Monday, March 17, 2008

the "spring cleaning" cliche

It's that time of the year... when we evaluate what we currently own, what kind of living space we are living in, and how we can de-clutter our homes (and our minds). Being the sometimes-indecisive Gemini that I am (another cliche), there are days when I feel like attacking the task head-on and other days when I want to take it in baby steps, tackling one thing at a time (i.e., today I'll go through my magazine collection and donate them to our local/neighborhood coffee shop).

But more than just re-evaluating our physical space, the idea of spring cleaning started to bring to mind something deeper. As I was driving today, I stopped at a traffic light behind a car with a bumper sticker that read, "Live simply so that others can simply live."

Wow. That statement really started to call into question my reasons for buying this and that and the other. Hey, I love to shop. I love bargains. Not that I spend left and right without thinking of prices... there are certainly things that I won't spend for (case in point - my old-style antenna on my fairly new, but second hand TV, is a big joke among my siblings... been here for 5 years and I still don't subscribe to cable service). I do things that some people may find odd, like washing and re-using zip-lock bags. I can be pretty obsessive about sorting my recyclables. I'm the resident pack rat at work, overusing the excuse "I'm an early childhood teacher... my kids love usable junk."

I guess you can say that I'm going through this austere yogi/shopaholic struggle. Sometimes I find myself looking at clothing tags and reading the "Made In ___" label, and I think, oh no, I bet this was made in a sweatshop by a little 10-year-old who should be in school or playing outside." Talk about consumer's remorse -- another version of buyer's remorse. And then you see these other clothes being advertised as handmade by artisans who are paid a fair wage, with the feel-good extra of "proceeds of your purchase go to (some charitable institution)". Then you look at the price tag and go into sticker shock. There's no way I can afford it. Don't get me wrong; I wish I could donate to charity all the time. But realistically, I have bills to pay too... don't we all?

But the real question is not what to buy, or should I buy or not buy. It's looking at what I already have, whether materially or otherwise, and coming to the realization that I am already living in abundance. I have my wonderful family and friends, a decent-sized, comfortable living space, good food to eat, clothes to wear, and miscellaneous extras like furniture, art, books, music, kitchen stuff, and my camera.

Still, there are days when I find myself at a store facing a pair of vampy, strappy, high-heeled red sandals that are calling my name (all for $14.99, at my fave store -- how can you go wrong?). The "question consumption" motto goes out the window. The "shoes can make or break the outfit" motto overpowers. I'll be completely honest and say that at this particular moment, a great bargain on a pair of vampy, strappy, high-heeled red shoes (that I'll only wear on some weekends during only two seasons out of the year, to add to the impractical but oh-so-cute shoes that I already have but only wear during two seasons out of the year) IS a feel-good extra. The fair trade concept did not enter my mind for a second. OK, that was full disclosure. Whew.

As you can tell, that was an unplanned purchase, despite my attempts at self-talk.

This can really be a struggle. I admit, all this thinking can sometimes immobilize me and lead me to a position where I feel I can't really make much of a difference anyway. And that's the hard part -- feeling immobilized. I read a good tip from one of my favorite magazines. The author wrote that s/he does not buy anything new without first giving away something to someone who may need it. And that may be to the Freestore, Goodwill, Freecycle, etc. The in-and-out, "revolving door" approach. Not that everything is disposable. But it's looking at what I currently have, and thinking of who can benefit from something if I haven't used it in a year anyway.

And really, it's the baby steps that count... sure, leaving your stable, health-benefits-paying job to travel to a developing country with UNICEF all sounds great. But not everyone has the means to do that. I know I don't, not in my current situation. But a group of gals and I get together for potluck dinners and do clothing swaps. That's a pretty fun, feel-good baby step... which can sometimes involve impractical but oh-so-cute clothes, and no consumer's remorse.

"If we can find ways to love life and be joyful without being wasteful or destructive -- that's what's important." -- Natalie Portman

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