Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On not wanting

A couple years ago I read a post (January 24, 2007) on Cindy’s blog that was titled “I Don’t Want Anything.” I was intrigued, challenged, and inspired, all at the same time.

Not want anything? Now that was a novel idea! I have always known that I don’t really need anything, but to take it one step farther and say I don’t want anything? Could that possibly be true? Could I make it be true?

I pondered the matter for about five seconds and then I got up from my desk, marched over to the table where Mr. Handsome was reading the paper, pressed my stomach up against the table, and slapped my hand over his paper so he would have to look at me. When he finally looked up, clearly irritated (I'm notorious for bothering him when he sits down to read the paper), I calmly stated, “I don’t want anything.”

He looked at me, blankly.

Speaking softly and enunciating each word to the best of my mush-mouth ability, I said, “I bet I can go longer without spending money than you can, because,” and I smiled tauntingly, “I don’t want anything.”

Of course Mr. Handsome rose to the challenge. We drew up the rules:

Non-acceptable expenditures:
*Tools, building materials, etc.
*Entertainment: eating out, movies, plays, childcare
*Clothing
*Certain groceries: no cereal, fresh fruits/veggies, ice cream, meats, gourmet and soft cheeses, snack foods, sodas, candy, alcohol, rice, beans, pastas (maybe)

Acceptable expenditures:
*Standard bills, household items such as laundry detergent, tampons, toilet paper, and medical costs
*Gas and travel: we didn’t usually go anywhere anyway, and on the off-chance that we decided to go visit my family, we would go.
*The advance fees for certain activities for the children, such as camp, a local wilderness activity, etc.
*Birthdays would proceed as normal.
*Certain groceries: standard grains and flours, sugar, oil, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, milk, butter, eggs, basic cheeses and spices
*Garden seeds

Mr. Handsome kept saying things like, “This is so funny,” and “You always spend more money than me,” and “What are you, crazy?” and “I can’t believe you are doing this to yourself.”

I think we made it several weeks, maybe even four, before, eh-hem, Mr. Handsome lost the bet. He had ordered some hardware for the kids’ swing set. “But it was for the kids!” he argued in a last ditch effort to absolve himself.

“It was money,” I said. “Period. I won.”

The next year we planned ahead for the game, making sure we were fairly well outfitted for our spending drought. The kids had enough clothes, Mr. Handsome had some ideas for projects to work on (and the supplies necessary to complete them), and I had my stash of chocolate. We made it for about two months, maybe a bit more, before, eh-hem again, Mr. Handsome lost. I cannot, though, remember the losing purchase—was it the solar panel do-hickey for the chicken fence? Anyway, whatever it was, I won. Again.


A week and a half ago, on January 12, we started the bet once more. It’s not really a bet, my sister-in-law pointed out. There are no stakes, so to speak. Unless you include our honor and integrity. Those stakes are compelling enough to make us stand up straight and do our best. See, whoever spends money first is the loser and the winner, well, the winner has right to flaunt her favorable position, most likely by doing a little skippy dance and chanting something loving and kind such as “You’re a loser! A loser! Nana-nana-boo-boo!” And then the loser gets mad and sulky and declares that the rules weren’t fair in the first place and this is a stupid, stupid game. So maybe it is a bet after all?

At first glance you might think the purpose of the game is to save money, and while that is Mr. Handsome’s goal, it is certainly not mine. When I read Cindy’s post I realized that I spend an inordinate amount of time buying things, thinking about and making lists of the things I want to buy next, and finagling childcare so I can go buy those things. What if I didn’t want anything? What if it was pointless to spend time thinking about spending money because I couldn’t spend money? Wouldn’t that free up an awful lot of space in my head and time in my day?

Whenever I make the trip into town I’m forever racking my brain, attempting to remember if there is anything, anything that I need to pick up. It is the prudent thing to do, you know, optimizing a town trip. So I’ll be driving by Dollar General and I’ll think, “Do I need another hairbrush?” Or going past the bagel shop, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have bagels for breakfast tomorrow?” Or on my way by the thrift store, “Do I have time for a quick run-through, just to see if there are any good deals?”

But what would it be like to drive through town and not need to stop for anything because I didn’t need, didn’t want, anything? If I wasn’t allowed to stop for anything, then I would have more time to think, to look about me at the trees and the oncoming cars, to listen to NPR (or Calvin and the Chipmunks, heaven help me), or to yell more energetically at the kids when they start spitting fireballs at each other.

Anyways, I’m always fussing about how I have so much stuff on hand. A fast from spending would force me to use up what I have, and maybe, just maybe, become a little bit inventive. What about all those unlabeled boxes up in the attic? I bet I could find all sorts of treasures up there if I needed something—kids’ clothing, old lamps, dishes. Of course, there’s the trusty downtown library for good reads, movies, and music. And, if I got desperate for chocolate, I could always barter.

So, in a nutshell, the real purpose of the bet is to take a rest from idle consumerism.

The hardest thing for me, by far, is the restrictions on my grocery shopping. I love buying novelty foods and cooking new dishes. I get bored with beans, potatoes, and bread. I miss the convenience of fresh greens, fruit, cereal, and snack foods. It’s crazy, I know. I have so much food in this house...

I must confess, I did do a little pre-bet shopping. But it was just a wee bit. I bought a small round of Brie cheese, a few boxes of basic cereals, some more chocolate chips (and a couple bars of chocolate that, get this, Mr. Handsome seems to think he has the right to consume—what ails the man?), a couple bags of pretzels and some tortilla chips, that lettuce from the farmer’s market, a lot of pasta, some lemons and grapefruit, and some nuts.

So, that’s the game. We’ll see who wins. (And even if Mr. Handsome wins this round, I will still have won two out of the three games, so that makes me the overall you-know-what.)


In the meantime, we will rest ... while we crave cereals, save money, and try to remember that we don’t want anything.

8 comments:

  1. Great post! Does Mr. Handsome always put on a tuxedo and kiss your hand when he concedes you are the winner?
    kbs

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  2. We'll probably join you in the game...out of necessity! -cp

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  3. I am too tired (yes, tired at 8:45 am; this should be a great day) to make any sort of intelligent comment, so I will keep my observations to the following:

    1. That is a great idea!
    2. Hope you win.
    3. Fresh fruits & veggies are not acceptable expenditures???!!!???

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  4. Not only do I still not want anything, I also don't want to go to town. I am, however, somewhat intrigued though by your husband's solar panel for a chicken fence. How can that be wrong? Sounds way cool.

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  5. KBS, Yes. Of course. Every time.

    40winkzzz, Fresh fruits and veggies are not acceptable because we have so much canned/frozen/dried food in our house and simply HAVE to use it up.

    Cindy, Maybe it wasn't the solar panel... But if it was, it must not have been needed at that time because I have vague memories of a solar panel sitting around for several months before it was gainfully employed...

    (We do have an exemption to the rules---if we both agree that something is absolutely necessary then we will purchase it, but, and this is key, we have to AGREE. That's the tricky part.)

    -JJ

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  6. This is such a great challenge! ::wheels spinning in head::

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  7. You should read "Not Buying It" by Judith Levine... She does the same thing for a year... it's a really good read. I have been trying not to buy as much... scares me a little to not buy anything but does seem like it would be liberating...And the bet is a great idea... I think I could do it for awhile with a bet at stake:).... Glad you bought your self the brie before hand though... it is so Delicous!! I always buy the kind in the freezer all ready to go in the oven but you have inspired me to make my own next time:)

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  8. Robyn, Thanks for the book suggestion---I'll look into it.

    -JJ

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