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January 12, 2009

Alex, I'll take "Opting out of the recession" for $200, please.

Isn't this pretty?


I found it yesterday at Target on one of those jumbled end-of-aisle displays of clearance stuff. I love finding one little treasure, it was $2.49 of something so pretty and I put it in the cart even though it's not something I NEED. I have votive holders at home (and I don't light candles very often anyway) but then I decided in this new year I want to light candles more often, because everything is prettier in candlelight. I remembered that I already have a pack of beeswax tealights at home I have yet to use so I added the little glass candle holder to my basket and later when I got it home I was so happy with my purchase. It was small and non-essential, and I recognized it as both and made the decision that I wanted it, it was obviously not going to cause me dire financial hardship at under three bucks and it makes my coffee table pretty.

I'm glad I have finally figured out the difference between shopping for essentials and that other shopping -- out of boredom, sadness, anxiety, feeling unfulfilled, trying to buy a better life.

Last year I decided to stop buying all non-essentials for most of the year. I needed a break from consumerism. I wanted to build up my savings a little (and the best way to keep the money that comes in is to stop spending it on junk). I wanted to take a time out from spending, I wanted to keep my credit cards empty, I wanted to enjoy what I have instead of accumulating more stuff. It gave me time to think about my relationship with stuff in a whole new way. And then a few months into my no-spend, all the financial insanity started and I felt really glad I'd dropped out of shopping voluntarily.

I've done it before -- cut out all non-essential spending -- but back then it was because I was dead broke and barely able to pay the bills. I wanted to go on a spending moratorium again but I wanted it to be a choice, not a dire necessity or a punishment. Last year was good. I still bought gifts for other people, and went on a few vacations, and I did blip and buy two pairs of (non-essential) boots and a few sweaters at Christmastime. Oh, and I still bought books, I love books and I love supporting authors by paying for them. And without so much shopping I had a little more time for reading on the weekends. For the most part of 2008 I succeeded at my goal -- I opted out of consumerism for a while and I got used to spending less, making do with what I already have, enjoying and feeling happy about the stuff (and clothes and shoes and linens and on and on) that I already bought and paid for. I liked taking time to pare down only to what was essential. There's less stuff to clean and maintain and vacuum. There's less clutter. There's less waste.

Right now things are so weird. I work at a bank, and we get the dour financial news every day all day and of course this industry doesn't feel very secure anymore, anything could happen at anytime. Like everyone else, my 401(k) is now a 101(k). Nothing feels solid. The news gets grimmer every day -- more jobs lost, the Dow is down, on and on and on. And for a while I have been participating in it. I would read all the headlines and watch all the news and look at the market anxiously and then I started not sleeping again, which is just delightful.

And one day I arrived at work after yet another sleepless night and it dawned on me that I could turn off the news, stop reading the financial reports and I would have the exact same amount of influence on the economy and job security and the recession as I did the day before -- which is to say, none at all.

I decided to experiment. I stopped watching the news, just fast-forwarding on Tivo to see my Dallas Raines give the forecast. On the weekends I don't watch the news at all, just the weather channel if I need the outlook. I stopped waking up to KNX 1070 because for some reason I always woke up to 1) the financial report 2) the freeway report saying the 101 was closed and/or on fire or 3) a sad story about a dog. What a depressing way to start the day! So I changed the channel. I canceled all my email alerts from Bloomberg and Forbes and CNNMoney. I did all this and the only thing that changed in the world and the economy and in my life was that I felt a little less anxious. And since that was better than feeling crazypants, I just decided to opt out of the recession altogether.

So I am not participating in the recession! There, I have said it out loud. I'm not going to fixate on it and worry proactively about it and watch all the news and read all the in-depth coverage and so on. I am not going to wake up each day feeling worried about my job or worried about your job or worried about everyone else's jobs and worried about deflation and stagflation and staycations because my obsessive worry has NO EFFECT AT ALL on the outcome! How's that for crazy! Waste all that time and energy and have NO POWER to change it!

The economy doesn't call me each day to see how I feel about it. If I choose to think about something else, like green beans and herb gardening and vacuuming the house, the economy doesn't get worse. It doesn't get better either, in fact I have no control at all over any of this! All I can control is how I choose to see this whole thing. So I am choosing to opt out of all of it. Whatever's going to happen is going to happen whether I freak out or not.

So, no news, no financial reports or consumer indexes or quarterly outlooks. I'm going to dump the poverty mentality and just focus on being happy with what I have and grateful for everything that's going right. (There's a lot going right -- my parents are healthy, my cats are healthy, I have a place to live, I have a job, there is wine in the world.) I'm going to focus on what is in my realm of control -- prudent spending, saving what I can, keeping my paid-off Jeep well-maintained so I can keep it alive a little longer, staying healthy, keeping my thoughts tuned into good things so I can sleep at night.

I realize that this will have zero effect on the economy. It will make no difference at all in the outcome of anything, just like me sitting at home worrying and following the Dow and reading all the new Bloomberg unemployment forecasts had no effect on the outcome of anything. But things always turn around. I'm just going to concentrate on that, and think about the things that are already great. Like the weather, it's gorgeous outside today. And tea, I love tea. I'm going to make a big pitcher of tea tonight when I get home. And my candle-holder, which is so pretty and cost me less than a Starbucks coffee and made my whole living room sparkle:


I know it's not logical, and that plenty of people will think I'm being an ostrich and burying my head in the sand and so on. And these same people will have long explanations defending their unhappiness, explaining why you have to be worried, why you have to obsess over the bad news. Why it matters that you pay attention and feel bad about something you cannot control.

But I'm not interested in it. I'm opting out of the recession! I love saying it, it feels great. I am not participating anymore! I don't plan on one minute more of useless anxiety and worry and the uncertainty. I am just going to be OK with the uncertainty. I keep telling myself that lots of things in life are uncertain but they usually work out fine. I tell myself, trust that things will always get better (they usually do) and focus on other stuff! So I think about planning an herb garden this spring. I think about trying to furminate the cats tonight. I think about re-arranging the living room. I think about visiting my folks in the spring.

It has the same exact impact on the economy as if I worried all night long: No impact at all.

But I already feel better. And herb gardening will be so much more fun than growing mutant zukes this year. I'm thinking basil, and cilantro and oregano. A whole backyard of basil! It's 2009. I think it can be a really good year, it's just all in how you look at it.

Posted by laurie at January 12, 2009 9:43 AM