by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: Ask yourself, "Do I really need to buy that stuff to start a new hobby or project?"
One part of my job as a nature and art teacher was to show kids how to use a drop spindle, a very simple tool for spinning sheep’s wool into yarn. It is basically a dowel, a small hook, and a weighted base. Kids would watch me do it (and I have only the most basic skills) and then give it a try. Within fifteen seconds, multiple kids would start wailing that their spindle didn’t work.
I laughed, pointed out that the drop spindle was basically a stick and therefore did nothing. To experience using a drop spindle, they’d have to try using it, even if they weren’t getting the results that they thought they should.
Then, one day at home, I pulled from my closet some simple fitness equipment that I never used. I was thinking how frustrated I was that the equipment hadn’t worked for me when I froze in my thought. Of course, it hadn’t done anything for me, it was an inanimate object, a simple tool.
Like the kids who thought the drop spindle would spin wool into yarn, I expected that kettlebell to get me into shape. Now, yes, I realized that I had to use this weightlifting tool to see results; which made me also realize that part of my expectation was that owning a kettlebell would make me someone who used a kettlebell for strength training.
You Can't Buy Motivation
I love this question from financial blogger Cait Flanders, “Who are you buying this for: the person you are, or the person you want to be?” While decluttering, I often realize that I bought a book or item because I envisioned myself as a person who kayaked, decorated cakes, followed the Whole30 diet, etc.
Now, setting goals is a good thing. Goals give us something to focus on and work toward beyond day-to-day tasks like laundry and running to the grocery store. However, setting a goal isn’t a reason to go shopping.
Imagine an individual who decides that they’ll run a 5K (so not me). They think that they need a good pair of running shoes and, oh, a fitness tracker so they can post their progress on social media to, you know, keep themselves accountable. In their mind, they are working toward running a 5K – even though they spend their evenings on the couch while waiting for their new purchases to arrive.
In fact, this person doesn’t have a consistent workout routine. They figure that setting a goal (run a 5K) will motivate them. Instead of putting on their good-enough sneakers and getting in the habit taking a walk every day, they focus on the goal instead of the process. Instead of considering who they are (someone who spends their evenings on the couch), they buy stuff for the person they want to be – someone who has run a 5K.
Eventually, a lot of the items we buy for the person we want to be ends up in boxes – discovered only when we start to declutter.
Set Shopping-free Goals
So, what if you need specific items to do an activity, like skiing, snowshoeing, playing the ukulele, or getting into photography?
Rent the items. You may think that it will be cheaper to buy over renting, but consider renting, at least the first time. Shops that sell equipment may also rent, it’s just a matter of asking. Also, look at your local gym as a resource for “renting” exercise equipment while you use it at their location.
Borrow an item. My public library has a small collection of borrowable items, like an InstaPot and a ukulele. What does your library offer?
Consider asking, family, friends, and coworkers if someone has an item that you’d like to try. Maybe you’re interested in drinking fresh juice every morning. Your cousin might not be up to lending you his juicer, but you could ask if you could bring supplies over and give it a try at their house. If you’re borrowing an item, plan to return it in a week or two to keep your relationships smooth.
Think twice if someone tells you that you can have an item or buy it off them. Just because they didn’t use it doesn’t mean you won’t but consider this instance. Remember, part of your goal is to avoid collecting something that will become clutter in your home.
Skip the item. Be creative and work toward the goal without buying an item. Do you really need to buy a treadmill, or could you go for a walk outside? While a fitness tracker is a great way to capture how many steps you take during a day, couldn’t you up your level of activity by making a point to get up and move around throughout the day? Is your real goal to take 10,000 steps a day or to move around more?
Work on Your Goal without Buying Anything
Consider what the item is supposed to do for your goal. Now, imagine that you tried to purchase the item only to discover it will be on backorder for the next three months. However, you are so excited by your goal you still want to work toward it. But how? Come up with five ways you could work on your goal without buying that thing. Next, come up with another five ideas.
I know that it’s fun to buy new stuff, particularly when you think it will help you learn something new or help you reach a goal. You may consider your options and decide that, yes, you are committed to making the purchase; but, now, you are doing so more mindfully.
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The Organized Squirrel, Susan, shows you how acorns (small habits) can grow into oak trees (a better life).