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July 22, 2008

I bet AmEx is wondering if I croaked.

So, about that mid-year resolution to stop buying stuff ... I have had some blips, as I mentioned yesterday, but I think for the most part I'm doing well on the no-spend. It has been almost two full months now since my mid-year resolution to stop buying nonessentials and ya'll, I haven't died. I haven't gotten uglier! The house has not gotten bare and lonely! My feet have not gone unshod! The cats still have their catnip and I still have my wine and all is well over here in Chez Lintrolls-a-lot.

There's a big difference between stopping my consumer crazy and becoming a minimalist. I don't even know what the word "minimalist" would mean in a life like mine, where toilet paper only comes in packs of 24 and I never run out of things like soap and cat food. I do tend to run out of clean underwear but that is an issue with the maid -- she sucks.

(Also: I don't have a maid.)

I'm not sure I could sleep at night knowing I could run out of the necessities of life. "Decluttering" to some people means that you live in a spartan zen freedom from things. Picture a fine clean room with nothing but a white sofa. That works for many people and to them I say amen. But to me, decluttering means I can finally reach the yarn in my stash without having to move a pile of boxes and two shopping bags and a basket of stuff first. Tomato, tomahto.

Me and "minimal" aren't a rockin' couple, I'm in a long-term relationship with "prepared for anything." I always have a good supply of cat litter on hand and you will never come to my house and run out of something like mustard ... but is it necessary for me to have THREE containers of Gulden's spicy brown mustard in the pantry? I mean really now. There is preparation and then there is "the cupboard was too stuffed for me to see what I already had so I assumed I was out of mustard and bought yet another one because God knows the earth can't turn on its axis if I have a shortage of mustard."

Hopefully that better explains what's happening in my house.

The biggest step forward I've made in these first two months of nonconsuming is to re-evaluate my most hardwired shopping instincts. Three times this month I caught myself buying magazines on impulse! Autopilot much? And there was my epiphany about my ugly plates. My latest lightening bolt happened last week as I was contemplating the little sofa in the office. I bought it because it folds out into a single bed and I thought it was a good solution for a guest room. But after I got it, I realized I wouldn't actually make a guest stay in the guest room since that room has the catbox which doesn't seem very welcoming. Plus, they wouldn't be able to shut their door at night (catboxes and all) and so I always end up sleeping in there when I have a guest and frankly an airbed would work just fine for me. The guest always ends up in my room and I sleep in the office. And the pull-out bed is lumpy.

But the even uglier truth is that the longer I stared at my little sofa (it's cozy and fine and the cats like it, but did I really need it?) I realized I bought it based only on my long-held belief that I HAD to have a guest room. Just like I assumed you had to buy plates in sets of 12 or had to get married or had to do all kinds of stuff that as it turns out you can live long and fine and happy without doing. But it never once occurred to me that I was not required by law to have a guest room.

The even uglier truth is that I don't particularly enjoy having houseguests. My house is too small, I have to move out of my room temporarily to suit a guest, I have one bathroom the size of a very small cupboard and it's very stressful for me and the cats to have house guests. I always feel like I need therapy afterwards. Admitting this out loud has not been easy -- what kind of Southerner am I, anyway, that I don't LOVE having houseguests? Is there something wrong with me? Defective? Horribly selfish and unfit? I really don't know. I guess they'll revoke my belle card for saying it out loud, but I don't think I want to have a guest room anymore. There are some lovely hotels nearby, and they don't have catboxes in them, and then we call retire to our respective rooms at night and enjoy the visit without counting down the hours until departure.

I guess for me the lightbulb was just realizing for the very first time that you don't HAVE to make part of your house a guest room. You don't have to carve into your very limited space to accomodate people four days a year. What a realization, and what a waste of limited space. I think in my next house I'll use the space the way it best suits my life and then get an air mattress for those few times when people have to stay over. And it's good to challenge all my long-held assumptions about living right. I think there are lots of "right" ways to live your life, you just have to find the one that works for you. If other people don't like it, I have three bottles of Gulden's spicy brown mustard they can put where the sun isn't shining.

Making this decision to take a break from consumerism for six months has been good for me. This new way of thinking is a little different from the times when I was not-shopping out of fear of sheer financial ruin. I still acquired stuff back then, I just bought less expensive stuff. This is different ... challenging all those assumptions about what we "need" and what we buy without thinking (even how we live without thinking!). I'm getting creative with what I already own. Clearing the noise so that treasured things are more available -- after all, it's hard to enjoy my vintage pattern books when they're buried under a pile of magazines and crap I don't want.

It's not minimal by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a start toward clean and un-stressful. That's all I want. So the maid can take a day off ... especially since she's not getting paid anyway!

Posted by laurie at July 22, 2008 10:18 AM