Saying ‘No’: Lessons in materialism

I’ve been taking a break. It was inspired by unnecessary events taking place in the fall of 2016. I searched high and low for weeks, on the hunt for a specific color of red. I didn’t find them anywhere around town so I also searched online. After many nights of scrolling through the possibilities, I finally found them. The color was perfect. They were in my shopping cart and money was deducted from my account faster than a falling maple leaf could hit the ground. When the package arrived, I hurried into the house to try them on. Perfect fit!

I folded the red pants, opened the dresser to put them away; and placed them directly on top of a pair of red pants of almost the same style and color.

Hold it.

What? I just spent weeks searching for pants I already own? This was a level of embarrassing ridiculousness only a busy person who gets dressed in the dark could understand. I’ve never taken inventory of how many clothes I own. I have them in a closet and two dressers, and sometimes a pile develops in a corner of the room here or there when laundry day overlaps with too many meetings. I’m not one to go on extravagant shopping sprees but I’m just like many mid-western women; easily distracted by new sweaters every fall or sundresses on days when spring is almost over.

I stood motionless, staring at the pants. How much time and resources did I waste looking for pants that I already own? Why did I think I needed new pants anyway? People used to wear the same general clothing pieces all week and then change only when they went to church on Sundays. Why did I need so many clothes? I stopped growing in high school so this wasn’t a flood-pant situation.

Over the next couple weeks I kept thinking about my pants. I once sent a bag of clothing to a tribal village through a missionary request. They were happy to have just one pair of pants, and here I had duplicates. I was really disappointed in myself.

While it seems silly, I spent a lot of time thinking about the materialistic society we live in. New outfits for any occasion that could even potentially be labeled as somewhat important. New knick-knacks for new bookcases to make a room look “complete.” New curtains because you were tired of the old ones. New T-shirts to commemorate experiences. Bigger TVs so we can see more of the game we are not watching in person. New toys, new gear, new gadgets to make life more fun. Much of the clothing and trinkets we purchase aren’t even made in America and purchase of such things doesn’t do a lot to strengthen our economy.

I decided that for one year, 2017, I would not buy any new clothes, shoes, or accessories. My husband said, “But what if you really need something?” I took a quick inventory in my head. I can only wear one outfit at a time; I think I’ll be OK. And off I went to not buy clothes for a year.

The year is almost up. I can report that I have purchased one pair of sunglasses and one small bag, and that is it. Over the past several months I have mourned the loss of some of my favorites. A pair of black pants that became threadbare. I don’t need to replace them because I have three other pairs of black pants. I got paint on my favorite sweatshirt. But I have five other sweatshirts to wear if I need one. Every so often I notice a friend’s new outfit and get a desire to go on a hunt for something new, only to remind myself later that I can’t.

I’ve donated more than 10 bags of clothing I haven’t worn in a year or more. I’ve spent less time worrying about what I’m going to wear, and more time taking my kids on adventures. I’ve had some great successes over the past year and none of them were contingent upon my outfit being brand new.

I’m sure I’ve saved money over the course of this exercise, but that’s not why I imposed this lesson. It is easy to get swept up in materialistic values and the false-joy that comes from new material things. Along with this trend, comes a negative shift in important values. I’ve relearned that the time and energy we spend on some things is simply wasted in the grand scheme of things.

I’ve learned a lot about myself this year and I’ve decided to do this again with a new goal for 2018. Want to try it with me? What is one unnecessary thing you could give up purchasing for one whole year?

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.