Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Remember layaway? Every year as soon as the winter coats came out, my mother would take me to the store to pick one out. We then took it to the layaway counter where a small amount was put down and the coat was paid off over the next couple of months. I usually would receive the coat as a Christmas gift, and for some reason it always felt happy special. We bought lots of things this way. For other, more frivolous things, we would save up the money. My mom had a rule about not spending dimes. They always went into the piggy bank, and over time those dimes would add up. Dimes bought things like the Cookie Monster cookie jar we had for years, or an electric wok. We ate stir fry for two straight years after that purchase.
About 3 years ago I gave up revolving credit cold turkey. If I didn't have cash on hand, I figured I didn't need it, and I've found that this is more or less true. I also stock pile certain things. Rice for instance. I always have 10 lbs of rice and 10 lbs of beans in the house. Powdered milk is always good to have on hand, as is farina, also known as Cream of Wheat. I know how to make things stretch if I have to. Besides, I like being frugal. I think it forces me to be clever.
What amazes me most, is how giving up credit has changed my perspective. I no longer think in terms of things I want, but more in terms of things I truly need. This has forced me to recognize that many of the things I have, are not necessary, and I now have an overwhelming desire to purge as much as possible.
The purging began in my closet. The rule of thumb is, if I haven't worn it for over a year, it goes. Some things I save for the material though. I love to make bags, and silky skirts make great linings. Shoes it seems are the hardest for me to part with. At any given time, I have no fewer than 20 pair, and I wear at least two thirds of them. Some are seasonal; flip flops for instance summer, and oxfords for winter and fall. The shoes I have the hardest time parting with are Converse.
The most embarrassing part about purging is when I take the stuff to Goodwill. It's usually two or three garbage bags worth of clothing, and I'm always ashamed that I am discarding so much when so many in the world have so little. It doesn't stop me from taking a receipt for my tax-deductible contribution though. It is however a reminder, that trinkets and clothes will not make you whole.
Of course it's nice to have nice things, and having something nice and new makes us feel special. But I fear as a society we have become addicted to that type of gratification, and as soon as the newness wears off, we have to buy something else to get that happy special feeling again. Which makes me wonder: Why do we have to feel so special all the time, especially when that gratification doesn't last?
This is one of the reasons I like Burning Man so much. When on the playa, there are a lot of ways to get that special happy feeling: giving help when someone needs it, sharing resources, giving without expectation of return. These actions can yield gratification as well, and the cool part is, that the newness of it is less likely to fade so fast. But, here in the default world, it often feels as though kindness is taken for weakness, and as a result the proverbial walls go up and I hold fast in my fortress. At least I know I have enough rice and beans to get me through.