I chose to give up shopping for Lent — yes, I said give up for Lent — because my shopping addiction is something that has a stronger hold on me than caffeine or cigarettes.
The Lenten Promise
Together with a good friend (who shares this addiction), we decided about four weeks ago to try to give up shopping. Since it just so happened to be on Shrove Tuesday that this was decided, we made it our Lenten promise.
A Lenten promise is something that Catholics do over the 40 days of Lent, the time leading up to Easter. The promise is something like a new year’s resolution. You give up something or commit to doing something for the 40 days of preparation before Easter.
The promise started as a joke, “Let’s see if we can give up shopping for the whole 40 days,” we decided. We even toyed with the idea of closet swapping, in case we became bored enough with our own clothes within this long period of time and needed a change.
While it started as a joke, it couldn’t have happened at a better time. My husband’s seasonal work was on hold and teachers (myself included) were experiencing a pay freeze, so the money was less than flowing. This was the perfect time to test my own willpower and self-restraint.
The first few weeks
The first two weeks were simple; work was busy, so I had barely enough time to sit, let alone shop. Our new puppy Charlie needed to be walked and fed, leaving very little time to stop and shop on my way home from work. Lent also happens to cross over the darkest parts of the winter season which means staying in is not only the easier option, but also the desired one. No one wants to leave a warm home on a cold day; not even an avid shopper. While I realize that online shopping is, and has been an option for a while now, it did not become too much of a problem for me (I only took part in a little browsing whenever I got the itch).
I guess I’m a little old-fashioned when it comes to shopping methods; I like to try my outfits on, compulsively buy them to make for a better, more fulfilled day; or pine over them (usually because they are way too expensive) and buy them at a later date, leaving enough time to make me think I somehow deserve them. Yes, there is a method to this mall madness.
The consumed consumer
As the weeks went on, the urge to shop took over my conscious and subconscious mind. I was dreaming of new outfits — sweaters, pants, and of course dresses for the spring. Then one Tuesday night, while waiting for our yoga class to start, my girlfriend (the one who had made the promise with me) started talking about all of the new spring outfits she had recently purchased.
For a second I had forgotten about the promise and was asking her where these great finds were, so I could make some purchases of my own. Then it hit me, “wait,” I began — “didn’t we give up shopping for Lent?”
“Oh ya,” she exclaimed half laughing, “ I totally forgot about that.”
This didn’t upset me, or make me doubt my own promise initially, instead I just laughed it off; unaware of the effect this might have on my own promise later on. While I didn’t notice the change right away, it would become increasingly more obvious as the weeks went on.
The following week I was off for March break, finally getting some well-deserved time to myself. With all of this time to waste, I started to make exceptions, compromising my promise. What started as no shopping period, had suddenly become no shopping for clothes, leaving room for household items (décor included), laptop cases, kitchen accessories, toys for my dog, the list goes on. Basically if I wasn’t going to wear it, I could still buy it.
For some reason this new, modified promise still felt like a valid promise, as if I had convinced myself that this was okay, especially because I was the only one making the rules now. This was no longer a shared or collective experience, which made me feel a lot less accountable for my actions. As more time passed, the rules became less and less clear, to the point where I was asking my husband to make purchases for me (from our shared account) just so I could feel as if I had refrained from buying the clothing. After a sweater purchase on a Sunday afternoon, I finally came to the realization that I had failed.
I had not kept my Lenten promise.
The Lenten promise I failed to keep
Lent is a time of preparation, reflection, and a test of spiritual discipline. Over the past 40 days I can truly say that while I could not keep the promise entirely, I did learn a lot about myself. A big part of why I could not keep the promise had to do with my own obsession with the fact that I could not have what I wanted. We live in a culture where this desire to have, own, and buy everything we want, especially when it seems out of reach, has the power to consume us. We are so obsessed with fulfilling selfish desires, like keeping up with the latest fashion trends, and owning the latest devices, that we lose sight of the more important things in life like our own integrity.
As a result of what I can now call an overly ambitious attempt at a Lenten promise, I’m going to continue to make a conscious effort to control selfish desires and look more closely at what I do have. There is so much more to this crazy life than the possession of items. With this realization, I guess I can say that this wasn’t a complete failure.
Flickr photo (cc) by redwood 1