Saturday, January 01, 2011


I generally don't make New Year's resolutions, mostly because I generally don't keep New Year's resolutions. Besides, any promise you make to yourself or to anyone else after a few glasses of champagne is likely to be voidable.

This year, however, I have a resolution. A good one. But bear with me -- it requires a bit of an explanation.

The idea started with my CD collection. Despite the move towards electronic distribution of music over the past years, I keep buying compact discs. I like listening to albums as a whole. I like reading the liner notes. I like being able to grab a CD that fits my mood to take with me in the car. I like having a tangible, physical thing, instead of just having the intangible music stored on a hard drive or a .mp3 player. And what if the electronic device fails?

So now, I have entire bookshelves filled with CDs, just sitting in my condo. Of course, I've copied each onto my computer and backed them up on another hard drive. I'm starting to think that maybe it's time to change this strategy. Maybe I should sell the CDs. I don't need them; they are just things taking up space.

Then I think about all of the other things I keep in my house. Do I really need to keep a full bookcase of the books I've yet to read, when I can get books from a library? Do I really need to hang on to my prom dress -- and the elbow length gloves that went with it? People somehow manage to live with far fewer shoes, clothes, and beauty products. What is it that I can't replace? What is it that I really need? What is it that I can't live without?

The answer is depressing: Not a single thing is necessary. No thing is necessary. Nothing is necessary. Nothing. I can live with none of these things.

Under many of the measures of affluence in this country, I am quite wealthy. I have a good job that pays well, and as of this month, when I make my last student loan payment, I am by-and-large, debt free. (Well, except for that pesky mortgage . . . ) I have no significant health concerns. I have no dependents relying on me. I have so much. And yet, I constantly add to my collection of things, and I don't save. I am a shopoholic, and not in a cute, fictional way.

According to this article, I should ask myself these questions before buying anything:

  1. Do you have to buy this item?
  2. Have you found the best deal?
  3. Have you gotten your z's?
  4. Are you buying just because it's on sale?
  5. Have you asked about future deals?
  6. Do you love it and do you need it?
  7. Can you afford it?

I know I fall into the trap of buying because things are on sale, and I know I ignore the part about whether I have to buy things, or love it and need it.

Another article gave five tips for avoiding impulse buys:

  1. Stick to Your List
  2. Get Some Air
  3. Be Critical
  4. Phone a Friend
  5. Use Cash

And so, just like the summer of 2009, when I vowed to not eat meat for a whole month, I am going to spend the first few weeks of the new year putting these tricks and tips into play, trying to not buy anything unnecessary. At a minimum, each time I find myself going for my wallet, I'm going to ask myself whether the purchase is a "want" or a "need," and try to eliminate the "wants." At best, I'm going to try to not spend any money on anything that is not essential -- mortgage, utilities, food, basic hygiene and medical care, and transportation.

Simultaneously, I am going to try to figure out what possessions I can eliminate. Thoreau said, "We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without." I'm going to test that theory.

And thus, I resolve to simplify.

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