During a recent hangout with friends, one told me her goal for 2023 was to forgo buying things. She didn’t call it a resolution, but the intention sounded similar. A full year without spending money on “stuff.”
My friend realized she’d been making purchases as a coping mechanism, something I found quite relatable. Ever the reporter, I started asking questions.
Necessities don’t count, she explained. Think food, medication, personal care products, etc. Furthermore, she isn’t trying to deprive herself of pleasure. To that end, she’s still going to buy services. You know, get manicures, book massages, see her hairdresser, go to restaurants.
“Can you accept gifts?”
“Heck yes! My birthday is next month,” she said, wryly.
I liked her reasonable take on consuming less. I’ve always found it pretentious and annoying when people get pedantic about their resolutions. I mean, it’s great to, say, commit to a diet of wholly organic food. But it’s another thing to then dine out and interrogate the server about the origin of every single ingredient in an entrée—allergies and medical conditions excepted.
Coincidentally, I’ve been re-evaluating my relationship with spending for quite some time. Like my friend—post-pandemic, anyway—I, too, turned to material consumption as a coping mechanism. Big time.
Indeed, one dopamine hit at a time, I filled my house. I started by swapping out my modern living room and bedroom furniture for vintage pieces. That was fine, but then I began bringing home loads of knickknacks, mainly décor, from local antique, thrift and consignment stores. Where I really went off the rails was when I started making online purchases.
For the longest time, I didn’t understand why I was overconsuming. Eventually, I realized it was grief.
My grandmother died of natural causes in 2015, but the coronavirus is what carried my grandfather to his grave at the end of 2020, just a few weeks before the vaccine was introduced to old folks’ homes, like the one he lived in.
After that, my spending went into overdrive. By day, I’d scour store shelves for treasures. Then at night, I’d scroll through various online sales listings. Sometimes for hours at a time.
Turns out “grief shopping” is a thing, but mine had a twist. Subconsciously I was collecting many of the things my grandparents had owned, items I didn’t even remember until someone mentioned them or I saw photographs of their house.
Recently, for example, my mom sent me a picture of their fireplace mantle. She’d taken the photo right before the estate sale she set up when my grandfather decided to move to an assisted-living facility. Sitting there was a very specific type of vase, the same kind I now collect. She said it caught her eye only because I now own a few dozen of them.
I can only assume that a memory of that vase was buried in the recesses of my mind.
Interestingly, having figured out the genesis of my purchases has helped me cull the urge to splurge. As a matter of fact, nowadays I’m actually paring things down to my favorite collections. I’ll add to them here and there, but I’m no longer addicted to the hunt. With spring around the corner, that feels refreshing, healing even.
I’m not going to beat myself up over the money I’ve spent, because I can think of a lot worse ways to cope with grief than being surrounded by pretty things that make me feel closer to people I’ve loved and lost. Plus, if Grandma and Grandpa could see my house, they’d be thrilled.
Melissa Daugherty is editor-at-large for the Chico News & Review