Saturday, March 20, 2010

Update: Grand Social Experiment

The Peevies embarked upon a Grand Social Experiment (GSE) back in January, in which we pledged to Not Buy Stuff for One Year. Here's what I've noticed:

I spend less time arguing and debating with my kids about whether or not I will take them to Game Stop or Target or the Mall or Barnes and Noble or Chico's. In fact, I spend zero time arguing about these things, and that last one--well, that's me not arguing with myself about going there.

When we're in Target--to pick up a birthday gift for a friend, or paper towels, or bath soap--I don't have kids nagging me to buy them clothes, games, accessories, Pokemon cards, baseball cards, and sports equipment. We buy what we came for, and we leave without spending money on things we don't really need.

However, when I'm in Target alone, I still find myself wandering down the candle and candle accessory aisle, coveting a box of tea lights or an ocean-breeze-scented pillar candle. I think about my living room wall, still decorated with the Christmasy holly and berry wreath, and I yearn for a spring-themed wreath to take its place. I love bringing home a cute new top for M. Peevie, or a sports-themed t-shirt for the boys, just because. But a pledge is a pledge.

I have allowed myself the sweet luxury of buying fresh flowers at Trader Joe's to brighten up the house. I rationalize it with the assertion that I'm not really buying "stuff" I don't need, stuff which clutters my house and fills boxes and which will eventually end up in a landfill. They're organic! I'm helping the Earth, not hurting it. And in a week or two, when I throw them out, my house will be no more cluttered than it was before.

The hardest part of our Experiment for Mr. Peevie is not buying spontaneous little gifts for the kids, like books and music; and the rare book or CD for himself.

C. Peevie does not seem to struggle much with the boundaries of the GSE, probably because he's more interested in buying food than stuff, and food is not off-limits. If we did a social experiment that involved not eating fast food, or not eating out--that would prove to be a challenge for him.

When we entered the challenge, he had been saving for an electronic game system, and he resigned himself to not being able to buy it for another whole year. Within a month of starting the experiment, he decided he didn't really want it after all--which is kind of a beautiful thing.

A. Peevie, who was the first young Peevie to get on board with the program, asserts that it's not too difficult for him to not buy stuff--but he has had several short periods of covetous despair over certain DS games.

M. Peevie has focused all of her stuff-buying energy on pursuing the purchase of a big-girl desk for her room. She has been coping with a small plastic toddler desk, but has recently mounted a campaign to graduate to a student-size desk. She asked if the desk was included in the purchasing moratorium, and I told her no, because buying a desk is not a clutter issue or an impulse purchase, but an anticipated step in her growing up and exchanging her toddler-sized accessories for surroundings that suit her school-age size.

A few days later she said to me, "Mom, I'm going on strike."

"Really," I said. "What does that mean?"

"It means I'm not going to do any more of my chores until I get a bigger desk," she said.

"I think you need to get a job so you can buy yourself a desk," I said, trying to get rid of her while I watched 24.

She poked her head back in my room briefly. "Mom, come see me at the commercial," she said. "I have a job idea." When I checked on her a few minutes later, she told me she was going to get a paper route with her friend Jahaylia. We agreed that if she could earn and save enough money for half of the cost of the desk, that Mr. Peevie and I would crack open our own piggy bank and figure out how to pay for the other half.

She's already there. Time to smash the pig.

So far, the GSE has been effective at putting a stop to mindless consumerism and at reducing-- but not eliminating--our frequent urges to buy things just because we can and not because we need them. I drive past Chico's four times a day, and my head still turns involuntarily to register the colors and styles in the storefront windows. On the other hand, I went to the mall to exchange a Christmas present sweater for a new top to wear to the fancy dinner dance that weekend -- but I walked out empty-handed because nothing caught my eye.

I don't know what it all means. We're only two month into the GSE, and so far, it looks like I'm the one who is having the hardest time with it.


Steve said...

Blessings to all of you as you carry out this inspiring experiment! I think cutting down consumption is one of a handful of key things we need to do address the ecological crisis. What do you think?

E. Peevie said...

I guess it's all I can do--and that only just barely--to be concerned about the ecology and character ramifications of our consumption habits on a very micro level.

kathryn said...

What a wonderful idea....and it does sound like (for the most part) that it's working out well.

Kudos to daughter for earning her half of the desk!

We've also cut back quite a bit here...but it's more because the mall's now 45 mins away and I can't be bothered.