Eliminating Lady Temptations: Step 4 (see other steps)
by Mrs. Money Mustache
This past weekend, MMM brought a big box up to our bedroom. It contained clothing we had packed away into boxes way back in June, just before our trip to Canada, as we rented our house this past summer and wanted to clear out some of the clutter for our incoming tenants. As I started sorting through this box to put things away, I suddenly felt defeated. With clothing piled high all around me, clothing I hadn’t even looked at in months, I felt the excess of my younger years coming back to haunt me.
I don’t want all this stuff! It’s too much. A normal person does not need this much clothing! I looked around at all the shirts, yoga pants, and sports bras and remembered all the random purchases I had made back when I thought that moving to Boulder and having a new active lifestyle meant buying new stuff.
What struck me at that moment is just how much I have changed.
Between the ages of 25 and 29, I spent a LOT more money than I do now, even while I thought I was being frugal. We “only” went out to eat once a week, we biked to work 3 times per week (and carpooled the remaining 2 days), and we were saving quite a bit. But, after having “The Talk” with MMM (after minor arguments about some of my habits), I realized that my two big problem areas were books and clothing. The books part was easily resolved: I started using the library and in the process found a new love. The clothing part was a bit harder. I probably spent $50-100 per month, for several years, on this habit. When you add that up, it’s several thousand dollars of clothes and shoes that marched themselves into my closet.
Now, you might be thinking “if you have enough money, why is that a problem area?” Well, it’s because we had a Goal. We wanted to be financially secure before having a child, to the point of BOTH of us being able to stop working to raise our child. This goal was very important to us, and this obsession with buying clothing was getting in the way of it. And being with my future child was much more important than owning a bunch of activewear. Plus, I knew that my addiction to clothing was not making me happy in a lasting way, and was thus a self-defeating habit that I often regretted.
So, I stopped. I just stopped buying clothes. I had a lot to choose from, so I went through everything and created a wardrobe of things I liked. I didn’t even give anything away yet – it was all still so new. But, I actually looked at all of it and realized just how much I really had. I pulled out everything that was hiding in drawers, stuff that I had put away in boxes, and I analyzed each item and decided whether it belonged in my closet and in my life. Interestingly, a lot of it failed this test – even things I had bought recently (often online) were not getting worn, as they didn’t fit or were not practical. What a waste! Once I had it all in front of me, I realized I had Enough. I could live the rest of my life with this wardrobe.
That doesn’t mean that temptation didn’t strike every once in a while. If I went to work and saw a friend with cute shoes, I’d start thinking that maybe I deserved some cute shoes too. But, instead of just going online to find a deal on cute shoes and clicking “buy”, I would wait. I would say: “If I still want this in two weeks, I will get it.” Sometimes I’d even go online and add it to my shopping cart (sometimes just that simple act was enough to make me get over it, although I wouldn’t recommend it as it can lead to disaster). But sure enough, I found that the two weeks would pass without me even thinking about the shoes. I simply forgot and was on to something else, which I then forgot about in two more weeks. My two week policy matured to became one month and more, and recently I waited 6 months before buying a new pair of pants.
But back to Olden Days Me: Eventually, I quit my job in Boulder and started working from home. At that point, my urge to buy clothing completely went away. I now had too much clothing and never had the opportunity to wear any of it. I was finally brave enough to give a lot of it away and felt really good about the fact that people who really needed it would be using it.
For MMM, it’s easy to avoid buying clothing or pretty much anything else. He literally feels mental pain when purchasing something and considers it for a very long time (often after writing out a sheet of equations). For me, it was a lot harder and I had to slowly change my perspective on things. The longer I do it, the easier it becomes and it is absolutely a life changing experience.
I have a long way to go. I still make excuses to drive occasionally, even though I know I am perfectly capable of biking (and strangely, every time I bike I feel fantastic, so why do I even make excuses?). I still live an incredibly lavish life and feel like I should be doing more to reduce my environmental footprint and correspondingly increase my happiness. But, I’ve got it pretty good. I am happier than I have ever been in my life and it all started that day when I decided to stop buying and start living.
So, as I sat there with all that clothing around me, the internal weeping turned to laughter. My son came running into the room to see what was going on and we piled the clothes up high and started throwing them around and jumping into the pile. Ultimately, by eliminating my clothing habit, I gained time with my child. And, the value of that time is priceless.
I have also found that using a 2-4 week “evaluation” period dramatically reduces my desires for new stuff.