I was walking around a street market in Beijing, China. I was completely mesmerized by the colors, sounds and scents surrounding me. Everything was so vibrant and loud and packed with stuff, stuff that was different than anything I’d ever seen in the West. And the prices! For someone who comes from the West, prices were dirt cheap. Of course, quality was low too, and I didn’t really need any of the items I was buying. But I didn’t care. I couldn’t shop fast enough, filling bag after bag with exotic purchases.
That was about ten years ago, when I still liked stuff. Now, I hate stuff.
It took me years to realize that things, objects, stuff, whatever you choose to call them, are not making me happy. That having lots of objects around me is not comforting, but in fact weighs me down and creates not just unnecessary clutter, but also the need to maintain those things, to clean them and care for them. Of course, buying stuff also costs you money. The less you buy, the more you will save.
Minimizing Travel Souvenirs
Gradually, over the years, I’ve learned to view mementos, souvenirs and knickknacks as an unnecessary waste of money. Sure, my husband and I love to travel and have been to many countries around the world. We have lots of pictures, of course, stored on the computer and only the very best of them printed out in picture books (takes far less space than photos arranged in bulky albums). We also bring food items back from each vacation, which enables us to prolong the experience for a little longer. On recent trips, we brought maple candy from Canada, Calissons d’Aix from Provence, halva from Israel and olive oil from Italy. But food souvenirs are consumed over a few weeks and don’t take up space forever.
We try to limit ourselves to one souvenir from each trip – we started a collection of shot glasses from around the world. Despite not being heavy drinkers, we do enjoy the occasional glass of limoncello, especially in summer. It’s fun to serve it in our assortment of colorful shot glasses from cities around the world.
Saying No to Recreational Shopping
Recreational shopping used to be a serious vice of mine. When online shopping became widely available, I believe it was during the nineties, I fell in love with the ease and convenience of finding everything online. It was a much better shopping experience than shopping in physical stores. I started shopping online whenever I could, which was wasteful because back then free shipping was less common, so I was spending a lot of money on shipping and on return shipping. But I thought that was a premium I was willing to pay for the convenience.
The real problem began a few years ago, when I discovered that I could shop online as a way to pass the time. My kids were a little older, I wasn’t working yet, and frankly, I was a little bored. Online shopping fills your time, is pleasant, not stressful, and best of all, you can do it every day! Of course, approximately a week after each shopping session you have to deal with boxes filled with stuff, stuff that you don’t really need, most of which looks all wrong and needs to be returned – but that fills your time too, doesn’t it?
It was my husband who at some point approached the subject gently (bless him), pointing out that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to go online and shop even if I didn’t need anything. When I looked over our credit card receipts from the past year, I was shocked to see how wasteful this habit really was. Weaning myself off recreational shopping was freeing, and made me realize that while the shopping itself was pleasant, dealing with all that stuff was not pleasant at all – it was actually quite stressful to have to find a place for all those purchases, to maintain them, and to return the items that I didn’t want.
My Home is Now Clutter Free
After years of being a shopaholic, I guess I went to the opposite extreme. For several years now, I have lost interest in shopping. I love fashion and shop for new items when I need them, but I don’t shop for recreation anymore. The same is true for household items, for kitchen supplies (I used to love going into cooking supply stores), and for kids’ stuff. I have completely removed recreational shopping, including window shopping, from my life. If I don’t need an item (and I do acknowledge that the definition of “need” can change from person to person), I won’t go shopping.
These days, when I plan a trip, I don’t really add a “shopping day” to my trip plan and I don’t look for “things to buy” in the location I’m visiting. I have taught myself to view stuff as something that weighs me down, something that will detract from my enjoyment of life rather than enhance it. My house is clean, airy and completely clutter-free, and I really like it that way.
Objects Can Be Comforting
I acknowledge that my love of bareness is a little unusual and that most people do find that surrounding themselves with a few familiar items is comforting and can transfer a “house” into a “home.” This is fine. I’m just saying that except for a few choice items, we really shouldn’t view objects as something that makes us happy. Not being attached to physical objects is freeing – and will help you spend less.
Editor’s Note: Great story. Reading this reminds me that just like everything else, change is possible. The love of shopping or the love of simplicity is just a feeling after all. If your spending seems uncontrollable at times, don’t fret, because there’s hope. If anything, you can start off by trying to “pay for” free stuff. Here are some great suggestions from Kiplinger.
We’ve all been there, and we are here to help.
How do you feel about objects?