With Black Friday and Cyber Monday upon us, the Christmas shopping season has officially commenced. I’m not anti-consumerist by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve found the news of stampedes and other shenanigans on Black Friday—such as this insane video of people literally fighting over waffle makers—to be incredibly distressing. So as I saw all the ads begin to pop up offering steep discounts, I was heartened to see that one major retailer had a very different message to spread. REI’s #OptOut campaign is encouraging people to skip the Black Friday shopping and instead spend some time out of doors, preferably with the people we’re supposed to be gifting to during the holidays. To be honest, I think we should remember this more often than just on Black Friday. This year I’ve found the value in taking an #OptOut mentality to stuff in general—and I have to say, the results have been surprising.
Like most other middle-class Americans, I grew up comfortably—I never had to worry about having enough food, I could be social with my friends, and we took the occasional family vacation to somewhere warm. But we were also that brand of Midwestern frugal that covets sales and buying in bulk. I may not love this skirt, but hey, it’s only 15 bucks! I wasn’t planning to buy a new iPod, but it’s 50 percent off! By the time I graduated from college and moved to New York, one thing became abundantly clear: There was not going to be room for all the things I had accumulated to make the journey with me.
But just because I had managed to pare down and live in a space that people outside of NYC would think is no more than a closet doesn’t mean I had fixed my shopping habits. Despite my limited closet space, I managed to accumulate plenty: the bought-it-because-it-was-on-sale clothing (not to mention the stuff that wasn’t even on sale), a bookshelf brimming with novels and nonfiction I don’t have time to read, the cheap food processor I bought for one stinking recipe, and boxes of old documents and other things deemed too essential to throw away. And yet I still found myself sighing at my closet, feeling like I had nothing to wear, or thinking about getting a new blender because then maybe I’d use it (riiiiight).
But then I had a realization: Maybe it wasn’t a lack of things that was causing my dissatisfaction but actually an excess of things I didn’t even want there. I’ve written before that I realized I was waiting for my “real” life to begin by getting married; and part of that is also realizing that having more material things, even if they weren’t ultimately very expensive from a monetary standpoint, wasn’t going to make me any more satisfied with what I had.
Despite what may sound like some hoarder-esque behavior, I’m actually an obsessive organizer, and I so happened to pick up a copy of the runaway bestseller by Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. If you haven’t read it, or any of the millions of glowing reviews of it online, spoiler alert: It’s really inspiring. But I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting it to be. I figured that I had this organizing thing down and that Kondo would offer some small tidbit that would be useful but not much more. Yet Kondo’s advice is exactly what I needed to hear: Get rid of all the things that don’t bring you joy. Find a spot for everything that does. And let me tell you, that is life-changing.
Armed with a newfound excitement to purge, I got rid of it all. The extra books, the clothes that made me feel frumpy, the neglected kitchen gadgets. I didn’t just get rid of things I disliked: If I couldn’t make a positive case for why I wanted it beyond “maybe I’ll have a use for it one day,” I either eBayed it, consigned it, or gave it away.
A funny thing happened after The Great Purge: I actually found that I was more satisfied with what I had left, not less. Rather than rifling through a closet full of things that I didn’t really like or felt didn’t flatter me, every single item in my much-reduced collection made me happy; getting ready in the morning was both more efficient and more enjoyable. The kitchen cupboards that used to be overflowing with junky mugs and “souvenir” cups now housed the glassware and plates that make me smile—and made it much easier to find the special teapot that used to get pushed to the back behind all the other junk. It’s not unlike our friends. At the end of the day, it can be more satisfying to have a small group of very close friends than to have a huge collection of acquaintances; having only a few beautiful items makes me feel much more appreciative and happy than a zillion “meh” things.
Simplifying also made me far less interested in buying something new. Now when I find myself about to make an impulse purchase, I write it down in a list on my phone. At the end of the month, if I have budget available, and I still feel like I really want it, I’ll get it. More often than not, I find that I just forget about the thing altogether. Is that to say I never make an on-the-fly purchase? Of course not. On a whim I decided I wanted to make a quiche, so I got a pie pan—after a quick bit of Google research and a Bed Bath & Beyond 20 percent off coupon, of course. But on the whole, I’m far happier that most of the items on my to-purchase list haven’t moved off of it and into my home.
I’ve realized that my impulse to “save” was costing me much more—in space, yes, and in mental energy. I’m glad that I’ve chosen to take up new hobbies rather than spend another Saturday wandering aimlessly through stores for a dress or a deal I may not even need. Black Friday may be just one day of the year, but it’s a helpful reminder of how easy it is to get caught up in the having of things. This Black Friday, I’d rather #OptOut and go for a hike (in the cold of Michigan, no less!). I’ll come home not exhausted from lines and crowds and with bags of loot but rather with a sense of calm, having been among a beautiful setting with those I love. And that will certainly make me happier than any bargain.
Photo Credit: Shannon Lee Miller