Spring calling! (A couple of thoughts on compassion, compulsion and guilt-free shopping)

Picture source: http://www.phillymag.com

Picture source: http://www.phillymag.com

Technically speaking, we still have one month of winter ahead (the proof is right outside my window) but my mind constantly turns towards spring (and my clothes wish-list on Pinterest totally confirms it!). Indeed, I have caught myself more than once idling around in web-shops, checking new collections and dreaming about warmer days… I admit that it isn’t a very productive way of spending time but this winter thing is really beginning to weigh down on me…

Anyway, March 1st is next Sunday, which brings me closer to today’s topic: spring shopping. I’ve been looking forward to it, choosing carefully (at least, trying to) the pieces I need to complete my look, “pinning” happily the items I like… when I came across this picture:

There’s actually a bag on my wish-list and seeing this picture instantly made me feel guilty for wanting to spend money on it: how can I even think about buying a handbag that costs more than some people earn in a month? Let me reassure you, I’m in no way aspiring to own a designer piece, the bag in question isn’t that expensive (I pay more for groceries in a week, which in itself, rises different questions, like why is food so expensive here, but let’s not digress…), but still, it suddenly felt wrong to spend any sum at all on such futile things…

Yet, after giving it a second thought, I’m still going to do my spring shopping, and try not to feel guilty about it, and here’s why.

To begin with, because the author of that picture wants exactly this: make me feel guilty. Guilt is a very powerful means of compulsion: it’s all your fault, now you pay! But is it really your fault? In more general terms, why do you have to feel guilty of others’ misfortunes if you didn’t cause them in the first place? You might feel confused, or angry, or ill at ease, as any conscientious person would, but guilty? The author of the picture wants me to feel that, by buying a new handbag, I’m stealing a several weeks’ worth of food from that woman, which is not true. The money I’m going to spend didn’t appear from the thin air, it was earned. Yes, we’re lucky to live in such a cool place where people are paid for their work more or less equitably but does it make us responsible for other people’s suffering? Is it immoral to spend money on “extras” like eating out or cinema while entire villages lack drinking water and electricity? Shouldn’t we rather content ourselves with a survival minimum and give the “excess” to our neighbour? Is it irresponsible to buy new things before the old ones fall to pieces?

As you see, one can ask a lot of questions and you’ve probably had enough for the moment, so I’m going to give you a couple of answers for a change.

I think that buying things for yourself is not a crime: as long as it’s your money, you decide how to spend it. Charity is a noble act and I encourage you to practice it but not out of guilt or because someone says you must do it. Do it because you have a kind heart and you feel like it and it’ll do you good. As to buying things that you don’t really really need but would be glad to have, this short check-list might help you take the right decision.

Before you put a non-essential item in your shopping cart, ask yourself:

How often shall I use it? – If the answer is every day or nearly, chances are, you do need it.

Will this bring any improvement? – If the object in question can improve your performance, save your time or protect your health, you should eventually buy it.

Do I already have enough of these? – If you do laundry once a week, having enough clothes to last you for up to two weeks is absolutely reasonable but filling your closet until you don’t remember what’s in it, might not be a good idea.

Does it correspond to my current lifestyle? – You might love pin heels but if you can’t even walk five steps in these shoes, have nothing to wear with them and never go out anyway, it’s probably not what you need just now.

Will it make me smile every time I use it? – All right, this one is really personal but it doesn’t make it less true. To give you an example: a couple of months ago I bought a mini-set of beautiful wooden knitting needles that I didn’t absolutely need (at the time I needed only one size and the set has three) and, besides the perceptible improvement of knitting speed (they’re very smooth and the stitches don’t get stuck), handling them is a real feast for my eyes and fingers (and I do use all the three sizes now that I have them). Paying for a thing that makes you happy just once isn’t worth it but buying something that keeps you happy totally is!

Now that you’re armed with all this wisdom, go and do your spring shopping and may it be a guilt-free pleasure!

P.S. It’s been a very long and “materialistic” post… But we humans are binary beings, having both a spiritual and a material sides, and it’s necessary to take care of both. Hope both of yours are doing well!