on contentment (part 1)


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I was standing in the middle of the mall in late November, weighed down with shopping bags from half a dozen stores, and I felt more like a wisp of smoke than a person.

A boy had broken up with me (like boys sometimes do), and it left me reeling. I didn’t want to continue being who I was. So I went for Plan A, my first course of action whenever I was feeling stressed, depressed or lost from myself, my coping mechanism and my guilty pleasure – I went shopping.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve tried to exchange dollars for a new identity. When I was thirteen, I bought a pile of black clothes (t-shirts, dresses, too-big corduroy pants; I wasn’t picky) at the thrift store because I decided I needed to be more serious. A few years later I loaded up on all things flowy and lace and filled my iPod with folk music, because obviously this made me thoughtful and dreamy.

Sometimes I wish I had kept everything (I haven’t) so that my closet could double as a museum of all the people I have wanted to be.

A couple hours later, frustrated and tired and desperately craving a Cinnabun, I was forced to admit something that I had hoped – had wished – wouldn’t apply this time:

Stuff doesn’t change you. Stuff can’t make you who you want to be.

To clarify: No, I’m not a hoarder but yes, I like stuff. My dorm room is full of Christmas lights and coffee mugs; I have way too many shades of red lipstick; and I fundamentally disagree with the idea that you shouldn’t own more books than you can read in your lifetime.

For 21 years, my identity has changed, my priorities have shifted, my style has radically improved (I don’t care if you don’t like the way I dress now, you should’ve seen me in 5th grade), and I’ve always used material possessions to reflect that.

I know that I’m lucky. I know that it’s an outrageous privilege to be in my position, and I am trying to recognize that privilege rather than abuse it.

Let me be clear: I’m not a horrible person. I don’t spend money I don’t have, I try to donate to causes I believe in, and I know the things we have don’t make us who we are. But I always manage to convince myself to add one more thing to my shopping basket while I’m in line to pay at the store (it’s probably Pez. It’s almost always Pez).

So, for thirty days this June I am trying something new: Contentment.

A blogger named Nancy Ray created something called the Contentment Challenge. You don’t buy anything beyond the essentials, and replace all that time and energy with powerful books or a new hobby.

Nancy kicked it off with 90 days – I’m starting small and working my way up. If you want to save money, live simply, or practice the art of contentment, please join in.

This means that throughout June, I will limit my spending to gifts and groceries. I will try to be thoughtful about the things I do buy and stop dwelling on the things I don’t. And I will stop confusing who I am with what I have.