6 weeks ago, I stopped buying any physical stuff other than food.
There’s a good long tradition of people giving up what seem like necessities, and accomplishing great things. People take vows of silence, or decide they’ll only walk so they don’t have to use oil. John Francis gave a TED talk about his experiences doing exactly that. 17 years of silence, 17 years of only walking. His TED talk is about listening, and how hard it was for him to really listen when he was just waiting for someone else to stop talking, so he could get his turn.
6 weeks isn’t much, compared to 17 years of that. Even 6 weeks has made a difference, though. I’m looking forward to seeing how the world looks after a year of only buying food.
So far, one of the most interesting pieces has been seeing what exceptions to my self-imposed rule I’m willing to sit back and consider.
There are a couple of things that I have no problem listing as exceptions. They’re on that original sheet of paper I wrote up – toilet paper, gas, anything my car or my bicycle need to run well. They’re not quite necessities. I could walk to the grocery store 3 miles away, I could walk or bike everywhere instead of using my car. But these exceptions I’m willing to make are ones that give me many more possibilities than I would have without them. Or, in the case of toilet paper, make me a lot more comfortable about personal hygiene.
They also don’t take up much time. It’s not like getting an oil change sinks me deep into a brainspace where I can’t stop thinking about buying more bright socks. I mean, socks are awesome. Mine just won’t have any new friends join them for the rest of this year.
But there another class of exceptions that I wasn’t expecting. It has to do with my partner. First, I should say that my partner has been incredibly supportive of this whole goal-complex. We’ve talked about how to avoid getting me gifts that are physical stuff, and how much I usually prefer gifts that are shared experiences anyway. And I’ve made it clear that getting a physical thing as a gift once in a while wouldn’t upset me. My outlaws got me a really wonderful little dragon on a chain when I visited – it’s perfect, I really like it, and since I didn’t ask for it in any way, it doesn’t feel like it breaks my goal. Point being, my fears have been allayed. This is a good experiment, and it’s not causing stress on the relationship-front. But something is happening.
My partner writes. A lot. And is a giant introvert. This pattern helps writing be a thing, and I support it. I’m often the same way. But I like getting out a little more often than they do – say, 2 or 3 times a week instead of once a week. And when I’m out, if my partner needs or wants something, I have no problem picking it up for them. That has already included a few seasons of CSI, the occasional grocery store run that involved paper towels, and… I end up wondering what happened to my ICK MATERIAL GOODS PUT IT DOWN AND RUN reflex. (It’s a pretty awesome reflex to have developed. I hear it’s pretty funny to see in person, too.)
Turns out it’s pretty simple. I am deeply committed to my goal of buying nothing – for myself. But I’m also deeply committed to this partnership. My anti-materialist goal is mine. It’s not my partner’s goal. Ultimately, it comes down to this: I don’t want to make them go out to the same store I’ve just been in to get paper towels to clean up the cats’ occasional hairballs. It would be a perverse way to apply what was meant to be an empowering goal for me. To do it and stand by that choice, I would have to prioritize my goal over my partner’s peace of mind, and – here’s the thing that has me really happy today – I’m not willing to do that.
And we’ve finally arrived. This is exactly why I chose the goal I did. I knew it would be hard. I knew it would be rewarding. And I suspected it would show me what – if anything – I cared about as deeply as I care about living gently on this dear little planet.
So here I am, delighted. Choosing to buy no physical things this year has already shown me how deeply I care about my partner. And it’s shown me in no uncertain terms that they respect my choices. They don’t share my personal commitment to not buying stuff this year, but they support me to do it anyway.
It’s an odd direction to approach Valentine’s Day from. But this year, on this famously corporate holiday, I won’t be buying flowers that are slowly dying. I’ll be celebrating the things that really matter – the things I can see so much more clearly when they’re not buried under a pile of symbolic gifts, hidden intentions, and feelings that haven’t found words.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. I hope you can use the day to celebrate the things that matter most to you.