Tell me that you want the kind of things that money just can’t buy

I don’t think we live the most simple life possible. With Mike in school, though, we have cut back quite a lot. Not much eating out, no Netflix (thank you, public library and UNCG, for stocking new movies that we can check out for free), fewer movies in the theater, no new clothes, so on and so forth. It gets a litle awkward when our friends are sitting around talking about restaurants we can’t afford to visit and trips we can’t afford to take, but overall it’s been manageable, especially after we got past the first few months. So when I saw Not Buying It : My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine, I decided to check it out (it doesn’t seem like a book you should purchase, hehe). (Saying things like that probably makes the author cry.)

What I found so interesting about the book was the way the author and I moved through the same stages, though her situation was voluntary and mine was out of necessity. At first, all you do is see things that you wish you could buy. After a while, you realize you don’t want them. Then you start feeling smug about all the money you’re not spending. Then you break down and buy something and feel guilty about it. Sometimes you feel hostile towards other consumers. Then, finally, you start to realize how full your life is without those things. You appreciate free concerts and the public library and your generous friends and family who provide you with the things you can’t provide for yourself. I don’t miss going through a drive-through. I like planning meals and taking my lunch. I don’t miss Starbucks. I wish sometimes that I had nicer, newer clothes, but I make do with giftcards and hand-me-downs and Christmas and birthdays supplemented with the occasional sale item. The hardest thing, and she touched on this a bit, is the social aspect, the inability to have a cup of coffee with friends, the ways you try to work around going out to lunch. Sometimes it’s awkward when our friends are all talking about great restaurants, and Mike and I have nothing to contribute to the conversation. We’re much more at home talking about recipes these days, and we don’t often try new restaurants because we don’t really want to risk it when we do go out.

One of the parts that resonated with me was when her partner, Paul, asked her why she gave in and made a purchase while they were on vacation. She claimed that it was an impulse, even though deep inside she knew it wasn’t. He said that he never makes impulse purchases, and she suggested that instead of Not Buying It, he should go into a store and see what he could buy in five minutes. Not being an impulse shopper myself, the idea of going into a store and having to spend money in five minutes made it a little bit hard to breathe. Mike, on the other hand, claimed that he could do some serious damage in five minutes. I can relate to buying something, though, out of anger or to make yourself feel better or because you think you “deserve” it, so it was a debate I could really see both sides of.

Reading something like this always makes me want to simplify even more. In the book, the man who seemed to have the most simple life was a man who didn’t have indoor plumbing. I’d like to go ahead and say that I don’t want my life to be quite that simple. It does feel good to let go of things, though. Today Mike and I went through the house and threw out a ton of stuff, and we’re donating some other things to the church yardsale. We planted our garden yesterday, and spent time reading on the front porch. Sure, right now, Mike’s playing X-Box and I’m on the computer, but I think we are better about finding the balance.

I enjoyed the book overall, although I thought that it kind of lost its way in the last quarter. The year in which she was Not Buying It was 2004, and around October the book turned to a more political focus. I understand having problems with Bush and his policies, and I see the connections between politics, the economy, and spending, but that wasn’t why I personally picked up the book. I think the book would have been stronger without the huge shift in the last few chapters. Either it should have been more political throughout, or the political demonstrations and constant checking of should have been toned down a bit. I would recommend it with reservation – it was a good read, but it was a little self-indulgent at the end.

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