Every May for the past several years, my mother has challenged me not to shop for the entire month. I’m not really sure where or why or how the challenge was born. I remember asking questions, the first year, and getting vague answers (“Why?” got a “Why not?” response), and I remember trying to go along with it because it felt embarrassing not to be able to stay away from the stores when challenged not to.
Why do I shop? For so many reasons, but it basically comes down to the same reason I sometimes watch crappy reality TV shows and occasionally dive into the equally shameful world of gossip celebrity or fashion magazines. As a feminist, I know these things are not inherently good for my brain or healthy sense of self. At the same time, sometimes I just need a break, and junky magazines and TV help me turn down the noise in my mind by tuning it out–with other noise, of course.
When my relationship with Newman began to get serious, he (gently) challenged these habits; I became defensive and found myself trying to explain why it wasn’t necessarily about what I was watching, reading, or shopping for when I was engaging in these activities. Rather, it was about the fact that each of these activities was something I did alone and which required no (real) brain power whatsoever. As life got busier with family and work obligations, turning off all the eternally running lists in my mind became harder, as did finding time alone where I wasn’t responsible to anyone but myself.
Of course, guys have their version of these things, but for me, the zone-out factor of magazines and reality TV (or web-surfing or sports or whatever your pleasure is) outweighs any risk-factors involved. I can tune in or tune out whenever I want; these things are always available, usually predictable, often trivial, and sometimes pretty funny. They are inherently distracting in a seemingly harmless way and take me away from my worries, fears, sadness, and fatigue.
I justify my shopping habits because I don’t think I spend all that much, but everything is relative, of course. I’ve gotten better at not buying stuff I don’t need or clothes that I don’t love. Most of the time, I enjoy the process of looking and trying on without needing an actual purchase to get a shopper’s high. However, I do think it’s good to check myself with my shopping, and May is as good a time as any to do so. I know I can justify big purchases in a number of ways (like those five new swimsuits that found their way into my luggage for vacation), and I know I could save more if I tried harder. Therefore, I’m taking my mom up on this challenge, and more so than last year, when a trip to Target mid-month led to a definite slide into the danger zone.
I know what you’re thinking; it’s still April, but if I’m going to do this, I need to start gearing up now. I must check the official rules with my mother; may I visit yard sales or thrift stores? May I cash in groupons or giftcards? Generally I will try to stay away from my favorite haunts: the malls and the strip malls alike. In order to help keep me on track, I’ve decided to make a list of shopping alternatives.
- Sewing Project: Free has asked if she can bring friends with her when we go to pow-wow this year, and she wants me to try to make her and them some dresses for the occasion. Yikes! Talk about pressure. I’ve been wanting to make her a buckskin dress for years, so now’s as good a time as any to try it out.
- Home-Decorating: I moved in last July, and I still haven’t hung any photographs or “decorated” in any real way. It’s time to jump in. Pinterest is a nice alternative to gossip mags, too, for inspiration.
- Long-Distance Runs: May is the best weather month to take an hour to run instead of a half-hour. If I don’t put pressure on myself to go fast, I might actually learn to enjoy the extra zone-out benefits of a long run.
- Reading: I am a slow reader and don’t get through many books during the school year. It would be nice to try to read more for pleasure.
- Cooking: I am allowed to grocery shop, so maybe I should try some new things out and spend more time planning and cooking some meals.
- Closet Shopping: I am determined to wear all my clothes, which means I must throw out some, figure out outfits for others, or recycle the ones that are sentimental but won’t work as is. Time to go shopping in my own closet.
- Window Shopping: This is another substitute for when I’m really feeling challenged. I won’t go to the mall; it’s too dangerous. I can look online though; I don’t buy clothes online, but window shopping might help me target the “needs” (black denim capris to go with my new desert boots!) vs. “wants” (Oh look! A cute summer dress! It’s nothing at all like the 300 I already have at home!)
- Cleaning/Cleaning Out Projects: This is actually a lot more fun that it sounds like. I’m an organizer by nature, so moving my summer “to-do” list up to May will help clear clutter in my home and space in my summer to enjoy other things.
- Quality Vegging Out: When I need to veg out without doing anything that feels like work, that’s ok too. I have a million movies and “quality” TV shows I’d like to catch up on, so it’s time to figure out what’s on that I’m missing. Maybe it’s finally time for me to join Netflix, eh?
- Writing: I would like to do more writing without any pressure, just to make it more habitual. I’d like to work on a notebook kind of cycle, by which I mean I just fill pages or minutes with writing, not worrying about what comes out. It’s a bit different from blogging, and I just want to do more of every kind of writing in general.
- Financial Planning: I would like to get a better grip on my financial planning, so what better time to lay it out and set some goals and structure for this than when I’m not shopping?
Hopefully these things will help me relax and find distractions from the downers in life but in ways that might be more productive and save some of my hard-earned cash.
Feel free to offer up any suggestions you have for me! It will be a real challenge for me, but if I can stick to it, I might just develop some good habits. (And maybe I’ll be inspired to write a fabulous Ode to TJMaxx when I’m feeling especially desperate!)
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