Monday, November 21, 2011

How not to go shopping

A group of students asked me to come speak to them last week about "all I do and how I do it".  I warned them that I'm not exactly normal, and that I don't expect that they'd want to follow my example.  I added to my talk a list of things I do NOT do:  I don't watch TV; I don't play kid's games; I don't go shopping.  These are not moral choices on my part; it's just that when life is full, something's gotta go -- and those are the things that went from my life.

The "not shopping" thing was the part that most astounded them.  What did I mean by "not shopping"?  I checked my credit card records and verified that I had actually been to two stores this past month -- I bought boots for my sons (a summer yard-sale-planning lapse on my part) and toilet paper for the home.  Aside from that, I haven't been inside stores all month.

How does a person not go shopping?  I have a sort-of unfair advantage in the not-shopping arena.  I live 2 blocks from where I work, so my commute is on foot.  I'm spared the temptation of stopping at stores on the way home from work -- getting in a car to go shopping is actually going OUT of my way.  But there's more to not-shopping than having a foot-based commute.

Here are some of my other favorite ways to dodge stores.
  • Have someone else go for me.  Okay, this is a cop-out, but only in some senses.  My husband LOVES going shopping, and so about twice a month I'll give him a small grocery list, making us both happy.  And even better, if I ask my friend to pick up a bushel of apples for me, it's hard for her to splurge and buy the figs I didn't know I wanted.  So I don't mind avoiding stores by sending in a stunt-double.  (I return the favor; during the summer most of my friends give me "wish items" that I look for when I'm yard saling).
  • Find alternate sources for things I need.  Food doesn't have to come from a store.  We signed up for a "CSA" (Community Supported Agriculture), and so once a week we pick up a giant boxful of local, fresh vegetables from the nearby pick-up site.  Those vegetables form the basis for most of our meals, so we merely need to fill in around the edges.  Clothes don't have to come from a store: during the summer, I go to yard sales; that's where I get almost all of my clothes.  I jog through wealthy neighborhoods on trash day . . . 'nuff said.  
  • Stockpile.  My summer yard-saling is supposed to last me and the boys all year long.  The 40 pounds of hamburger we bought and the 30 pounds of turkey sausage we bought should likewise last us to spring, especially because we try to eat meat-less and less-meat meals.  On a smaller scale, buying 20 pairs of identical black socks means I can start my son off with a mere 7 pairs but replace missing socks when they get beamed up to the UFO space ship (not sure where else they might go).  I won't have to go back to the store for toilet paper for a long time yet.
  • Anticipate and plan for the future.  Stockpiling is one aspect of this planning.  But anticipating/planning can be as simple as thinking about the meals I'll be cooking all week, and then making only one grocery trip instead of several.  This is definitely an area where I try not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good; the more I practice guessing what I'll need, the better I get at guessing.  (Still bummed that I forgot to look for yard sale boots, though.  Drat!)
  • Buy things that last.  This criteria goes beyond durability.  Think about permanent versus disposable, and search for non-perishable alternatives.  We use cloth napkins and cloth cleaning rags, so we don't buy paper towels.  I buy powdered milk for cooking -- it doesn't expire the way liquid milk does.  If you find yourself tossing things in the trash or down the sink, search for the non-tossable alternatives.
  • Use what I already have.  I know some people think about what to have for dinner ("hmm . . . pizza"), see if they have the ingredients ("dang; no cheese!"), and then go to the store while the food already in the fridge slowly rots.  But I think constraint breeds creativity.  What kind of dinner can I make with a half a head of cabbage, baby bok-choy leaves, a half-link of turkey sausage, 2 pieces of cheese, spaghetti, and rice?  Sounds like stir-fry, especially if I put the cheese back in the fridge.  Or quiche, if I have a few eggs.  Or maybe a salad.  No shopping needed.  Similarly, I "shop" in my own home for a cute outfit or for a way to fix that umbrella before I run to the store.
And finally, now that Thanksgiving is nigh upon us, it's worth remembering that attitude trumps acquisition:
  • Be grateful for what I already have.  This is probably the biggest hurdle for most of us -- I know it often is for me.  It's so incredibly human to want what's new and to ignore what's familiar.   Think about how tempting it is to go buy a bottle of [soda/wine/juice], and to forget what a miracle   it is to have clean water coming out of the tap.  How tempting it is to go shopping for entertainment, but to ignore the board games stacked up on the living room shelves.  It is an incredibly powerful experience just to put my hands on my own belongings and think, "I am grateful I have this."  
'Nuff said.  Time for a jog.

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