Book Review – The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less

One of my favorite vendors at the farmers market had a wide selection of goodies this week–plums, cucumbers, soft persimmons, hard persimmons, figs, and more. On the one hand it’s awesome to have so much good food to choose from, and on the other hand it takes me a couple of minutes each time I go just to make a decision. Barry Shwartz’s The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less offers some insights into the problems that can come from having too much choice and some ways that we can simplify our lives reducing the number of choices we have to deal with each day.

tumblr_n47otefezw1qby5wuo1_1280

Maximizing

One of the most striking things I learned is that I’m naturally a maximizer:

“Imagine going shopping for a sweater. You go to a couple of department stores or boutiques, and after an hour or so, you find a sweater that you like. The color is striking, the fit is flattering, and the wool feels soft against your skin. The sweater costs $89. You’re all set to take it to the salesperson when you think about the store down the street that has a reputation for low prices. You take the sweater back to its display table, hide it under a pile of other sweaters of a different size (so that no one will buy it out from under you), and leave to check out the other store…. Maximizers need to be assured that every purchase or decision was the best that could be made.”

Ahh, comparison shopping. I have on occasion spent more time researching vacation options than I would spend on the actual vacation. 😦

“Maximizers are more likely to experience regret after a purchase.”

Yup, one of my main reasons for getting involved in the Buy Nothing New project was because I was sick of buyer’s remorse. (Is that really not normal?)

“Maximizers savor positive events less that satisficers and do not cope as well (by their own admission) with negative events.”

Hrm, that sounds really bad. I’ve been working on it already though before even reading this book. Dealing with negative events will always be hard, but with gratitude journaling and enjoying the critters run around the garden it’s a lot easier to be happy.

“[P]erfectionists have very high standards that they don’t expect to meet, whereas maximizers have very high standards that they do expect to meet.”

😦 This is just getting worse, but it’s crazy how well this explains my character. I do have high standards and I really do get disappointed when I fail to meet them.

I have been on my own path to being less of a maximizer and more of a satisficer, though. That is, someone who will take the sweater if it meets all of her requirements and then, not sweat it. No second guessing. I chose the hard persimmons this week. They’re sweet and very refreshing when frozen and sliced. I don’t know how any of the other options would have turned out, but No Regrets.

See? Progress.

Adaptation

Knowing about Maximizers may not be relevant to you, but one thing that is relevant to everyone is adaptation. It could be adapting to positive experiences (like when your office starts providing fresh fruit for employees) or for negative experiences (like visiting a different city where that tap water tastes kind of weird). Whether positive or negative, it gradually becomes a new normal. And that’s worth factoring in when making a big decision worth busting out your pros/cons list.

“In 1973, 13 percent of Americans thought of air-conditioning in their cars as a necessity. Today, 41 percent do. I know the earth is getting warmer, but the climate hasn’t changed that much in thirty years. What has changed is our standard of comfort.”

If you take a job in a different city, sure it’ll be interesting for a while. But crazily enough, eventually you’ll get used to it. And it often doesn’t take as long as you might think.

“Because of adaptation, enthusiasm about positive experiences doesn’t sustain itself.”

When my office runs out of fresh fruit, it’s just *grumble, grumble*. It’s no longer special. It’s something that I expect.

The same is true of folks who upgrade to a larger house with so much space that they think it’ll be the last house they’ll ever need. The empty space even requires buying more things to fill it up. Until at some point the house doesn’t feel so spacious anymore and they start dreaming bigger.

“Factoring in adaptation to the decision-making process may make differences that seem large at the moment of choice feel much smaller. Factoring in adaptation may help us be satisfied with choices that are good enough rather than ‘the best,’ and this in turn will reduce the time and effort that we devote to making those choices.”

Hedonism

What happens when adaptation goes to far? You keep expecting more and more, and you can never find happiness.

“We probably can do more to affect the quality of our lives by controlling our expectations than we can by doing virtually anything else. The blessing of modest expectations is that they leave room for many experiences to be a pleasant surprise, a hedonic plus. The challenge is to find a way to keep expectations modest, even as actual experiences keep getting better…. One way of achieving this goal is by keeping wonderful experiences rare.”

Anchors

Or as I prefer to call them, fake choices.

“One high-end catalog seller of mostly kitchen equipment and gourmet foods offered an automatic bread maker for $279. Sometime later, the catalog began to offer a larger capacity, deluxe version for $429. They didn’t sell too many of these expensive bread makers, but sales of the less expensive one almost doubled!  With the expensive bread maker serving as an anchor, the $279 machine had become a bargain.”

This is ridiculous! But after seeing it, I realize how common it is. It doesn’t always need to be a different product. Sometimes the anchor is the “list” price, which is then slashed by 10% or even steeper to make me think I’m getting such a good deal that I can’t not buy something.

Beware of price comparisons, and think of the true value to you.

Choice Paralysis

5049231433166269
Ketchup or catsup? Which is better?

Someone should have statistics on this but I’m not familiar with any so I’ll just make something up. If you’re anything like the average American, you’ll spend 892 hours in supermarkets during your lifetime just staring at shelves full of soups or something like that and trying to decide which to get.

Schwartz described an experiment done with jam-tastings at a supermarket. In one scenario, shoppers had 24 different choices of jam and after sampling 3% bought some. In the other scenario, shoppers had 6 different choices of jam and 30% of shoppers bought some.

Nope, choice doesn’t always make things better.

How to Deal With Too Much Choice

Almost everyone wants more choice, and in general more choice is a good thing. But just because a choice exists doesn’t mean you need to worry about always making the best choice. Schwartz states that it’s okay to just choose the soup that’s on sale or to choose the one that just happens to be directly in front of you. Hey, you have better things to be making decisions about.

“This is a very good thing. The burden of having every activity be a matter of deliberate and conscious choice would be too much for any of us to bear.”

In Summary

Use your power of choice where it really matters and the rest of the time accept any choice that satisfies your base requirements.

Manage your expectations. It’s natural to want new and shiny things, but take some time to realize that what you have is pretty darn awesome too.

Likewise, factor adaptation into your decisions. Something that seems shiny and new now probably won’t feel that shiny and new for very long. And thought a routine may seem tough now, you can probably get used to it. Recognize those things that will really matter in the long term.

 

And if you’re a little crazy like me, make a decision to not buy new stuff unless you really need it. Or resolve to only make planned purchases and wait a day before making a decision if you get the urge to buy something on impulse. Sure, there are a lot of choices to make besides purchasing decisions, but if you have the option to stop paying attention to advertisements it sure gives your brain a lot of extra space to think.

The Fall Garden Begins!

It may feel pretty hot again here in Austin, but there’s some hope that we’ll see a little relief not too long from now, like those couple of beautiful weeks that we saw last month where it was a pleasure to be outside. A few weeks ago I described the couple of garden beds I planted during that brief pleasurable time. But now I know that it’s time for fall gardening. And it’s all because of this.

IMG_20160903_145751-1
A carrot!

Normally carrots take forever to germinate. Sometimes it feels like they never will. But one of my Paris Market carrots has already poked its head out of the ground and is telling me that it’s time to go.

IMG_20160902_165659
The canary melon vines have come back to life
IMG_20160903_103938
The pumpkin vines are also in bloom

I’ve decided to use go without any soil amendments for the fall garden and see what happens. No compost (because none of mine is ready) and no purchased mulch (crumbled leaves and grass clippings will have to do). But some new seeds were a must. As far as my Buy Nothing New project, I count seeds as food and therefore allow myself to buy anything I reasonably believe I can use. Last weekend I visited Shoal Creek Nursery to stock up. Reading about soil health recently, I ended up getting a few different legumes to experiment with, as well as some buckwheat. (Ignore that the buckwheat package says it’s for sprouting. I’m gonna plant it!)

IMG_20160903_222540
I intended to buy carrot and onion seeds, but things happened.

I’ve resolved to plant one row or square of something every day. So far it’s been just cowpeas and snap peas, but I have a lot of back lawn left to plant.

IMG_20160831_183259
The area chosen for cowpeas turned out to be really rocky. I cleaned out some, but it’s a good thing I wasn’t planning to plant carrots there. It’ll need more work in the future.

This morning I discovered something else wonderous.

IMG_20160903_150052-1
Some of the cowpeas sprouted already!

So today my husband and I went back to the garden center to get some onion seeds and maybe a few more beans to get into the ground while there’s still time. Somehow, with earlier season seeds on sale at 75% off, I ended up with this…

IMG_20160903_143536
So many seeds!

At least I’ll have plenty of time to learn about some of these varieties before starting them out in the spring. Other than carrot seeds (because I love carrots) and perennials, that’ll be it for me this year. Including the carrot seeds I bought a couple of weeks ago, I’ve spent altogether just over $20 on seeds and don’t at all doubt that I can grow $20 worth of food with minimal additional input. Well, that’s it, time to get gardening!

And my apologies for all of the exclamation points in this post. I’ve been messing around in the garden regularly for a couple of years now, and this is the most variety of veggie life I’ve ever had thriving at once so it’s pretty awesome. 🙂

You Don’t Need It

youdontneedit

I’ve read that within a given day the average American will see several thousand brand logos and advertisements. And while thinking about how ridiculous that is, I also realized that I was wearing a tshirt with a logo on it. I thought it was awesome to find a shirt with a Wheatsville Co-Op logo on it at the last Really, Really Free Market, but am I actually contributing to the problem of ad fatigue?

Fortunately, using billboards to display art instead of advertising is gaining popularity. And there are even a few instances like this bus stop bench which serve as a good reminder that it’s okay to ignore all of the other advertisements out there. Maybe I could make my own “you don’t need it” shirt and see what happens.

Book Review – The Moneyless Man

Over the past couple of years I’ve gotten pretty good at not buying things. But what if I couldn’t buy internet service? Bus tickets? FOOD? That’s exactly what Mark Boyle tries to do in his book The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living.

book_cover_moneyless_large

This wasn’t the first time I had heard of money-free living, but it’s the first time I really listened.

“Money is a bit like love. We spend our entire lives chasing it, yet few of us understand what it actually is.”

Boyle begins with the story of money being introduced into society which he leads naturally led to banks and the practice of lending out money that wasn’t theirs. Let’s say five people each put $50 in the bank. Then the bank would loan out $50 to someone else even if none of the money they had was their own. (It sounds great at first. The bank and its customers get some interest as the borrower pays back the $50, and the borrower was able to get the cash when he really needed it.)

“For most of us, money represents security. As long as we have money in the bank, we’ll be safe.”

What I had never considered before reading this book is that banks are strongly incentivized to loan out as much money as possible, making the foundation not only shaky but also pushing loans on people and encouraging them to buy things that they could otherwise do without for a while. This process leads to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer buying things they can’t afford and paying interest on it all the while. Taken in that perspective, money-free living finally makes some sense.

So Boyle decides to see what it would be like to live without even touching money for a year. He spends months in preparation figuring out how to live without money. Oddly enough, he starts by buying some supplies like solar panels. Other things he acquires for free, like a caravan that someone didn’t want. He finds a place where he can put the caravan and live in exchange for his labor, and learns about humanure and rocket stoves for moneyfree defecation and cooking respectively. And finally, it’s time. He sells his houseboat, gives the proceeds to a charity he set up, and embarks on his new life.

Boyle recognized from the start that to live without money, he’d also have to rely on community. His charity is all about skill-sharing so he can have more skills to barter with. He performs odd jobs in exchange for foodstuffs or other goods. He relies on strangers to give him a lift while hitchhiking to visit his folks for the holidays. He goes dumpster diving with acquaintances, and even brings in the whole community a couple of times to throw and enjoy feasts created from food that would otherwise have been disposed of.

One of the common complaints about this book was that Boyle is still using money fairly regularly, just not his own. Using a phone line that someone else paid for. Living on land that someone else is paying for. Relying on someone else’s trash to eat. It wouldn’t be sustainable if everyone were to suddenly embrace his way of life.

But I’ve got to give him credit for purifying his water, doing manual labor when he could have opted for a lazier option, rescuing food from going to landfill. There are some ideas in this book that anyone interested in green living can learn from. And most of all, it promotes the idea of thrift.

“When you produce anything of your own, you don’t waste a drop.”

While I’m still not sold (ha!) on the idea that money is inherently bad, I may do a bit more research into what banks I do business with. Perhaps I should also donate more instead of aggressively planning for solitary retirement?

As for Boyle, what’s he up to these days? Well, he’s still living mostly “moneyless”, but not quite. If you’re really interested, you can find out more from his articles for The Guardian.

I’ll leave you with one final thought, though, because it’s something I at times need to be reminded of myself:

“Activists often talk like they ‘want to save the earth’. The earth will be fine, in time; it’s humanity that may need saving. But who do they want to ‘save’ it for? Only other activists? Only for activists and the working classes? Or for everyone: executive bankers, environmentalists, police officers, human rights activists, and politicians alike?”

 

Things I Didn’t Buy

Because I have better things to do than make another trip to the store. Because I want to be more respectful of the things that I do own. And because I don’t want to waste more of the Earth’s resources than I already do.

A Lawn Refuse Bag

After some lawn cleanup this weekend, we had a large pile of grass and weed clippings. Some folks around here buy lawn refuse bags, stuff them full of grass or leaves, and let the city collect them in huge trucks for municipal compost. No way! I raked it onto a piece of burlap to get it over to the compost bin, dumped it in, and someday it’ll be beautiful compost.

A Book

With a lot of book clubs, every member buys a brand new copy of the book. (And sometimes don’t even read it!) But like many participants in the Talk Green to Me book club, I checked out a copy from the library. The library website shows that someone else has a hold on the book and is waiting for it, so I’ll make sure to finish and return it by the end of the week too.

Random Crap

I’ve been near Goodwill stores a few times recently and have resisted the urge to go in. There isn’t anything in particular I need, so it’s likely if I go in that I’ll come right out with some impulse buy that I’ll soon regret.

Jeans

I posted earlier about patching up an old pair of jeans that were getting worn out. Apparently, I should have done symmetrical patching because before I knew it an actual hole had developed in the other side. No worries, because I had a needle and thread and some scrap denim and now have another almost entirely invisible inner patch to keep those jeans fully functional for a while.

A Bathroom Vanity

The bathroom vanity in our new house isn’t the most beautiful thing in the world. For a while, every time I looked at it, it tempted me to replace the whole thing. My husband was even more convinced that it had to be trashed. But now after a coat of (recycled) paint, it looks decent enough that I no longer have to deal with that temptation.

A Car

No temptation here. I have a monthly bus pass which gets me anywhere I need to go beyond walking distance, and I can read my library books on the way. I may be able to get places a little faster with my own car, but nah, I can live without the cost, the maintenance, and the stress of driving around in busy traffic.

Not New Seeds

I haven’t harvested any food from my garden in a while and it’s a bore. At least the melon, squash, and cucumber seeds I recently planted seem to be doing well. And soon I’ll be adding to their ranks.

In the meantime, I’ve been dreaming about seed independence. Not having to go to the garden store to pick out seed for the next season. Having seed that was grown (super) locally so I know it can grow in these conditions. Someday selecting seed for the best characteristics and most delicious food possible. (Right now I’m just saving haphazardly.) Plus, another notch on my zero waste efforts.

Broccoli

My broccoli was unimpressive last winter/spring, but at least the leaves were tasty added to my salads. Almost time for another try. There’s still plenty of seed from the last packet, but a month or two ago I also harvested some new seed from the old broccoli plants. It’ll be exciting to see which grows better this winter!

IMG_20160731_075554
Future broccoli

Lettuce

Some of the lettuce from last winter also went to seed. Picking and opening the tiny pods was probably unnecessary. I bet there’s some trick to letting the heads dry out in a paper bag until the seeds fall out on their own. But, not being so patient, I instead carefully disassembled them to collect all the seeds. Judging from their dark color, I’m assuming these are seeds for the Black-Seeded Simpson I planted. More than enough to get me through the cool gardening season it looks like. It’s definitely more than came in the original packet.

IMG_20160731_084832
Lettuce. I’m assuming it’s the Black-Seeded Simpson because, well, the seeds are black.

Marigold

I bought a pack of Marigold seeds earlier this year but for a long time was afraid it had gone to waste because I either started them indoors and didn’t understand their needs or started them outdoors way too early. Fortunately, a couple of them survived my abuse and are super resiliant in the summer heat so next year I won’t have to buy any seed here.

I’m storing them in one of my old foundation bottles. I wasn’t sure if they’d actually be recycled or thrown out from the single-stream recycling so have kept them around for a while. It’s so awesome to finally have a good use for them. Seeds make for a lovely display.

IMG_20160807_153250
Future Marigolds (Yes, that is a produce sticker on the back of my phone)

Zinnia

The zinnias have been way more prolific than the marigolds. I’ve been scattering some seed in the side yard straight off to see if it still has time to come up this year. But I’ve already collected at least as much seed as I got from the two packets I bought at the start of this year and will probably have much more by the time the season’s over. Probably won’t ever need to buy zinnia seeds again! 🙂

IMG_20160807_153216
Zinnia heads drying out

Random Flowering Bush

The other day I came across this lovely bush with beautiful yellow flowers and reddish seed pods. I don’t know what it is yet and if it can be started directly from seed, but I’m sure going to find out and if possible grow one myself.

IMG_20160807_153730
Future broccoli

Melon / Squash

From time to time I’ve also been setting aside 20-30 seeds from each good melon or squash I’ve eaten and will be making that into a more regular thing. That’s how I got my canary melons this year, and it was a delicious endeavor.

IMG_20160807_154531-2
Packaging for saved seeds–from waste paper or reused seed packets

I keep most of these seeds in a large peanut butter jar in my closet. Some folks recommend refrigerating seeds, but for now they’re doing just fine.

IMG_20160807_154635-2
Various seeds waiting to be planted

So that’s it, a small yet solid start on my way to seed independence!

A Happy Day: Library + RRFM + ZW Food

Sunday I made my regular monthly trip to East Austin for the Really Really Free Market. I dropped off a couple of items I decided not to keep from my last trip and just a couple of other things I no longer needed. Fortunately, most of the crowd had already been through all the bins to find their treasures so I had plenty of space while looking through the tons of clothing to see if there was anything I wanted to salvage.

This month turned into a fairly large haul and I went home with:

  • a new-to-me pair of jeans that fits me properly (finally!)
  • tshirts for Wheatsville and local bakery Easy Tiger (they make delicious pretzels)
  • a polo-style shirt to try out
  • one extra pair of socks to replace the one I’ve just worn big holes in (the socks aren’t exactly the same length but close enough)
  • some lovely fabric for my yo-yo quilt or another project

The Wheatsville shirt is a cotton-poly blend, and I’ve been trying to stick to natural fibers. But, hey, I’ll take it because Wheatsville is awesome!

Unfortunately, this also means I now own 23 shirts! Sounds like this weekend it’ll be time to pick out a few to get down to my limit of 20 and decide whether they end up going to the next free market or recycled into tshirt yarn. It’ll be nice to get back that little bit of free space in the closet again. A few shirts can make a world of difference.

Also this month, I finally realized that in.gredients is only a 15 minute walk away from Chestnut Pocket Park where the RRFM is held, so I wiped off some of the sweat dripping from my face and headed over for some zero waste and local foods. Another dragon fruit, a canary melon, some walnut bread (from Easy Tiger!), dark chocolate discs from the bulk bins, and more. Total success!

Combined with a stop at the library and some engaging reading on the bus, this was my idea of a divine weekend. This’ll definitely be a monthly zero waste tradition for me now that I know how easy (and satisfying!) it is to do both. Sorry for all the exclamation points in this post, but I had a great day and can’t help it. 🙂

Five Frugal Things (the Plastic-Free version)

With the folks in town lately there’s been too much food to really get down to my Plastic Free July resolutions, so instead in the spirit of the Non-Consumer Advocate here are some of my no-spend and plastic-free wins for July so far.

  1. My sister and her family left behind tons of leftovers after their visit to my mother’s so my husband and I have been doing or duty of eating them up the past few days and still have plenty to go. What we didn’t expect to eat soon enough, we stuck in the freezer. That’ll keep any of this food from going to waste before we can get to it.
  2. This evening I was entertained for a good half hour by watching the trees outside our bedroom window swaying in the wind. If you look around, you already know that often nature can be much more entertaining (and relaxing!) than anything on tv.
  3. I’ve eaten two canary melons from the garden in the past week and enjoyed every bit of them. Although critters got to most of the cantaloupes, I was able to save the last one and it’s waiting in the fridge now to be eaten. Last week I also planted more melon seeds to hopefully get some more delicious zero-waste, plastic-free, local, and organically grown fruit this fall.
  4. The two Roma tomato plants that we grew this summer produced way more fruit than we could possibly consume, so last week I took care of most of them by blending them up and then cooking them down into tomato paste, which has now been divied out into (appropriately enough) old tomato paste jars and stashed in the freezer for future use.
  5. Our tv was in bad shape. It was turning off on its own and creepily also turning back on on its own fairly regularly. I was ready to take it to be repaired rather than abandon it to be “recycled” and then have to replace it, but fortunately neither option turned out to be necessary. We left it unplugged for a week (we have a second tv set so it wasn’t much of a sacrifice), and since its long siesta it has been working great.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Book Review – Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture

A few months ago in book club, we read Elizabeth Cline’s Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, which focused on what makes cheap clothing so cheap (shoddy construction, labor outsourced to overseas countries, mass production, etc.) and how not just this but treating clothing as disposable commodities hurts us in general. Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture continues the story for everything else out there–cheap furniture, cheap houses, cheap food, cheap everything.

IMG_20160705_224322

Shell references the following IKEA commercial as a prime example of how sellers would like us to look at potential purposes.

If a better lamp exists, why not purchase it? You can always leave the old one out on the curb. And if you get tired of the new lamp after a while, nothing’s to stop you from upgrading again. Of course, with this kind of mindset, it’s not so simple for anyone to be happy with a purchase anymore, because they’re always anticipating a newer, better thing from the moment they get it home.

Cheap illustrates how the very fact that the item being purchased is cheap lowers its valuation in the mindset of the buyer.

“Discounting plays many tricks on the human mind, and among the more intriguing is the influence of discounting on our relationship to the purchase itself. Although almost everyone seeks bargains, most of us make the tacit and often unconcious assumption that doing so involves a trade-off of quality for price: Regardless of what the tag or brand claims, we perceive things bought on sales or at a discount as less desirable or efficacious or durable than things for which we paid full price.”

 

In one referenced study, one group of students bought an energy drink at full price, and another bought it discounted at half price. Even though it was the same exact drink, the students who paid half-price got nowhere near the energy effect of those who paid full price. The same was found to be true of discounted painkillers. They had a far less powerful effect on pain than the same ones at full price. So maybe cheap and discounted goods aren’t always such a good deal after all.

Like OverdressedCheap also describes how quality is being cut across the board. Items to be sold are designed to meet a certain price point. This is nothing new, as this book describes the first discount stores and how they really came of age in the 50’s and 60’s. Originally, these were stocked with random items that could be bought cheaply for resale, and then as globalization really picked up stores were able to custom-order anything they wanted to sell, themselves shopping around for the lowest-priced manufacturing even if the materials and labor were a bit suspect. Continuing the IKEA example,

“[IKEA] designs to price, commissioning its suppliers to build not a mug, per se, but a custom-designed 50-cent mug; not a kitchen table and two chairs but a custom-designed kitchen table and two chairs for less than one hundred euros. Every year IKEA challenges its suppliers to lower their prices, and every year it challenges its designers to dream up still cheaper objects to sell, whether new ones or updated versions of classics.”

Another target for selling products with reduced quality are the factory outlets. According to Shell, “Factory outlets are America’s number-one tourist destination, the fastest-growing segment of not only the retail industry but also the travel industry.” The stories of people going on vacation somewhere and then using up much of their precious trip just to shop somewhere and save a couple of bucks is insane. Even with the brand names, she says, most of these outlet stores are no longer places to buy overstocked goods or those that didn’t fully meet quality standards. Instead, they’re selling products that are custom-created to be cheaper varieties of what the name brand represents. It’s like going out for orange juice and ending up with Sunny Delight (which can be cheaper because it contains little actual juice).

Personally, for a long time I wondered how Target could sell Converse shoes at half the price of other stores, before finally realizing that they weren’t the same shoes as all.

“Hundreds of other brands from Levi Strauss to Mercedes-Benz slice and dice their offerings for various markets, selling different products in different types of stores for different prices under the same brand. This practice is pervasive at discount retailers. Chains such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, and Home Depot have items manufactured “to their specifications,” meaning that the brand name is almost devoid of meaning. A television with a model number available only at Best Buy or Wal-Mart is–no matter its apparent brand–a Best Buy or Wal-Mart television.”

Of course, in my case, I never took a really good look at the shoes in question. I couldn’t have recognized quality shoe construction if it was staring me in the face. And unfortunately, according to Shell most other consumers are just like me thinking that they’re getting a bargain when it’s really something entirely different. And even though the cheap cost adds that devaluation mentioned above.

Shell closes with a call-to-action for all of us to take the true cost of goods into account and to ensure that those true costs are fully disclosed for easier decisions.

“Bargain hunting is a national pastime and a pleasure that I, for one, will not relinquish. But knowing that our purchases have consequences, we can begin to enact change. We can set our own standard for quality and stick to it. We can demand to know the true costs of what we buy, and refuse to allow them to be externalized. We can enforce sustainability, minimize disposability, and insist on transparency. We can rekindle our acquaintance with craftmanship. We can choose to buy or not, choose to bargain or not, and choose to follow our hearts or not, unencumbered by the anxiety that someone somewhere is getting a “better deal.” No longer slaves to the low-price imperative, we are free to make our own choices. As individuals and as a nation, we can turn our attention to what matters, secure in the knowledge that what matters has never been and will never be cheap.”

As for myself, the next time I come across a $5 frying pan at the supermarket, I’ll be much more confident in passing it up and holding out for quality when I actually need one.

Book Review: Not Buying It

IMG_20160612_215928

Judith Levine’s book Not Buying It: My year Without Shopping was one of the my earlier influences towards taking frugality to the next obvious step of wasting less money on things that I don’t need. After an overwhelming holiday (a.k.a. shopping) season, she and her husband decided to take a break from shopping in 2004–no new clothes, no processed junk food, not even greeting cards. This book is a journal of her experiences throughout the year–shopping withdrawl, social pressures, political pressures, activities to fill time that was previously spent shopping, Buy Nothing Day, and after many months something approaching non-shopping nirvana.

Their non-shopping year in 2004 was not so far removed from the September 11 attacks and the aftermath of politicians sharing economic concerns, and the politics of shopping runs a strong vein through this book. Levine notes:

“It was impossible to remember a time when shopping was so explicably linked to our fate as a nation. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. gross domestic product, and if the gross domestic product is what makes America strong, we were told, the marketplace is what makes us free. Consumer choice is democracy. A dollar spent is a vote for the American way of life. Long a perk and pleasure of life in the U.S. of A., after September 11 shopping became a patriotic duty. Buy that flat-screen TV, our leaders commanded, or the terrorists will have won.”

Or while planning out a home improvement project that was already underway and exempt from the no-spend rules:

“After dinner, I take out the paint chips I have been collecting and spread them across the kitchen table. Engrossed in the pure, flat colors, grouping them in twos and threes, placing them in light and in shadow beside fabric swatches and blocks of wood, I forget global warming, the war in Iraq, the egregious George W. Bush and the only slightly less egregious John Kerry. As I make a note to bring home several cooler grays from the hardware store–Benjamin Moore alone must have a hundred–it occurs to me that I have better choices in paint than I do in presidents.”

But non-consumerism results in more for Judith than just asking friends to meet her for a walk or a picnic instead of going to the mall or to a restaurant. There are times where the best alternative to buying something new is to ask to borrow it from someone else. This is something I have trouble with myself but am encouraged by Judith’s experiences.

“Not buying has forced Paul and me to feel vulnerable and to ask for help, an almost un-American behavior. But the ability to ask for help might be a good skill to cultivate. Today I asked, and got service and a smile…. [W]hat I need is some non-consumer confidence.”

Sadly, early in the book I was secretly cheering when Levine gave in to a purchase or allowed someone else to treat her to a restaurant meal because it allowed me to feel self-righteous that I wouldn’t stoop to that level (although that may not be entirely true). At other points I felt guilty about aspects of their project that “beat” my own such as the fact that I rarely make it a full week without going out for lunch with my work friends. But it’s not a competition, and what’s right for each person will be different. I could learn much from Judith’s moment of nirvana the first time she goes into a store without feeling tempted to purchase anything.

“And just as I realize I am free of the desire to shop, I also feel free of the desire to judge others who desire to shop. I can condemn overconsumption and the systems that support it and it supports, but I don’t have to condemn the shopper.”

This is one of those books that gets me excited, and honestly there’s still a bit of an instinct there to go out and immediately buy a Buy-Nothing to satisfy my excitement. 🙂

But it’s okay. I take a breath and realize that not buying it is about giving me more control over my life and freeing up my time for other interests. I might start some veggies for my fall garden, relax with some yoga, or (very likely) curl up with another good book from the library.