Black Friday

Elissa told me the story: After leaving India the year before, she decided she had enough stuff, or too much stuff. She made a pledge that for a year she wouldn’t buy shoes, clothes, purses, or jewelry.

I was impressed by her conviction, but she shrugged it off. “It wasn’t hard.” After that, I did some small-scale experiments of my own, giving up shopping for Lent for a few years. I was always surprised by how much better it made me feel. But it wasn’t until New Year’s Day 2017 that I decided to follow my friend’s example. At the end of 2016, our country had swung in the direction of gold leaf, an ecstatic celebration of unfeeling billionairedom that kept me up at night. I couldn’t settle down to read or write, and in my anxiety I found myself mindlessly scrolling through two particular shopping websites, numbing out with images of shoes, clothes, purses and jewelry. I was trying to distract myself, but the distraction left me feeling worse, the way a late night in a bar smoking Winstons and drinking gin leaves you feeling worse. The unspoken question of shopping is What do I need?, but I didn’t need anything. What I needed was less than what I had…

My few months of no-shopping were full of gleeful discoveries…Once I stopped looking for things to buy, I became tremendously grateful for things I received…

It doesn’t take so long for craving to subside. Once I got the hang of giving something up, it wasn’t much of a trick. The much harder part was living with the startling abundance that had been illuminated when I stopped trying to get more. Once I could see what I already had, and what actually mattered, I was left with a feeling that was somewhere between sickened and humbled. When did I amass so many things, and did someone else need them?

If you stop thinking about what you might want, it’s a whole lot easier to see what other people don’t have…. “I realized I had too many decisions to make that were actually important,” she said. “There were people to help, things to do. Not shopping frees up a lot of space in your brain.” …

The things we buy and buy and buy are like a thick coat of Vaseline smeared on glass: we can see some shapes out there, light and dark, but in our constant craving for what we may still want, we miss too many of life’s details. It’s not as if I kept a ledger and took the money I didn’t spend on perfume and gave that money to the poor, but I came to a better understanding of money as something we earn and spend and save for the things we want and need. Once I was able to get past the want and be honest about the need, it was easier to let the money go. It was like Elissa had told me when she first explained the benefits of not shopping: “Our capacity for giving is huge.”

Ann Patchett, from “My Year of No Shopping” in “These Precious Days: Essays” (Harper, November 23, 2021)


Image: Los Angeles Times: Best New Books to Read November 2021

Comments

  1. I have lost my appeal for shopping, thanks to the pandemic. I get annoyed by the number of people in the stores. You’ll never see me shopping on Black Friday or Boxing Day. And I dislike buying clothes or shoes on line because I want to try stuff on before buying. Somehow, I still have too much stuff! Sigh…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Dave, this is not a Like, it’s a LOVE….
    One thing I HAD to give up an in were hundreds of books. That was when our international removal from a beautiful 1920 house to a mere rental loomed (wrong word, it was planned that way)…. Not a single book of all of Ann Patchett’s writing did however go to the pyre (read: disposal facility) – and although I didn’t know she wrote another book, I shall now endeavor to get is ASAP!
    It’s all only too true – as I can (must) confirm. All the beautiful things I couldn’t take with me or those I took but have absolutely no place to display, play with or just enjoy…. And the longer they live in their cases, the less I shall need them – it was (and is) a ‘soul masturbation’ and we need less, not more! My soul did – after a mourning period – survive just fine and in a way I look forward to a ‘spring cleaning’ when I shall hopefully feel ready to bring it all to a far-away thrift store…..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. i absolutely agree and love this

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great post inspired by a great book.
    Shopping is a substitute for being, we suppose. We actually don’t shop much but on the other hand we are addicted on shopping books. We suppose everyone has such an addiction – at least everybody we know – a field in which having is important. Well, ‘to have or to be’. We think we need all these books but of course we don’t. Even knowing this doesn’t help and so we can’t pass by an antiquarian bookshop. Like every addict we have a rationalisation, it’s sustainable buying pre-loved books.
    Anyway, to fight this addiction needs more effort than to live with it. And this is how every shoppomaniac is thinking, isn’t it?
    Thanks for your great post
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • “Like every addict we have a rationalisation!” Boom! Truth Klaus! And again here: ” to fight this addiction needs more effort than to live with it.” Boom!

      Liked by 1 person

    • KB: What a pity you don’t live closer, or rather that you didn’t live closer to our French home….. I’m still hurting with the loss of so, so many books then. And I still can’t bring the ones I read (and don’t have space to keep, except my faved writers) back to England where they would/will find a next bookoholic! I would have loved to let you have and re-distribute them!

      Like

  5. Sooo much to ponder here, and especially apt in this week of Thanksgiving. Thank you, DK. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Who was it that said, ” you can never have enough of what you don’t really need?”
    Perhaps this addiction to stuff is a necessary phase for us humans. 100 years or so ago, the need was very much still with us. It seems we just got too good at “progress,” and could use a little regress.

    How much devastation to both individuals and the entire biosphere must occur before the tide turns remains to be seen.

    Perhaps at root, the nagging feeling of some unnameable insecurity needs to find its voice in each of us. The irony might be that the more we give way to technological advances to meet our needs, the more insecure we find ourselves to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “Use it up. Wear it out. Make do. Do without.” my mother.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So important for all of us to consider during this holiday of Thanks. As one who used to wear designer clothes to dances and parties when in college (my mother would send bargains she found at Klein’s on the Square in NYCity)…mostly little black dresses. And, as one who LOVED shoes, and enjoyed wearing all sorts including heels (a dancer learns how to lift out of hip sockets to take the strain off…and glide without pain). I’ve bought NOTHING in years except shoes that help me walk without pain, and some underwear (because those items do wear out). Realized that the value and beauty comes from within us and others…relating and appreciating…totally independent of the shell and camouflage! [but love getting the giggles visualizing DK’s layers on the way out to meet frigid weather]. (…BOOKS…moving 3 times in 5 years…and finding that mildew was forming in one of my 3 large bookcases before my last move… If only I could have given my childhood and parents’ books to Klausbernd–I still think about and miss some of them–Robert Louis Stevenson’s large book of verses and stories and illustrations for children…so painful….) Phew! our value is within!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Definitely food for thought! I don’t do in person shopping except for food and wine. Still love to window shopping on line and get tempted with shiny and colorful objects for myself and others. Yep – I have rationalized it all 🥰

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Perfect post for a Black Friday… just perfect! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “an ecstatic celebration of unfeeling billionairedom that kept me up at night. I couldn’t settle down to read or write, and in my anxiety I found myself mindlessly scrolling through two particular shopping websites, numbing out…”

    I have felt this way during the pandemic! Anxiety sucks. OK, that may have been an understatement but it certainly applies to me as I try to stay motivated.

    Thank you again!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I think many of us got out of the shopping habit when Covid struck.

    Like

  13. Already there. Years now. If i see something handmade or make it myself; a book so poignant i want to share it with someone i love; if i know someone needs some thing, i don’t hesitate. Otherwise, meh. ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

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