It's been almost a year and a half since I strolled around Winners and Homesense, hit the checkout on Amazon, and cut the Costco membership card up. This little blog post is some thoughts on how that went; just another step that felt small at first and ended up being a bit of a bigger achievement in my own journey that I only just started noticing. The freedom feels pretty good, and I'm excited to tell ya all about it!
Why it happened
Okay, I know there was a pandemic and a couple of pretty long-ish lockdowns in Ontario. We didn't exactly head out shopping the usual way, that's for sure. It certainly made it easy to cut the cord initially, thankfully!
So, after jumping into conscious consumerism a little while ago, I sort of really enjoyed the feeling of lightness and joy that was beginning to fill up my home. There's no real hard and fast data that I can find (I did my best to see if there's any research out there showing this consumer psych principal, because I find it to be so real in my experience), but I was finding that the things that were part of my home that had really positive emotions associated with it, really filled it with... light. Plants, furniture, pottery and art from little small business women just sort of emanated this happiness compared to the random pretty objects that used to sit there. Things from women that really are hustling at their passion, things that had lived a few decades in someone else's life (which feels like a bunch of soul) in my thrifted treasures, and nothing that I was keeping or holding onto out of guilt because I spent the money, or someone had handed it down to me. A bowl of eggs from a friend in my fridge, the random rocks my sons pick up everywhere we go for a walk, little brushes or cleaning products that were made of natural fibres with a lighter impact over colourful, cheap and branded plastics. As a solid enneagram 1, my physical environment matters so much to my sense of calm, and these things were just humming with it. I finally felt like things were gettin' Kon Mari in my house - the "spark joy" thing really had a lot to do with knowing where these things came from in my own experience.
The further down the sustainability path I went, and the more I focused on my minimalism journey (which has been so life saving after having kids and starting a business and a bunch of life changes, truly), the more I realized I was wasting so much money on stuff that I really didn't even want or brought me any happiness. After donating and decluttering or selling clothing or home goods, I tried to do that step the simplifying experts are always recommending on their podcasts and blogs - the reflection. The hardest, worst part, but probably the most important part. With decluttering, you might just be organizing and repeating the pattern of removing items from your life forever and ever if you never address the first part - the consumerism and the emotions and the why and all the deep work that is really easy to just ignore. So I tried to reflect on how that thing entered my life and whether it was really worth it, and what kind of negative patterns we repeat as consumers and people just living life. I started listening to the Optimal Living Daily podcast in the mornings and it helped me continue thinking about these things. And after like maybe 10 years of working on this, haha, I finally started to get a few things!
Here's what I noticed:
1. Almost everything I was getting rid of was an impulse buy
2. Almost all of it was on sale, so I justified buying it even though I didn't really love it, need it, or want it long term
3. Almost all of it was bought in person, so I had to make a faster decision in a couple of minutes
4. The things didn't fit my values in life
So I had to address this stuff. And where did I do that? Costco, Amazon, Winners and Home Sense.
Turning the Default Settings off
When we have a "go-to" where we spend our money, there's usually a reason. The membership thing was a pretty solid reason. Free shipping or a savings on my granola bars made me forget that I was paying the membership, but the membership made me turn the default setting on in the first place. Costco became the go-to place where I would buy really specific things, like my granola bars and noodles. Amazon would be the "Google" of my quick shopping needs. Free shipping made me forget that I could have easily looked up the business that was selling on Amazon and letting them get their full profit instead of paying out a portion to a billionaire. Free shipping made me think that I might as well check out my carts over and over as I needed things instead of meeting a minimum or waiting a day or so and realizing I didn't even need that thing (which holy, checking out a bunch of times for individual items - does that ever add up to a mega carbon footprint of shipping each thing in little individual boxes instead of one box from a closer small business). Boxes showed up and we forgot what was in them until we opened them. I stopped looking at prices at Costco and put things in my cart without thinking, without realizing I probably wouldn't be buying that expensive of a granola bar if I wasn't at Costco, even with the savings. I was their perfect consumer. I was not in control of my purchasing anymore.
Winners + Home Sense: you never find what you go in for, right?
Right. I loved and hated that about those two wonderful stores! I loved having the thing that was "a good find" that people always thought was awesome/cute/special, but then I hated when I couldn't get the specific thing that I saw someone else had. It is actually almost embarrassing to write that now, it's so lame! I was so exactly the exact customer they wanted - I wandered around in there just trying to find something to spend money on, something "perfect" for my home or to wear, and never keep it long term because I would just keep coming back to find that feeling again right after it wore off. It was "self care." I would take a hot drink with me, and from the number of empty Starbucks cups on those shelves, I am not the only person in that boat, just trying to "fill their cup" with shopping there without realizing we are just adding more things to take care of inside our lives. And the worst thing about all of this was, I would walk in looking for sheets, or a little rug, or a plant pot. I would leave without that thing (because they wouldn't have that thing in whatever colour/style I needed, that's not how that place works) that I went in for and yet I would still spend the money and still need to go back later or to another store. I wasted money over and over, and I couldn't even tell you all of the things I've sold or passed along from that store.
The reality wasn't awesome to stomach. I wasn't actually saving any money. I wasn't living my values. I wasn't in control and I wasn't happy with any of it. And it had gone on for years, a decade. That's hard to bite into.
My hubs and I would "make a day" of going to Kingston for our Costco run. It was always a day off we had together. If you're not familiar with where we are located, we have to drive over an hour to get to Costco, which might seem nuts, but you wouldn't believe how many people do this to access the Kingston Costco - people from our area all the way through all the little rural towns, as far as Belleville (and probably beyond). It was the same in Lindsay - driving 40 minutes for deals that still cost us that time and gas. We drive so far. We pay our $120 (or more) membership. Then, we would need to go out for lunch - which is fun, right? But, in our case, it was always covered with this tension. The tension of just dropping $400-$500 at Costco, and then fretting about the unnecessary expense of the meal afterward in the context of that, and all the time we spent, and how tired we were when we got home that we didn't even want to deal with all the crap. Not once did I ever feel happy that I spent my day doing that. The Costco thing really added up to not be worth it at all.
In our home, we usually spend around $200 on groceries per week with our family of 4. But somehow, that $400-500 shop at Costco could never last for 2 weeks, and we still had to hit another grocery store to get a lot of our produce and milk products, because we couldn't manage to eat through the Costco size portions of those things and they wound up as waste. Groceries for about 2 weeks were basically doubled with this model, let alone the drive and the time and the stress. Not once did we completely stick to a list at Costco as a couple in the store, except for a stint when I would only spend cash out of a budget that I was testing out because I really felt like our food spending was out of control (which I think is about the only way that I could shop at that store and keep it in control!).
We spent far more money and time on Costco than without it. We spent far more money at Amazon, because we weren't even thinking about it. And I myself spent so much at Winners and Home Sense than I ever, ever got the value out of. It was not the reality that I was telling myself it was. At all. It was the dream reality of those corporations - the unconscious consumer. I was so asleep and I was so miserable and I didn't even make the connection.
Plus, if we scale it back from my own experiences with spending, none of these places put anything back into our local economies at all other than the minimum wage jobs they create. They smush other small business jobs, create a bigger carbon footprint, and the money flows back to non-Canadian sources with no real transparency to a lot of their products that I couldn't close my eyes to any longer. These big companies have the means to make changes with their packaging and products, and yet, they don't. And none of that is okay in my bottom line anymore. It had to end. So many break-ups at once!
Changing it: the challenge
So, I have to say, I miss the noodles from Costco. And, my in-laws have gotten us packs of the black Kirkland t-shirts for my husband, because he just prefers them. My hubs is also still a pretty avid Amazon shopper, but luckily one of his best buddies recently pointed out how he was auto-defaulting to Amazon when he could have been buying it so much more easily from a local shop and a family friend. It's one of those things that isn't perfect and that's okay - it's all a journey, and I get that it isn't easy or accessible for everybody to hope off those trains and to do it perfectly. That's not the point. And I hope no one reading this far takes that as where we need to go with this!
To stop with Winners and Home Sense was a little easier for me, because I really had started to move away from those shops anyway. In order to afford better clothing sources that lasted long term, I couldn't just be wandering around grabbing whatever I thought was cute or looked "okay enough" for the price. Stuff had to make sense and I had to have a bit of a plan for what I was going to buy. I found I didn't actually want to spend my alone time away from my kids and family doing that at all. I wanted to see my old friends, wanted to go for a run or exercise, I wanted to do anything other than be in a mall or shopping area that gave me the mild anxiety of having to make so many decisions and feeling the pressure of deciding right then, because stuff at Winners is never there on your next trip, right!? Suddenly I could afford those better quality items if I wasn't shopping for stuff I didn't need. I had money to put into savings much more frequently. I had more time. I used my free time better. I used to go with friends to these stores as an outing together, but I never actually spent any time talking to my friends when we were there. So now, we eat and have a drink together and talk and actually talk about the real stuff, instead of how cute some random pillow is. And I would never want that to change back, ever.
I found creating a rule for myself that any online purchase needed to sit in a cart for at least a week really helped a lot with stopping any kind of impulse online purchase. We started talking about what we were buying and then could do the check out together, too. There is almost nothing that we need that quickly that we can't wait for a week online. The rush of whatever interest exists in initially finding something when shopping was something that came up as a problem in my decluttering phase reflections, and this rule really helped with addressing some of it. I realized I didn't need to own everything I liked, or every toy or educational idea that popped up on social media or Pinterest or whatever, right away, or maybe even at all. I started only buying things I was absolutely sure of. It helped me release and remove the stuff that I either thought was just interesting at first glance, or maybe I realized it didn't have an important feature I needed, or I had enough time to identify something I already had that could creatively work to solve the problem I was trying to solve with buying something new. The only thing that ever remained in an Amazon cart for over a week that I couldn't find elsewhere was a set of Kumon workbooks for my son that we had a previous set of and really loved. In a year and a half, that was completely it.
With this new rule, I realized that a had a lot of feelings wound up in whatever I was adding to my cart, and it made me crunch down on dealing with some stuff by waiting and noticing it. My feelings of not having enough for my kids to do during the pandemic showed up as a $100 marble run set; feelings that I wasn't good enough after whatever cruddy social situation showed up as a really expensive shirt that doesn't fit my style or life at all; feelings that I don't do enough Pinterest-y family tradition stuff that might have felt essential for my kids showed up as full sets of family Christmas PJs; feelings that I was an old mom that didn't do anything fun or interesting like my pre-mom self did showed up as a band t-shirt or a lounge set of trackers and a sweater. If I had of acted on impulse on all of those things, I wouldn't have all of that cash (and this is just a little handful, it's been a hell of a year!) and the feelings would have still been exactly what they were: feelings.
So, here's what I found in my *own personal* journey away from these shops:
1. Definitely far more money. Money that I can now invest in things that actually fit the life that I want to live, putting me fully in control.
2. Definitely a lot more joy in the items that I do own.
3. No more feelings of "what is even in this box... this is a problem" on mail day. No more buyer's remorse, fretting on how to return online items or items from an hour away, no more selling or donating or passing along of so much stuff that used to represent our time and money.
4. Far better carbon footprint and social impact. These elements made Christmas feel freaking awesome, instead of the guilt and dread that clouds over the crazy overconsumption hangover that used to tag along.
5. I love driving past these shops and seeing how busy they are, knowing that I don't have to deal with that.
6. Never having to explain why I don't want to "up" my membership at Costco, haha!
1. I definitely feel like a weirdo and do not talk about this with family and friends. I don't want them to ask me why and then have to explain all of this; I don't feel quite like I know how to have these conversations in person. As I get older I feel fine being a weirdo if it brings me peace, but I don't like making others that I love feel weird or badly about what they're doing, that's for sure. I did make a comment on a Facebook mom group back before an Amazon Prime Day, when someone asked about what deals people were going for (I said something mild about local businesses and price matching) and I immediately regretted it and felt like such a ding dong, despite lots of people saying "hey, thanks for saying that!" I'm not quite there yet, I always regret those types of conversations later on.
2. Some things take more research and looking... but in a way, sometimes it helps me realize that I don't actually need that thing or find an interesting new local place to go on an adventure to.
3. Worries that I don't have "enough stuff" for my kids - which is completely a privileged problem, I know! It is hard to find that balance that I'm really hoping for - that they want for nothing, but are not spoiled (a great line from a Celeste Ng book that I keep coming back to) - because you know, mom guilt, and mom overthinking always comes out to make us second-guess everything!
4. Some lost savings on specific items (separate from membership fees and travel/time costs), like those granola bars I mentioned. The weird thing is though... I haven't actually needed to buy those granola bars anyway, so I'm probably going to keep heading down this path!
So, what do you think? Where's my next adventure to? Leave me a comment... or let me know your takeaways, or share it with a friend! Thanks for following along in my personal journey, friend - I hope it sparked a bit of inspiration and had some value for you today!