A couple of months ago I came across a book at Barnes&Noble, called The Year Of Less. As I read the description on the dust jacket, it immediately struck a chord with me. The author had self-imposed a shopping ban on herself and then wrote about it on her blog. Her blog eventually turned into a book. I looked at the book couple of times before I actually bought it. When I started reading it I couldn’t put it down.
It helped me along with a goal I’d already been forming in my mind. Needing to get control of my spending as well as my belongings and immediate surroundings, I had been slowly trying to organize and clean out things I no longer used, as well as get a handle on all the things I already owned so I would know for sure if there were any things I actually needed (this is especially applicable to clothing as many women know!). As I began to work through all of my stuff, it created some anxiety in me as I realized how many things I had bought on impulse and for the wrong reasons. I had indulged way too often in “retail therapy” and the results were not pretty.
Life has been stressful for a long time. Life can be stressful for everybody at one time or another, but this major stress in my life has lasted over a decade now, with a lot of upheavals and dramatic incidents. Very intense trials have sprung from my son’s autism and its accompanying medical issues and difficult, sometimes dangerous behaviors. As anyone dealing with autism knows, these ongoing stresses can take a toll on your closest relationships. It’s been that way with me. Often feeling I had no one to turn to, I would take myself out for a break which usually involved spending money. Sometimes I could afford to do this but many times I really couldn’t. Most of the time when I’d shop it would be an attempt to cheer myself up, however temporarily. And going out and getting something I wanted gave me a false sense of control and power over my life. Even now that I am aware of this it is still a challenge not to fall back on this comfort-seeking behavior, behavior that does not serve me in the long run. Old habits die hard.
There are so many reality shows on tv now about our material possessions, like Hoarders on the more extreme end of the spectrum, as well as others like Storage Wars about clutter control. Seems no matter what people’s economic circumstances are, many of us are overwhelmed with things. I am far from alone in my struggles with stuff. But even though I know that it still bugs me that I have found so much false security in things. And it bugs me even more that it can be so hard to break free of the anxiety that can cause us to feel a false need to accumulate, despite already being overwhelmed with too much stuff to manage. I suppose all of the advertising we are constantly bombarded with through all types of media is partly to blame. We have complete control over our choices but it’s hard to resist constant messages that tell us everybody has this or that, and how happy we will be if we have it too.
I have found that too often, happiness that is connected to something we just bought is very short-lived. Most people are familiar with buyers’ remorse, the regret over having spent money on something (often an impulse buy) and then wishing we hadn’t.
This book is not something I regret buying for myself and in fact, I plan to read it again. This is one purchase that actually has empowered me and given me hope that I am not alone in this struggle and yes there are ways to overcome it. I recommend this book highly! It applies to much more than shopping. The author touches on her past struggles with drinking and indulging in unhealthy sexual relationships. Shopping was just another type of addictive behavior. You might find that if you zone in on one bad habit, another one can pop up and you feel like you are in a never-ending game of Whack-A-Mole! That’s because so many bad habits we find ourselves trapped in often have the same root. Until you recognize that root, the behavior will pop up in another area of your life.
I hope to write again soon about the progress that I am making. Because I am actually making progress, slowly but surely. For once I am working on a bad habit with some knowledge of why I have done it in the first place. That’s a good place to start. I don’t want to give up this time. Even if progress is slow it still has value. And I am already learning some things about myself, about materialism, about life, just from beginning this process of changing some habits.
There is a verse in the bible that says, “Do not despise the day of small beginnings.” I remind myself of these words often since I have a tendency to get discouraged. Every one of us can be assured of a harvest (of whatever we are trying to get to grow in our lives!) as long as we don’t give up.