I paid for services and it was close to $1000, so there is definitely room for improvement. However, most of those services were things like gas, and food while I was on my travels.
San Francisco was great. The weather was perfect, the vibe is always enveloping. People there I find are friendly, funky, open–my kind of crowd. I did not shop while I was there, which was actually not as hard as I thought it would be, considering San Fran is actually my favorite city to shop in. So many of the designers I buy online are based out of the Bay area. Many of their wears are sold in specialty boutiques in San Fran. Despite not buying anything, I window shopped and stopped inside some of my favorite stores on Haight to look at the clothes. However, I resisted trying anything on because that would have been asking for trouble. Surprisingly I had the most difficulty in the book store on Haight. I love books, but I never realized how much I actually really enjoy buying books until I was in there. If this had been before buy nothing year I would have bought a book on living off the grid, one on nano houses, a Banksy art book, the new David Sedaris book, as well as the latest Margaret Atwood book Maddaddam. Instead I browsed through them and left empty handed.
I went into one adorable shop called Mystery Mister. It is a vintage and oddity shop on Haight filled with an assortment of vintage clothes, accessories, costume pieces, and random cool things. I loved it in there. The window displays were what drew me in. Once inside. I was greeted by the delightful, quirky, edgy and down to earth owner of the shop, Rochelle. She was a treat. She told me that when customers would ask for discounts she would respond, “How about we let fate decide?” and then she would make them spin this wheel of fate that would determine if they would receive a discount or not. The wheel of fate could land on a discount, or other made up options such as ‘walk the plank’, which meant the customer would have to walk across the street with their eyes closed and try and not get hit by traffic. Needless to say, I felt instantly at home and slightly in love with Rochelle’s twisted sense of humor. Going into her shop made me realize that I can have fun shopping still without actually buying anything. Perhaps it can be enough to go in and look at pretty things, engage in interesting conversation, and be on my way.
People keep saying to me, I can return to San Francisco and purchase what I want, when I am done buy nothing year. I don’t think that is the point though. I am not planning on returning to my thoughtless consumer lifestyle after this year. My aim in this life experiment is to release me from my consumer desires. I hope that when the year is done, I will be able to appreciate the artistry of fashion without feeling like I need to own it, or look a certain way. I will always have an appreciation for high quality goods, and I do suspect that I will purchase one or two pieces, but I definitely don’t want the kind of wardrobe that needs to be insured.
Getting back from my vacations, I suspected it might be hard to fall into a routine with buy nothing year in Calgary again. This experiment has meant a lot of changes, and I mean a lot. Research suggests that it takes 30 days for a new habit to fully form. Buy nothing year has meant forming a lot of a new habits. Some of them are still forming. The biggest one is that I look at my life and it feels different. I have adopted a different approach to it. I am forming a habit of being comfortable with change. I feel less put off by change now, and actually find myself feeling invigorated and even eagerly anticipating it. Instead of thinking of all these shifting behaviors as an inconvenience, hard or annoying, I am embracing them. I am engaging with the changes and letting them become part of my lifestyle.
The planning and time that is involved in adhering to this experiment so far is extensive–I’m not going to lie. But so is the amount of time I have saved from not shopping. For example, I never noticed how much my friends, coworkers, and people in general discuss different items they have purchased either fashion, household, or beauty, until I could not buy anything. Whenever the other person I talk to realizes they are discussing their purchases with me, that person starts to feel guilty when he or she remembers I cannot buy anything, and will change the subject. This has happened numerous times. Or if the person does not remember I am doing buy nothing year, then I get a detailed description of the new purchase and how much that person loves it. It feels like shopping is a place saver in our lives substituting for actual conversations. The joy we get from new things is at least partially derived from highlighting that joy to others. I suspect this behavior might be behind our desire to ‘keep up with the Joneses”.
Taking a break from shopping means my mind also gets to take a break from obsessing over what I think I need. I have cut out a huge amount of mental clutter in my life by directing my focus away from shopping desires. I no longer spend time thinking about them, discussing them, or even really caring about them. I no longer spend hours hunting online to find that one unique item that feels special to me simply because of its rarity.
As a side note, I do recognize that there are still things that I want. They are just a hell of a lot less numerous then I once thought. In fact, some of them are things that I never felt like I wanted when I could buy whatever I wanted. Take candles as an example, I bought candles here and there, but I never felt like I needed candles. I lit them periodically, I liked the ambiance they added when I would host dinner parties, and left them out as decoration. However, I never really thought about them much. Now, that I cannot buy them, I have started using the candles I have very sparingly. They have become a precious item in my life, and when I light them, I have a stronger appreciation for them. It’s weird, because under the prior circumstances I was only mildly aware of the pleasure candles brought me, thus I did not derive much pleasure from them. Now that my awareness around stuff has become more present, the pleasure candles provides me has increased. This has happened with other things too such as incense.
It’s funny to me to think about where I am at 2 months into the project now. I had assumed this experiment would be really hard. And yes definitely parts of it have been, but I guess I wasn’t anticipating all of the things I am gaining from doing this experiment. Many of these gains are offsetting the negative aspects of this life shift. The increase in time, the clarity of focus to do the things I am passionate about, and the ability to connect with people free from money, has led me to branch out of my comfort zone. I am talking to new people I might not have engaged with otherwise, I am talking to the people I know in new ways, and I feel like I have new insight into the way our economic system is structured and how much influence and sway it really does have over us.
We have conditioned ourselves to think about stuff often. We have been conditioned to desire many things. These things take up space in our homes, causing clutter, but they also take up mental space. If we forget about them, we feel guilty. If we think about them lots, we covet them. If we get too much stuff, we stress out about clutter and feeling overwhelmed. This stuff takes away from us discovering who we are. We adorn ourselves in possessions as if these are the tools of self expression. Instead these things end up masking who we really are. When we get down to the nitty gritty of what it means to be this human animal creature, our needs are very basic. Happiness is a basic condition to humans that is not found in any store. Happiness comes from clarity, inner peace, and self love through knowing ourselves. All the rest of it is just noise.