One hot summer morning last May, when she was visiting me, my mom suddenly died.
And the dreadful task of shrinking her household, so my dad could manage alone, fell on me.
Amma was a frugal person, I thought. In comparison with me and my peer group, she certainly was. The product of an era where shopping meant buying essentials, and maybe, the odd indulgence.
And yet, as I started clearing up her home, I was shocked by the number of things that kept emerging. The cupboard full of tiny décor items—some predating my birth, but polished and kept safely. Some acquired as memories during her travels, some gifts from a dear friend or a relative, to mark a special occasion. The kitchen full of utensils: many being used since her marriage 50 years ago, many acquired over the years. Some to be used once a year, some for special functions, some because there was a ‘Buy 2, get 1 free’ sale, some bartered in exchange for old clothes with the door to door saleswoman.
The saree cupboard overflowing with silks, cottons, silk-cottons, synthetics, in every hue and colour. Sarees for weddings, every day, and every occasion in between. Each with its ‘fall’ done, its ‘pallu’ neatly sewn, and with its own perfectly matched blouse
Every cupboard I opened, there were things. Things acquired with love, preserved with care. Things that sparked memories, or represented a potential use on that odd rainy day. Things that had all outlived, outlasted her. And were now, after her, unwanted, worthless.
The shock of Amma’s death, followed by the gut-wrenching process of stowing away or giving away her possessions forced me to reflect on my own materialistic existence and its dependence on acquiring things.
My possessions are many multiples of what Amma owned, having acquired, through the years, and through my romp across the world, things for every mood, season, and occasion. Clothes—dresses, trousers, salwars, sarees, nightwear, vacation wear, swim wear, gym wear, even a bodysuit for diving in spite of my phobia for deep waters!
Clothes, because I need variety. Clothes because there is a bizarre premium these days on not being seen in the same outfit. Clothes because there just is such great stuff to buy! And it doesn’t end at clothes. I own in multiples: Books, fashion accessories, décor accessories, crockery, upholstery: the list goes on.
Our household owns so many things that instead of living in homes that suit the needs of our people, we end up choosing homes that fulfil the wants of our things!
And I am not alone in my ‘shopaholism’. Shopping for my generation is long past fulfilling an essential need. Shopping is a way to spend time with friends, or maybe to sneak in some ‘me time’. A way to project, and maybe protect, our self-image, too. It is a source of entertainment sometimes, and often a way to alleviate our boredom.
For many, shopping is an addiction and for so many of us, shopping is therapy. No matter that our homes are cluttered with things we will never need, that large chunks of our minds have to be allocated to keeping track of our possessions, that much of our wealth is locked up in acquisitions that have no material value, or that that our incessant greed to acquire more has pushed our planet to the brink!
And so it was with that wakeup call that I decided to give ‘No Shopping for a year’ a try.
The rules were simple:
Allowed: Food, groceries, toiletries, other household purchases, other essentials (for example undergarments), gifts, a very few books (loophole alert!), buying for family—after all they were not joining my pledge, and buying for home as long as it was necessary.
Not Allowed: Anything that would count as a personal possession for me—clothes, shoes, bags, jewellery, make-up, home décor, electronics, digital devices or automobiles.
So how did I do?
Mostly good. I cheated twice—once on a vacation on Goa, and another on my birthday, when I treated myself to one dress each time. I also replaced my upholstery once during the year and did play a bit in the grey-zone there, but other than that, I passed the test.
What did I learn?
- I learnt that things have very very long lives. I had hoped to go binge shopping when my year was up, as wouldn’t my wardrobe be old and unusable? Alas! My clothes, accessories, books, crockery, are all around, alive, and not in the danger of extinction any time soon.
- I learnt to overcome the boredom of wearing the same things. I become creative in mixing and matching. The clothes at the bottom of the rack have gotten a new lease of life. And surprisingly, as a result my wardrobe has expanded.
- I learnt to really invest in myself, without guilt. Now that I was not spending on things, I signed up and completed an online course from Harvard, I subscribed to several publications I loved to read. I even attended music lessons temporarily! In short, I expanded my mind.
- I learnt the route to self-control is to not tempt yourself in the first place. I stopped going to malls—except to the movies or to eat, stopped ‘window shopping’, stopped clicking on tempting links online, and stopped responding to invites to sales and exhibitions. And I used the extra time, on writing, spending time with friends, reading, and exercising.
- I learnt to hoard less. I happened to move homes this year, and used that opportunity to scale down. Inspired by Marie Kondo, I gave away things that didn’t spark joy, and found myself feeling ‘lighter’ in mind and spirit. A clutter free home, truly paves the way to a clutter free mind, I discovered.
My year is done, but my journey as a recovering shopaholic has just begun. That halo I now carry as a frugal, mindful, planet saviour, I have come to enjoy. That extra money in my bank account, I have come to appreciate. And while I will shop, once in the odd while, my days as a shopper who shops ‘just because’ are well and truly over.
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