Deprivation Vs. Discipline

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The Happy Philosopher, a radiologist whose thoughts on life routinely serve as inspiration for his readers and fellow bloggers alike, began an interesting experiment at the start of this year. He initially made a public declaration that he’d buy no clothes for the year. Reconsidering it a few days later, he grew more ambitious and decided that (excluding a limited, prospectively determined list of items) he planned to buy nothing at all for one year. When he posted his initial declaration not to buy clothes for a year, it got me thinking. I meandered over to our master walk-in closet, whose square footage exceeds the size of my senior single dorm room from college. I recalled exchanging awkward glances with my wife when we saw the closet on the day we moved in, both of us slightly embarrassed at all this space we were certain we’d never use.  Eight years after moving in, the closet was full.

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The Warden Can’t Understand Why I’d Relinquish Her Pardon I decided to take on the no clothes for a year challenge, eventually confessing my plans to my wife. Her response: “‘You’re crazy.” Not the first time she’d made the accusation. Back when we were first married, she’d tried to understand why I got up ridiculously early, sometimes following an overnight shift, to stand in line for an REI used gear sale. I’d reply, “Is it the numerous affairs? The monthly Boys’ Night Out where I come home reeking of cigars and stripper perfume? Oh, right, you married a guy whose biggest vice is a soft spot for high quality, deeply discounted, lightly used gear.” Framed this way, she relented. After having granted me a recreational shopping pardon early in our relationship, my wife seemed distressed to see me voluntarily surrendering it: “You work hard. Why deprive yourself?” This got me thinking about what the challenge meant to me, and my reasons for undertaking it. Control First there’s the issue of putting myself back in control of my impulses. I’m a sucker for a good deal. Mostly, this is a pathology with utility. I routinely stock up on great hiking boots or quality shoes to wear on shift in the ED, creating a reserve for when the current pair wears out. My favorite carry-on travel packs and daypacks have similarly been purchased used at steep discount before we needed them, and slowly placed into circulation as travel and hiking needs arose. The dark side to this habit is that the urge to capitalize on good deals can lead to excess purchases. I have 5 pairs of sandals (2 Keens, 2 Tevas, and Chacos). Each pair was bought at a minimum of 50% off, and gets used lovingly in rotation. Still, it’s clear I have a problem. By avoiding purchase for one year, I want to reassert control over this compulsion. Think Different Second, I’d like to break the mental association between recreational down time and spending money on clothes. I was never a mall rat, but I’ve always loved a good treasure hunt. Thrift stores and their ritzy cousins, vintage clothing stores, immediately come to mind when I find a little extra time without something planned. I want to replace the deal-hunting instinct with a desire to read books, invite my daughter to shoot hoops at the school yard, join my son on a bicycle ride, or walk with a friend. I’d like to substitute activities that deepen relationships for those that drain funds. An example of a prior success was losing the recurring time and expense of utilizing my gym membership. I used to drive 30 minutes each way to the gym for a significant annual membership fee. Instead, in 10 minutes I can be walking the neighborhood, lifting weights with a set I purchased used off craigslist, hiking nearby trails, cycling, kayaking, or bodyboarding. Since 90% of the gear for these activities was purchased used, exercise runs a fraction of the cost of the annual membership. By reducing transportation time, I now complete more fitness activities in less time. More Ideas, Fewer Items I’d like to dedicate more time to pursuits of the mind, include growing this blog, reading more books pertaining to personal finance, and keeping up with the stunning new releases in contemporary fiction. I’d be happy to spend more time oriented around growing and considering ideas, and less time accumulating stuff. I treasure the time spent with my wife during the hour before we go to sleep, when we informally take inventory of life’s twists and turns and try to assess if we’ve met the challenges in a manner consistent with our values. We review how we reacted when the kids pushed our buttons or shared a perspective we hadn’t considered. I’d like to spend more time with her similar to these hours, contemplating ideas together in a way that helps us grow closer. This is not easily done. My wife hates clothes shopping, yet I managed to get her hooked on thrift store shopping as a shared pleasure. One of our regular outings is hitting the local charity league shop whenever we visit my parents, where she’s found some great formal dresses in the past. How do I bail out on a habit that I led her to adopt? [For those old enough to remember, it was hard on Nancy when Sid suddenly decided to go clean, and it ended poorly.] Anyone else out there come to the conclusion that they had enough before their partner? How’d you cope?

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