Dear imaginary reader.
Welcome back to another episode of setting the bar really low, blog post 2 on small moves.
Continuity…..My inaugural post started at zero. No: 2 will start between 0 and 1/8.
The milestone will be a fraction.
It will represent a crawl. Sometimes forward, sometimes backward. Hanging onto dear life in a circular fashion at times.
Yeah slow, tedious stuff eh.
(This toy is inverted, well, to serve this post appropriately)
Blog post 2 is also an experiment. Of capturing things as they arise, in a year, even if the pattern of events or behaviors is not sequential or linear, or easily explained. Because the picture is yet forming.
And as the pixels emerge, I am kinda letting it roll. Making this perhaps more a journal than a blog.
I have not journaled to date. I decided that in this year of inversions, I will begin here. And to start somewhere, I decided to pick a random point in time, November of 2016.
I also picked an occurrence to talk about. An intentional departure of sorts, a break from a behavior, just as it was becoming habitual.
Which brings me to experiment no: 1, at a time starting in November 2016, in a year of experiments where I am the lab rat.
Experiment no: 1 has to do with shopping.
Shopping had some meaning back then for me. And it still does, the absence of it does.
"Shopping and experiments eh. Ballsy. And perhaps despy housewives like.. NICE."
"Shhh. I am writing. Quiet please."
"This reader of one business. Really taking you places.
"Biggy the blog-- (LISTEN)
If I listened to you, I will never get out of bed. Forget write!
Now do you want me to write. Your very existence depends on it. "
Back to you reader…
In my last post, I talked about inversions. By inversions, I loosely mean inverting or reversing a pattern, a habit, behavior or a way of thinking.
In this post, I would like to talk about one such inversion. How I inverted myself to an anti-shopper, to not being a shopper of certain somethings. “Discretionary” items, the nice to have’s.
I am on a self-designed shopping ban for 2 years.
I started this in November 2016. I am 7 months into it.
The ban only applies to, nice-to-haves, such as clothes, handbags and shoes.
I am allowed replacements for things from wear and tear and items that cannot be substituted or re-purposed. Accessories are allowed objects.
Small moves for this caterpillar.
And yes dear reader, this shopping ban is not as radical as it sounds. So please yawn, stretch your legs, perhaps get a quick caffeine fix.
Only the closest of my friends know that this was a habit of certain significance for me.
I am competitive and I like to do most things well. And I did shopping well. And like any good Indian, I wore my bargains like a badge of honor.
I was the Queen Supreme of Value Hunting.
Progress report to date
I have had one infraction to date.
I am yet to make a replacement purchase.
(Truth be told, I can do a round in my closet comfortably for 2 years and not feel the pinch. Plenty of buffer here.)
I have spent under $150 in my last 6 months of travel on accessories. I spent this money on keep-sakes and gifts, and they fit in my carry-on.
Why discretionary shopping?
Discretionary shopping was the largest variable item on my ballooning budget. In places, it surpassed my fixed costs, like for housing, food. medical and transportation.
Yikes. How is that for a habit of excessive proportions!!
And like any excessive behavior, this kind of shopping was creating acute discomfort.
As an aside, I have guilt that is Catholic sized. The Pope would be proud of the sack of guilt I typically lug any given day.
So I decided to make guilt work for me.
Lean into it- you got that guilt?!!! The discomfort. All of it.
It was powerful stuff. Because, it created momentum.
For a working experiment.
Fast forward to now, the largest (variable) item in my income statement, under Expenses and Costs, wiped, down to an almost zero.
My credit cards are in anaphylactic shock.
I have survived, even thrived. No midnight cravings, no withdrawal symptoms, ungainly twitches.
And as for my closet, my closet’s anxiety is slowly subsiding.
I am a healthy cat but my closet is obese. It is of ungainly proportions. I have given it some time to breathe and adjust to its new living.
Acting on a behavior that was making me uncomfortable, ultimately yielded close to immediate comfort and relief, encouraging me to keep it going, making it sustainable.
And because this kind of shopping behavior was inconsistent, it was a weak muscle or a habit that could be interrupted more easily.
A hallmark of a good experiment, this, if I may say so myself, hehe.
Which brings me to my next point.
I will try not to sound like a self-help book here. On how I designed (for myself and myself only), a sustainable experiment that works.
(Thank you dear Astrid for putting the fear of God in me on about not sounding like a self-help book!)
Designing a sustainable experiment (including how you talk about it to yourself)*
* Design and much on narrative and story-telling is used intentionally to incorporate techniques from design and design thinking. Please refer to Sources at the very end for more clarification.
My shopping ban is an experiment, not a challenge..why was this important?
Because challenges make me chicken.
Challenges make me not want to show up. So I called it an experiment from the get go.
The vocabulary of my experiment was a harmless and unassuming, “Let’s see what happens”, “Could I”, “How might I”. And I used this vocabulary extensively until it became reflex, a pin in muscle memory.
It was important for me to loosen up first, so I could play, take a swing, show up.
I did not belabor this experiment with permanence either. That is a sure-fire solution for paralysis and non-starting, at least for me it is. Instead I framed it as, “Hmm.. let’s see how far I can take this thing.”
And it started. The yarn rolled. A curious cat played with it.
Effortless experimentation. Warming up with low-hanging fruit
(Effortless does not mean without effort. It is a particular semantic used in mind-body practices such as yoga to capture the mode of flow, and anti-striving)
In designing the ban, I went after low-hanging fruit first, the easy fat that could be shed. I also went after a variable and inconsistent impulse, a certain kind of shopping pattern. One that had still created a substantial amount of bloat and was worthwhile eliminating, with immediate impact.
I set up an experiment that felt more effortless so I might stay comfortably anti-striving. I had the buffer of an overflowing closet to support a workable experiment.
And to avoid putting my system into shock, I did not embark on a Marie Kondo type closet cleanse immediately. I did not feel mentally ready for a cleanse. Because, I was not yet sure what I was purging.
I needed some data points first. Yes, I did say data points. Nerd.
(I will disclaim that I have only read Chapter 1 of the incredible book by Marie Kondo- “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”. I took a lot away from the first chapter, so much so that I will be reserving time in the future to going back and re-reading the book in its entirety.)
I decided to address the pattern or the behavior underlying the closet-formation instead.
As of the time of writing this post, I have 10 pairs of identical looking black pants hanging in my closet, 5 of them unworn. And no, I am not feeling guilty about them (not yet at least).
Setting sustainable bounds
Experiments are best conducted within bounds. I introduced bounds on what the shopping ban covered. The ban addressed a dominant spending pattern within my life, but it did not put large chunks of my life and behaviors on hold. I allowed some room for play and ambiguity in case there was a change in circumstances.
I built-in slack so I did not feel shackled- I could buy accessories and gifts for instance. And since accessories were not a dominant buying pattern in the first place, I was tricking myself a bit here.
An infraction. Not a failure
Early on into all of this, I bought an awesome cotton sweatshirt for $25 at an equally awesome Thievery Corporation concert in NYC.
My sweatshirt says- Welcome to my spaceship.
What is there to not like about this!
Since purchase, the shirt has been worn at least 25 times over 2 months. At $1 per wear, it was worth every bit of coin spent, both in memories and value.
(Did you see how I talked myself into value- I do this stuff well!)
Here is a picture of me wearing this offending piece of clothing.
Why did I not beat myself up about it?
And how was it an infraction and not a failure, one that did not cascade into more infractions?
An experiment has in-built slack, for failure. Experiments can and do fail, all the time. I had thus, deliberately created context where failure was not only acceptable but a natural offshoot.
And because failure was acceptable, success became more probable, another inversion perhaps.
Although I had not intentioned thus when I started. And, this lab rat was not looking for success. This lab rat was looking for something that worked, that was sustainable and a process that did not kill the lab rat.
Shopping was a key link in my daisy chain. More on daisy chains and how this rippled into other things.
For this, I need to show up and write another post. How about that!
Thank you for reading.
Queen Supreme of Value Hunting &
Acting CEO of Small Things Incorporated
Thought Fuel: Sources and Acknowledgements
Original inspiration on habits, behaviors and patterns. The Power of Habit: Why we do What we do in Life and Business. Charles Duhigg (As of this time of writing, I am completing part 3 of this book)
Design thinking references. d.school bootcamp bootleg. Stanford Design School.
All through this post, design is used intentionally. Where ever I use design, I am riffing off techniques used commonly in design thinking. Designers set up experiments or prototypes to problem solve. And the language used by designers, “How might we” questions is intentionally used to seed ideation and facilitate brainstorming.
Soundtrack for this writing
Name of track. Album. Artist.
(If certain tracks put me in a flow of writing, I tend to repeat them over and over again- that is the reference to On a Loop. Check out Spotify link on the social media icons, if you want to see some of these playlists.)
Edison. SooL. Ellen Allien, Apparat (On a Loop)
Zauber. SooL. Ellen Allien, Apparat
Nices Wolkchen (feat Apparat). Amygdala. DJ Koze.
Xtal. Selected Ambient Works 85-92. Aphex Twin. (On a Loop)
Motherless Child. Projections. Romare
Abandon Window. Immunity. Jon Hopkins
Aquarium. Views/Octopus EP. Nosaj Thing
Shell of Light. Untrue. Burial
Ego. Balance 020. Burial. Four Tet. Thom Yorke (On a Loop)
To Do. Single. Mohna (Lorin Sylvester Strohm Remix). (On a Loop)
Further information & sourcing for Images:
(Yes, ironic that some of these images are from shopping related links. I am not making a sneaky move and advertising on you here. This in no way represents an endorsement of any kind.)
- Very Hungry Caterpillar Ring Rattle. Sold at numerous retailers.
- Bill Watterson and his magical illustrations of Calvin and Hobbes