One of the defining elements of our culture is the ever-present need to purchase more and more things. Economy is in the tank? The president tells us all to go shopping. Feeling depressed? Retail therapy will help! You ever watch TV? We are assaulted with well-crafted (or not so well-crafted) advertisements designed to move us to buy something whether it is a brand of facial tissue, food, cars, or whatever. There is always something else that we need.
What if we step back from that for a moment and ask ourselves what we truly need. This isn’t a spiritual question. It’s a basic, human existence question- an American, 21st century one at that. I am not hinting that we all need to leave our homes and move into a grass hut. In a world full of tech and other stuff, do we really need to pre-order that new iPhone when we still have a fully functional model that is only a year old? Do we really need 20 pair of pants or the absolute freshest fashions? How is it that a 3,000 sf house is considered a reasonable size these days? In so many ways this manipulation of the general public to need all these things affect our personal sense of worth. “Everybody else has Ugg boots…” “Why don’t I have a Lexus?” Little nagging bits of friction in our mind. So subtle but also very disruptive.
Well, on second thought, maybe we skip the slippery part about asking ourselves what we really, truly need and just take the easier step of just starting to say “no.”
You can’t look at the finish line when you are just beginning the process. Its like quitting smoking. Don’t go cold turkey, that rarely works! Instead, cut a cigarette or two out of your day and do that for a week. Then another one. You can work yourself from a pack down to just a couple butts a day fairly easily. The last couple were tough but, that’s the finish line- changing old habits is never an easy thing to do. But you really can see more deeply the value of that change the further into the process you get.
So, just begin the process by consuming less. It doesn’t really matter what you start with- food, clothes, TV, booze, whatever. Just start to reduce your consumption of something- but do it with intent, with focus. Its going to be slow-going because you will be straining against an entire life’s worth of training. But, once you get started, you’ll develop some confidence in your ability to say, “No. I don’t really need that right now.” This incremental improvement will soon start to affect other aspects of your life.
An example: last week, I took my wife out to see The Lion King at the Boston Opera House for her birthday. The best part was that she had no idea! In order keep up the mystery until the last minute, I schemed to take her in to town for a cannoli and to wander around the Downtown Crossing shopping district while we waited for Will Call to open up so we could pick up our tickets. Don’t worry, the cannoli was fantastic! So was the show! That was not affected at all by our new-found thriftiness. It was the window shopping. Looking in all the shops and people-watching used to be a leisurely way to enjoy an afternoon. But now, all we could see were lots of things we really had no need for. Looking at it now, I understand why we felt like strangers wandering through this land of commerce but, at the time, it was pretty surprising!
This “slow and steady” mindset has really helped us make progress toward our goal of consuming less. There have also been some interesting and unforeseen consequences. Don’t get me wrong, I totally love the big, splashy, dramatic statements. I am NEVER GOING TO MCDONALDS EVER AGAIN! You really feel like your making a difference in your life right away! You can say it out loud to your friends and they will support you! You get to use exclamation points in your inner dialog! But, its like going cold turkey. It rarely works.
I totally love cheeseburgers.
But, maybe not today…