Bill Totten's Weblog

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Buying only what you need ...

... is like a gift to yourself

by Craig Wilson

USA Today (December 02 2003)

I did what many Americans did over the weekend. I went shopping with my mother. Actually I went looking. My mother went shopping.

Some of you may remember that back in January I wrote about how I was going to attempt to go through the year without buying anything. Food. Yes. Plants for the garden. Yes. Gifts for other people. Sure.

But another shirt or sweater for myself? No.

I made the New Year's proclamation after realizing I already had too much stuff, so much I was actually embarrassed. So I joined what's called the simplicity movement, cleaning out the closet in an attempt to clean out the mind.

I'm not alone in this. The day after Thanksgiving - one of the biggest shopping days of the year - has been proclaimed "Buy Nothing Day" by activists who want to put some perspective on America's hunger to purchase. I joined the cause months before.

Since January, hundreds of you have written, wondering how I was doing. Had I succumbed to a cashmere scarf in March, a new bathing suit in June, a slicker come September?

Did I ever fall off the wagon? Of course.

Did I throw in the towel and rush to the Ralph Lauren end-of-summer sale? No.

Did my checking account soar and my credit card bill plummet? Yes and yes.

I even kept a list of my indiscretions.

I confessed early on that I bought two pairs of jeans. I couldn't get into my old ones, which also had ripped. I've since lost weight, and the new jeans are now useless. I'm wearing a pair that had been stored away for a few years. The irony is not lost on me.

I also bought a pair of boat moccasins for walking the dog. Years of early-morning treks to the park had taken their toll on the old pair. I looked upon the purchase as more a necessity than a luxury.

But the purchase I'm most embarrassed about is a tennis sweater I got while on vacation in England. It's white with a purple band around the V-neck collar. It came from A E Clothier on King's Parade in Cambridge, and yes, it's quite natty.

But it belongs on a grass court there more than it belongs in my drawer here. I'm not sure what came over me. Maybe it was vacationitis - no, it's not a word but should be - because it happened again. A shirt from Hackett's in London. Maybe I thought holiday purchases were exempt. I've already given it away.

This fall, my boss asked me how I was doing, how it felt not to buy much of anything for a year. I told her it feels like an alcoholic must feel when he stops drinking. Liberating. Cleansing.

And like a recovering alcoholic steering clear of bars, I find myself walking by stores. They seem like museums to me now. I look through the window and see the lovely displays, but I never touch.

My partner, Jack, asks whether I'm going to continue what he calls "my little exercise in restraint". I just might.

After all, buying just what you need, not what you think you need, isn't a bad way of life. In fact, it's quite a good way of life.

Especially when you can still accept gifts.

Copyright USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Company Inc.

Bill Totten