You'll Get Nothing And Like It

Last year I wrote this post for the wonderful Sorta Crunchy blog, about how our family bought no "stuff" during January. It was terrifically freeing, even if the lessons learned were not the ones I thought they'd be!

By Sarah Pinneo

“We’re not going to buy anything in January except food,” I announced at the dinner table, just before New Years.  I’d been feeling overrun with holiday excess.  January would be a perfect month to streamline—to acquire nothing, to refrain from indulgence, to fully appreciate just how fortunate we are.

This decision was met largely by yawns.

“What about ski lift tickets?” asked my seven-year-old. 

“Oh honey,” I reassured him.  “We’re still going to ski.” Or Daddy would rebel. “And buy food, and gas for the car.  Just no stuff.  We just got so many new things in this house, we’re going to take a break.”

“What is January?” my five year old asked.

“Thirty one days,” I told him. 

He waved his Mickey Mouse fork dismissively.  “That’s not so much days,” he said.

And he was right.  It was nothing at all.  My exercise in restraint was petty by any measurement.  Many of the world’s people don’t have enough money for basic necessities.  And even among those who do, there are far more dramatic experiments than mine.  There’s theAtlanta family who gave away half their net worth, and environmental activists who choose to give up even toilet paper.

Baby steps.  Baby steps.

I knew I was going for a smaller statement—I just didn’t realize how small.  Only one item even came up—my seven year old needed a black felt tip pen to complete an art project.  Though I was sure we owned four million art supplies already, no black felt tip or marker could be found anywhere on the premises.

Aha!  A teachable moment.  “I guess you’ll have to use a colored pencil.  Or buy it with your own money.”

No fool, my son.  He asked his grandparents to lend him a pen.  But that led me to explain my quirky experiment to my mother, who immediately assumed the worst.  “Honey, if you’re strapped for cash…” she began.

“No, no,” I assured her.  “It’s an experiment in delayed gratification and ingenuity.”

But it was in many ways a failed experiment.  My son’s ingenuity led him to pry art supplies from grandpa.  The rest of the family failed to notice at all—except for my frightened mother.

It wasn’t until the end of the month that I noticed all the benefits that had accrued to me.

I’d had no idea how much time my silly plan would save me.  The typical four weeks’ onslaught of catalogs went directly into the recycling bin.  “There will be more catalogs in February,” I reminded myself.  Even better—the email address that I use for commerce was opened only to stay on top of all the deleting.  Oh look—a coupon from Borders, 40% off?  Delete without opening.  Take 30% off sale prices at Lands End.  Delete.  J. Crew, Talbots?  Delete, delete.

I’m not much of a shopper.  I rarely buy much from these places.  But what I didn’t realize was how often I opened the messages anyway, and then needlessly lost a half hour of my precious time.  Eureka!  An entire month of deleting junky emails prevented me from dithering over L.L. Bean turtlenecks in size 6x-7, or trolling for teaspoons to replace the ones which mysteriously disappeared since our wedding 12 years ago.

It wasn’t money or closet space that I saved in January.  It was time.

And I put that time to good use.  I wrote two magazine articles, two new pitches, and 12,000 words of a novel.  I made pumpkin pie from scratch.  And not once was I lured by the promise of free shipping, or Exciting Spring Fashions.

When January ended, so did the moratorium.  But I continued to delete and recycle with glee.  At least I did until the moment my older son informed me that both his boots and his shoes were getting tight.  (This from a child who barely notices shoes, so it must be true.)

Then I wasted a perfectly good half hour on shoe sites, only to remember how hard it was to judge things from a pixilated photo.

The boy and I will just have to head to an honest-to-God store soon, when we’re both good and ready.