Retail Detox: January

The first month of my shopping ban went more smoothly than I expected. When I set out on this journey, I had already started Project 333, which eliminated any desires I had to purchase new clothing. Although my wardrobe is the smallest its ever been, I find that I genuinely like everything in my closet. I wear each and every item I selected for this three month project. In fact, when I do have to walk through downtown, I don’t even look at the clothing in the windows.

Other areas of the shopping ban are proving more tempting, but I’ve managed to stay strong. I have always loved stationary. Back in America, I had so many journals, but rarely managed to fill any of them. The same goes for notebooks. When I filled up a journal at the beginning of the month, I will admit that my first thought was that it’s time for a new one. And trust me, the journals and notebooks here in Korea are so cute. But I have more journals that are half full. Why not fill those up first before looking to get another one?

A potted green plant seen at a cafe in Gyeongju, South Korea.

And yet in other areas, I haven’t even considered buying items I included in the ban. Books written in English are hard to come by in my small Korean city, and I find the cost of international shipping off-putting, so I haven’t even looked at books. If something comes out that I really want to read, I use my Audible subscription and listen to the audio version. While it’s not quite the same as reading, audio books have become a staple in my life.

Take-out coffee is also proving easier not to buy than I expected. Perhaps it’s because I spent most of January teaching winter camp, and I arrived to work before any coffee shops were even open. The only place that I could have gotten take-out coffee were the convenience stores, and the sugary coffees have definitely lost their appeal to me since moving here.

I know that thirty-one days without shopping for non-essential items isn’t a huge feat, and that as time goes on, it will become more difficult for me to adhere to my self-imposed shopping ban. But knowing how to avoid the temptations of shopping, and acknowledging that shopping isn’t a hobby and isn’t something I need to do to feel happy are starting points to reshape the way I think about shopping and what I truly need in order to have a life of happiness and fulfillment found in experiences, not things.

Another Undertaking: Project 333

Another day, another challenge. The latest in my end-of-the-year undertakings is Project 333. Project 333 challenges you to dress with 33 articles of clothing and accessories for three months, packing the rest away and out of sight. In this time frame, you also cannot buy any new clothing or accessories, so what you have is what you have.

That said, there are exceptions to 333. For instance, undergarments, socks, sentimental jewelry that you always wear, and in-home lounge and sleepwear are not included in the count. But things like belts, bags, and shoes are.

Last night, I went through my closet, pulling out everything I wanted to wear for the next three months, focusing on sweaters and warm clothing and leaving the dresses for the far-off days of spring. While I was choosing, I was not counting my selections. That would come at the end. I just chose, one item at a time, and laid them out on my bed. When I counted everything, my selections came to 34. Not bad, considering I was just going on feeling. But one item had to go. Looking over my pile, it was easy to make my selection and I decided to purge the baseball baseball hat sitting on top of the pile.. After all, I had only kept it out to wear when I travel to Hong Kong next week. Otherwise, Korea is far too cold now to be wearing a baseball hat outside. 

My final selections, not including my winter coat, hat, and gloves

I looked over my final selections. Sweaters, two button-up shirts, a cardigan,  two dresses, five pairs of pants, a pair of leggings, two bags, a winter coat, hats, gloves, and two scarves. Not bad. Definitely a workable wardrobe. No crazy patterns that would be hard to match. Just simple colors: muted pinks and reds, a smattering of earth tones, and black and grey. What more could I possibly need in the winter? 

So I went to work, folding and packing the rest of my clothing into two small cardboard boxes. They were the largest ones I could find outside of E-mart, but still small. When the boxes were packed, I tucked them out of sight along with the shoes that did not make the cut. Packing my things away gets easier every time I do it. Making decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of gets easier too, less emotional and more rational, the more I do it.

By constantly assessing my belongings and asking myself if they are adding value to my life or serving a deliberate purpose, I’ve become more comfortable with the truth that things hold no intrinsic value. Rather, possessions can add value to our lives, and that value changes over time. Something that adds value to our lives when we are thirteen may no longer add value at twenty-three. So why do we so desperately cling to things? I am still trying to find the answer, but I do not think the answer can be neatly tied up with a bow. Rather, there are a lot of factors, different for everyone, that play into our desire to accumulate things and never let them go.