Saturday, June 5, 2010

Confessions of a (Former) Consumerholic

Hi. My name is Amy, and I am a consumerholic.

Or, I was.

A handful of years back, I suddenly found myself with babies and a newly purchased home. If ever there was a time to purchase things, I thought this was it.

I bought items that the babies might like, and things I might use for the babies. I shopped for a mind-boggling roster of tot gear, and had a hard time resisting those adorable tiny clothes. Then there was a home to fill. I paid hard-earned money for things like outdoorsy-scented candles, newfangled cleaning products, and the latest in clocks.

Well, it wasn't long before my house reached maximum capacity. By then, the majority of baby gear had proved superfluous, and the tot stuff was collecting dust in the corner. The candles lost their scent, the cleaning gadgets were useless, and the clock broke long before I expected it would.

Standing in my living room one day, planning my route across the toy-strewn rug, I had a vision. I saw my home in all its de-cluttered glory. I saw my girls playing with quality handmade toys that wouldn't soon be recalled. I imagined a cozy nest decorated with items made by fellow artists, each piece holding its own story. I fantasized about all-natural cleaning products, and cooked up clever ways to re purpose lackluster items.

Without realizing it, I was formulating a new family plan. It would be based on quality, simplification, and time spent together.

The simplifying scheme started with charity donations—truckloads of clothing, unwanted toys, and household items went out the door. I read voraciously about simple living, conscious consumption, creative parenting, and commercialism. I re prioritized how we spent our time, and shifted from days full of running errands to staying home and interacting in more meaningful ways. I bought large quantities of basic grocery store ingredients and learned all the amazing ways they can be used in a household. I came to realize that my spending habits are a reflection of the kind of world I want to live in.

During this time, I hatched the idea to sell my works in metal, as a way to bring quality handmade pieces to the market. I thought, maybe if somebody bought my pieces they’d be less likely to buy cheap costume jewelry made in factories on the other side of the world.

This new way of living is very much a work in progress. I have spent the past six years steering my family towards a life of simple abundance—of shedding the excess—but we often veer off course. The toy box has been replenished with cheap imported junk (this is our biggest challenge, as most of the girls' toys are gifts from others, for which we are grateful), and Mount Stuffed Animal remains the last frontier. I have to admit we adults in the household have some indulgences of our own, but we try to keep it in check. I have gotten more organized, and we have learned to patiently wait until we’ve saved enough money before making purchases—this alone has been the most effective way to keep the amount of things acquired to a minimum. We have also found a better balance between family time and the number of activities we participate in. Generally speaking, our down shift has been a success, but we are presented with challenges daily.

As long as I can navigate my way across the living room without too many obstacles, I know we're doing OK.


  1. oh yes... it is so hard to resist when the little ones are little... in fact all that stuff has a way of making us feel like negligent parents if we DON'T buy it! we inadvertently rescued ourself from the clutter when we bought our current house, half the size of the other, and the stuff had to go - we had no choice! i am not a minimalist at heart - i have to constantly fight to keep the mess from growing again - but i feel SO much better when it's under control. did the same thing with my art supplies earlier this year. purged 95% of them, and i don't miss a thing. but you're way ahead of me when it comes to repurposing and multipurposing and purposing in general - i have a long way to go!

  2. I'm with you. I finally have accepted that it is an ever evolving process. Kind of like a flow of sorts, you just have to keep on purging. Especailly with all those kind and generous loving relatives. He he.


  3. What a thoughtful and inspiring piece of writing! Mindful and practical at once. You made me think of one of my favourite quotes and inspirations "Be the change you wish to see in the world" – Mahatma Gandhi

  4. I think it's all very much a work in progress for most of us. The size of the houses I've lived in, and the isolated village where we live at the moment have been fairly good deterrents to becoming consumerholic. Still, somehow we manage to create our own mount stuffed animal:)!

  5. I started the parenting journey feeling very satisfied with myself--at least as far as consumerism went. I bought lots of toys and gear, but it was all wood and organic so that made it okay, right? With the second child I realized I didn't need, and couldn't afford, every last thing. The kids like to play with sticks and cardboard boxes as much as the German toys. I am working hard to be more conscious in other areas of life too: driving less, growing more of our own food, paying attention to energy usage. I think the last frontier for me is fashion: I do enjoy clothes, but i don't enjoy sewing them. I am trying to be better about shopping for used and vintage pieces, or things made by hand from someone else!

  6. Amy this is so well worded. This is something I have tried to write about before but can never get it to come across as clearly and beautifully as you do here.
    I think carrying good intentions in your heart and carrying them out in daily life, this in itself does so much, and then resourcefulness becomes this amazingly satisfying way of living in it's own right.
    I must admit, many of the plastic toys our boys get as gifts sneakily never get taken out of their packaging and get donated to the toy's for tots box, I may not be able to get away with this for much longer as B1 gets older, but it mostly works for now.

  7. What an awesome post Amy. I think that what you said that was just so important is the issue of evolution. When we hear words like simplicity, declutter, or space, we want it NOW, and it is hard, at least for me, to realize that it takes time to get there. We have a lot of clutter issues, and this post was so nice to read on this Monday morning, when house cleaning is upon me :)

  8. Hi Amy. I am very much like you. I have to say it was a decision that was kinda made for me when we had a baby and went down to one income. Let me tell you though I am so much happier living a "simple" life. I also deal with well intentioned family who love to give the kids gifts (totally appreciate it) and then I find it hard to have to organize it, etc. Thanks for the great post.

  9. Amy this is such an inspiring post! Such a wonderful reminder ofliving your life towards a life of simple abundance ~ it takes time and it's always an ever changing process. Thanks so much for a wonderful read and sharing your story with us! Have a lovely merry happy week and love to yoU!

  10. sounds like a great plan. hopefully more people will start thinking like you... thinking about the mass the size of texas floating out in the ocean helps to keep motivated.

  11. I have just reached this section in the simple abundance book ( I have managed to fall a month behind!) so this post is spot on for what is going through my thoughts at the moment - I think the universe maybe trying to tell me something! I love your idea that it is a step by step process - I think I might have to take a little step tomorrow! :D

  12. Oh my goodness...I felt like I was reading about me. When my Ruby was born, I shopped like a madwoman...I don't know what drove me to buy buy buy...we spent SO much money on toys, clothes, stuff for the house, (we bought our house when Ruby was 2)...when I think about it now it actually makes me sick to my stomach. Now, because of my lack of better judgment, I'm still dealing with the aftermath of my consumerism...slowly though, we are getting rid of the clutter, the plastic...and with baby #2, we're doing it pretty much second hand...with the odd new purchase...and lots of homemade! This way of life sings to my is who I want to be.
    Together on the journey of less...
    maureen :)