4 Lessons Learned From My Low Buy Month
What I gained from buying less in January, and where I'll go from here.
Welcome to Making Time. Each week, I share thoughts and ideas for making more time for your creativity by building creative energy and establishing rituals and practices. This year, I’m also attempting The 2024 Slowdown, which you can do with me. If you’d like to follow along, you can subscribe for free.
It’s hard to believe that January is drawing to a close today. It’s time to check in on the first month of my 2024 Slowdown. I began, as you may recall, with a low buy challenge for the month. Did you join in with your own version?
I’m currently taking an 8-week course called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). If you aren’t familiar, MBSR is a program developed by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn decades ago at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, and it’s used to help anyone dealing with stress, anxiety, illness, pain, or depression. In other words, I’m not sure who would not benefit.
What I’ve liked most about it so far is that there are a number of practices and reflections that bring mindfulness into everyday life. I’ve often felt that, as helpful as my meditation practice is, it’s difficult to bridge the gap between quiet moments on the cushion and the rest of my life. Having small daily practices throughout the day has subtly shifted my habitual approach to things.
One of those MBSR practices involves noticing both pleasant and unpleasant experiences, and doing some exploration about what makes something pleasant/unpleasant.
Often, the distinctions and patterns you find are quite surprising. I felt that way about the effects of this low buy challenge. Unpleasant feelings would bring more awareness around my own emotions, and eventually become pleasant. Something would start out feeling like a deprivation, but then slowly begin to feel like freedom.
So let’s dig into the lessons so far.
Here are the lessons I learned:
1. Your spending reflects your values – and fears.
The first lesson I learned was in simply choosing the categories of spending to cut. You might recall that the two I chose were clothing and skincare. I spend on other things (books, garden stuff, fabric, home stuff) and feel perfectly fine with it, but something felt misaligned with these two in particular.
The skincare one particularly bothered me. When I was young, I used to love to buy makeup. There was nothing quite like the cheap pick-me-up of a new lipstick or eyeshadow back then, and I could never own too many red lipsticks.
Now, I wear only a little makeup and seldom buy it, but keep trying new moisturizers, sunscreens, serums, etc. Nothing too expensive, but my bathroom is cluttered with creams and potions.
What I’ve come to terms with is this: I am terrified of ageing.
I hate to admit that because I believe that growing old is an absolute blessing, but there it is.
When I was young, I was concerned with inventing and reinventing myself, and makeup was a tool to do that. Now, I just don’t want to die someday, and a part of me believes that if I can just stop my skin from looking a year older, I can somehow prevent this inevitability.
But then, most of our anxieties come down to a few of death, don’t they?
Recognizing this helped me to let go a little bit, and maybe not obsess quite so much about fading youth.
2. It’s hard to resist the promise of “new.”
Not buying any clothing was very easy, but I found skincare a little harder to resist.
The reason is that I kept seeing “problems” and I’ve conditioned myself to think that I need to purchase a “solution”. I may even already have exactly what I need, but something in me tells me I need something new.
For example, one day I woke up with extremely dry skin on my face and thought, “I really need to buy a heavier moisturizer for winter.” Later, I realized I had a tube of heavy cream for my hands on my desk that would work fine (Weleda Skin Food, by the way, which smells great).
I like the promise of the new. It allows me to believe that something will enter my life and make it much better, a very tempting fantasy. The reality is that most of the time, I already have what I need.
3. I can find other ways to make things feel “new”
Here is one of the best things about this low buy challenge month: I started to appreciate what I have a whole lot more.
I started digging in my closet and pulled out things I hadn’t worn in years, and combined them in new ways. Yesterday, I found this beautiful vintage beaded cashmere cardigan my grandmother gave me. I wore it with jeans over a handmade t-shirt and congratulated myself on keeping it free of mothholes all these years!
This started to extend to other areas of my life. I started rearranging little corners of my house, pulling things I already have out of cupboards and making use of them again.
4. It’s easy to displace desire
Finally, I had to be quite careful not to start overspending in other areas to compensate for the dopamine withdrawal.
I received so few packages this month, especially compared to the holiday season, that I sometimes felt a twinge of disappointment at the mailbox. Embarassing, but true.
A part of me wanted to go out and buy more books, food, or craft supplies to get that little jolt of delight, but I realized that this would be creating a new habit out of an old one, so I managed some restraint. Still, I felt that desire pretty consistently.
It’s helpful to treat this whole thing as a lesson in self-awareness, and just recognize where those desires are popping up and why.
I’m planning to continue my low buy challenge for the next month at least, with the same stipulations as January. I’ve definitely started to feel more ease around these habits, and some of those unpleasant feelings have gradually transformed into something new.
Did you try out a low buy month in January? How did it go for you?
And if not, have you done something like this before? Any lessons you want to share?