With Christmas around the corner, Amazon’s entry into the Australian market and the Boxing Day sales on their way, it’s a shopaholic’s trifecta. But before I got click-happy with my credit card, I decided to test my ability to resist the lure of festive shopping.
Over the past month, I’ve taken on the 30-Day Minimalism Game challenge set by Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, AKA The Minimalists – who’ve spent the last five years advising people on how to live meaningfully with less stuff (and will bring their Less is Now tour to Australia in March next year).
I was drawn to the promise of minimalism creating more space for the things that matter most. But in a culture of mass consumption, and dealing with my own impulsive buying, could I resist the temptation?
Credit cards make it so easy to buy now, pay later. Retailers tempt you with daily sales, and shopping when you’re sad can lead to disaster. Sure, its temporarily satisfying to get those shoes you’ve been eyeing for weeks, but does it resolve what’s making you feel down?
There were rules to the game. I had to get rid of one thing on the first day, two things on the second day and so on. Whatever I did, each material possession had to be out of my house – and out of my life – by midnight each day.
It seemed easy at first. But as the month progressed it got trickier – I was jettisonning more than a dozen items each day. Getting the possessions out of your house by midnight proved the most challenging.
My first spectacular failure came five days into the challenge. In one swift click, I bought a camisole to replace an old frayed one. More mistakes followed – some days were missed, some days I couldn’t get rid of the stuff by the deadline (like the the 14 items of furniture and bed linen destined for The Bower’s ‘From House to Home’ project, from downsizing the kids’ bedrooms. The project provides furniture and household goods to asylum seekers who are setting up home.)
And one day I just couldn’t bear to part with any of my books, even though this would have easily helped me reach day 30.
Amid all this donating and recycling, the experience became more meaningful. I realised I wasn’t missing any of the items I’d purged. I stopped continuously checking my inbox for the latest bargain. I didn’t go lurking in the shopping mall for my regular fix of coffee, groceries and that dress I had to have.
Instead, I went to the beach for my first summer swim. I repurposed my garden with a veggie patch and dosed up on vitamin D, away from my iPad, picnicking in the local park. It was about getting back to basics and keeping things simple.
My greatest win was on day 25 when I offloaded a limit of five items of clothing at my local council’s clothes swap party. I chose not to swap, just give. The remaining 20 items of work clothes were dropped off to Dress for Success, a charity that provides professional attire for disadvantaged women getting back into work.
Since I finished the challenge, I’ve become more conscious of what I have, what I really need, and what makes me happy. When unencumbered with the noise and trappings of daily life we can get down to the essentials. I was reminded that it’s quality over quantity – did I really need three cutlery sets for a family of four?
But less stuff is just one step in the process. I was able to see what is genuinely important, more time with family and friends. Finally, I had a reason to get rid of all the candles I’d been gifted and didn’t want.
Each Christmas we feel compelled to buy gifts for family, friends and work colleagues. The challenge reminded me of how much time we spend searching for the perfect gift only to have it stashed away in some cupboard, forgotten.
This year I’m baking with the family – cookies, pudding and my gran’s famous cherry strudel. We’re starting a new tradition. I’m also offering my new-found gardening prowess to my in-laws for an afternoon, and inviting friends who have lost a parent or partner over for lunch. As for the kids, we will go shopping, but my husband and I will go with them to make sure they get something they need.
I’ve found find myself reclaiming Christmas as a day for family and gratitude. The family think I’m crazy setting out a beautiful table when we’re doing a Christmas barbecue, but it makes me happy to see everyone celebrating together. It’s these simple moments that are the most profound.