We’ve just survived another Black Friday, a day when Americans rush out to stores to start their holiday shopping and to score bargains. The most eager brave the cold and the dark in order to be first in line at the store and scoop up an item whose quantities are limited.
It’s not called Black Friday for nothing. The day can reveal some of the blackest aspects of our human nature. Footage of Black Friday shopping events used to be confined to the U.S. television networks, but, thanks to the Internet, viewers around the world can see video clips of women duking it out over towels on sale or men coming to blows over the last flat-screen TV on the shelf. In some cases, the size and density of the crowds means that shoppers–and employees–are putting their lives at risk for a very limited reward. It’s a sad and embarrassing state of affairs.
The Black Friday phenomenon is also thought-provoking. Does an addiction to a paycheck contribute to this Black Friday madness? What is it about paycheckaholism that feeds the bargain shopping frenzy? Perhaps there’s some common root for both the unbridled greed and consumerism of Black Friday and our society’s adoration of and addiction to the almighty paycheck. As a paycheckaholic, you may be working at a given job because you need to earn money to maintain a certain material lifestyle: a home, car, or other goods you want to maintain or even upgrade.
Sadly, we live in a world where the focus is too much on the acquisition of material goods as an end goal. It’s partly for that reason that we see such displays of aggression on Black Friday. We want to keep up with the Joneses and to do it as cheaply as possible.
True success and wealth, however, are not measured by the acquisition of more belongings. In fact, simplifying your lifestyle and decluttering your possessions is much more likely to bring more satisfaction and fulfillment than a cheap matching towel set or new 32” flat-panel TV.
This truth crystallized for me a couple of years ago, when I had the chance to step out of the rat race and take a sabbatical on a tiny island in the Caribbean. During that time, my husband and I lived in housing that was provided by his employer, a construction company that was involved in numerous projects on the island. The size of accommodation provided to an employee depended on his or her family size and, to some extent, rank in the organization. The furnishings and household goods in the accommodations were mostly leftover items from the various hotels that the construction company managed. As a result, all of the residences generally looked the same. In that sense, the experience was something like living in a hotel. I’d visit a friend three doors down and see that she had the same table or sofa. At the time, I didn’t much consider the impact of this uniformity on the mentality of the residents.
Not long after I returned to the U.S. from the island, I caught up on Skype with a friend whom I had met during my stay. My friend had also left the island and returned to Europe, where she works as a lawyer. I asked her how she was enjoying her repatriation. “Well, it’s funny,” she replied. “I’m feeling a little burdened. Now I have to deal with things like decorating and…curtains,” she lamented. “In some ways, it was easier on the island because everyone had the same thing.” I understood exactly what she meant. Since I returned from that island, I’ve often felt myself overwhelmed by my own material goods. I realize how much time I spend choosing, cleaning or caring for various belongings, from shoes to clothing to furniture.
Somehow, the simplicity of life that I experienced on that island is lacking in my big-city life. Cleaning and organizing my 1-bedroom apartment often seems overwhelming. I find myself wondering how much of my paycheck goes to purchasing or maintaining various material goods. To relieve myself of the burden of caring for so many garments and objects, I’ve begun to work on downsizing and scaling back my number of belongings. Every week, I set aside a couple of hours to work on this project. Following up on a tip I read recently, I’m trying a new approach, which is to sort by category, not by location. Seeing all 37 scarves in a pile makes it easier to see that I don’t need quite that many. Still, the going is slow. I tell myself that this is a process, that it’s not all or nothing. I’ve set myself a goal to work on a category a week: boots, shoes, coats, puzzles, towels, books. I’m aiming to get rid of about a third of my stuff within the next 3-6 months.
Another way to simplify is to avoid buying new things, especially items you don’t need. This isn’t what we see happening on Black Friday. Most people who are in the stores on Black Friday are not buying things they actually need. They’re buying things they want, and sometimes they’re buying an upgraded version of an item they already own. And they’re often buying items that depreciate in value, like electronics.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m an unabashed capitalist. I believe it that it’s good to own things that fulfill a need in your life. It’s even okay to own things that are just nice to have. Too many people, however, allow these things to define their identity. Reader, you are more than your possessions. Your identity can be anything you want, but you may need to cull through your junk to find out who you really are. This journey of self-discovery is well worth the apparent “loss” of some of the stuff you’ve accumulated over the years. Start a new Black Friday tradition where you GET RID OF ten or twenty items that you haven’t used at all in the past year. Sell them, donate them, recycle them, or just pitch them. The point is to declutter, and not for the sake of a cleaner home, but for a simpler lifestyle, one that gives you more freedom.
In my adult life, I’ve moved about every 2-3 years. Whenever I move and downsize, I find that the less I have, the less I need. As you downsize your material goods, you, too, may realize that you can manage quite well with less, and those Black Friday deals won’t seem so appealing anymore. And when you see that you don’t really need all of that stuff that you’ve been accumulating, your paycheck needs just might change, too, and it will be easier to take the leap into entrepreneurship.
Have you downsized? What has your experience been? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Image credit: Diariocritico de Venezuela