Putting Values into Practice

In the past month, Tim and I have turned in a car lease, and bought a new car (which lowered our car payments). In the past month, we have also bought new smart phones, in a buy one, get one free deal (which raised our cell phone bill). We’ve organized underneath our bathroom and kitchen sinks, which meant that we bought plastic tubs to organize the remaining stuff. We’ve made numerous trips to Target, which is where our local Starbucks is, resulting in both necessary and unnecessary purchases, and far too much espresso consumption.

And, as a result, Tim and I have declared the next three months a period of time in which we will buy nothing new. Note that we didn’t say that we wouldn’t buy anything, just nothing new.

I could probably tie this into my exploration of The Mommy Myth and the different cultural rules that are all tied up in motherhood; especially the insistence that if you don’t buy everything that is being sold to you, you’re a bad mother. But in reality, it’s probably more related to the kind of person I want to be — and the kind of person that Tim allows me to explore being while he graciously follows along.

There is a movement of people who do this called “The Compact” — it appears it was originally a group of friends in San Francisco, who pledged to buy nothing new for a whole year. There are, of course, some exceptions, such as underwear, food, and health and safety items. And of course, there is a large bevvy of second hand shops out there.

The goals are to go beyond recycling, in resisting the socio-economic impacts of the US consumer culture, to support local businesses, to reduce clutter and waste in our homes, and to simplify our lives.

Because, ultimately, there’s a difference between wanting and needing.

A test of this value

Tim lost his sunglasses a while ago. Yesterday, he said, “I was hoping to pick up a pair before we headed to Ohio for the Dublin Irish Festival.”

I frowned, forgetting that he had lost his sunglasses for a moment, and then said, “You have hats? Because you can’t buy a new pair of sunglasses.”

He groaned. “I almost forgot! Okay, you’re right.”

Today, as I was driving to work, I realized that I work near a very large number of second hand stores, from Goodwill to the VOA Thrift Stores to the Habitat for Humanity Restore. I stopped off at Goodwill and found a rack of sunglasses by the cash register.

And I realized that they were all new sunglasses — and immediately came upon a dilemma. I could classify sunglasses as a health and/or safety necessity; these glasses will protect Tim’s eyes from the sun. However, if I looked hard enough, I might find used ones.

And then I remembered that my dollars are like votes; they are votes of confidence, and votes of support. And even if these sunglasses are new, I’m supporting the job of the young man who was manning the cash register, supporting a non-profit organization that provides on-the-job training to vulnerable populations, and my purchase was supporting that.

But ultimately, my purchase was about slowness — about not dropping everything and driving to the nearest big box to buy one thing that turns into many things; it was an errand on my way to work, and it was a precision mission. It was about being thoughtful about what was needed and necessary, and being willing to put the extra time and effort to buy it in a way that fits into my values.

I don’t want my self worth, or my family’s self worth, to be based on stuff. I want my self-worth to be based on the way that I spend each moment, not how many dollars I have to spend. I want to have a family whose ultimate purpose is to contribute to society, not to contribute to the ever-growing amount of consumption. I want my dollars to be influential; not merely circumstantial, not supporting my ego, but supporting my community.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch The Story of Stuff.

What values are you putting into practice recently?

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