April 01, 2018

A Clutter-Busting March and a No-Shopping April

One hidden purpose of March of Trash and its clutter-busting challenge is to get you to change your shopping habits. It is easy to see that in the long run, shopping has to change before you can live a clutter-free life. It does little good to take away clutter if you then replace it with more of the same. If the goal of clutter-busting is to keep only what you will use and benefit from having, the goal of shopping must be to add only what you will use and benefit from having. If clutter habits resist change, though, the same is true of shopping habits.

There are times when you look at your unused possessions and opt to keep them. Indeed, this will happen more often than not. Does this reduce your clutter? It might, if reminding yourself of what you have prevents you from buying more of the same things. I have seen people who, after an afternoon of sifting through their clutter, lose their appetite for shopping for weeks. Seeing the excess they already have makes shopping seem like another form of excess.

Perhaps this time, it has happened to me. In March of Trash I spent a month taking away things that no longer belonged. I gave things away, sold a few things, recycled a quarter ton of paper, left piles of things to decay in a compost heap. As a follow-up, I want to see if I can go through a month without doing any shopping at all, or indeed any spending of any kind. It will be an April of no shopping.

There are several thoughts that have brought me to this point. Part of it, ironically, is my own financial success. I realized around the middle of March that I may be just three years away from paying for my goal of tearing down and rebuilding my house.

I have no end of complaints about my house that make me want to replace it with something better. The foundation is tilted, not by much, but just enough to represent a concern. The roof slants east and west, not south, so that the house cannot hold solar panels — and it is a roof that will need to be replaced before long in any case. There are gaps between the floor boards, failed electric outlets, a foundation that leaks radon, too-steep staircases, unreinforced masonry walls that represent an earthquake hazard. The house is too small and has only one tiny closet. I could go on and on. The bottom line is that it will cost less to rebuild from the ground up than to fix everything that is amiss.

Rebuilding a house is essentially the same as moving. Everything in the house has to be taken out before the house can be taken down. Thinking ahead to that day makes me less eager to buy clothing. I already have far more clothing than I need to get through the next three years. Indeed, I have almost enough of almost everything to get by for a few years. At the same time, the power failure in March reminded me how much food I have, not just in the freezer but in the cabinets too. I would do well to focus on eating the food I have before summer is here and local produce is back in season. In a month I couldn’t possibly eat all the rice, pasta, tomato sauce, canned vegetables, baking supplies, granola bars, or breakfast cereal that I already have in the house.

So why not go for a whole month without shopping or spending at all?

The suggestion sounds a little scary, or uncomfortable at least, but that is all the more reason to explore it. What is the hold that shopping has on me and so many others? Perhaps I can learn something.

As I looked at my logistics, there were a few things I could do to avoid making payments in April. I filled my car’s fuel tank and paid all the bills I could in the final days of March. There are two bills I realized I must pay in April. The Internet and phone bills occur early in the month and come due late in the month, so the calendar will not stretch to avoid those two payments. There will surely be business expenses during the month — shipping and probably travel. I don’t mean for my shopping moratorium to be an excuse to procrastinate on my work. In the same spirit, I will be making at least one tax payment that is due in April.

There are four items, already ordered and paid for, that will be delivered in April, most especially a sofa. I won’t completely avoid the receiving end of the shopping process.

I don’t mean to eat packaged food exclusively for a month, so I will plan to buy fresh food in the second half of the month. To avoid entering a store, I will buy directly from the farms where the food is produced.

These are surprisingly few exceptions considering how large a share of my attention goes to money and shopping. My guess is that I will make more exceptions as the month goes along, and I will keep track of those to understand how those situations come up and how I react.

If I go a month without shopping, I should have some spare time, the equivalent of almost a whole work week. I do not have a guess as to how I will spend that time, but I will try to keep track of that too.

I have read about other consumers’ experiences with shopping moratoriums, and in many cases they are motivated by wanting to change financial habits. I am already saving more than half of my income, and I am not in the habit of buying expensive things I don’t really need, so for me it is not a matter of overhauling my budget or changing the way I spend. It is nevertheless about changing habits, and perhaps it is the habits of thought and attention that I may be able to change.

To recap, my plan is to do no shopping or spending during the month of April, with a short list of exceptions. I will update here a few times during the month, or perhaps more often if interesting challenges come up along the way.

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