Monday, November 9, 2009

Mindful of Things

It's amazing how shame rears its head unexpectedly, over something as simple as shoes.

One morning when it was raining, I wore rubber flip-flops out of the house, then once at my destination replaced them with the new leather sandals I'd coveted for months before finally buying on sale.  It wasn't something I usually did, wear shoes I loved in the rain. In the past I'd have kept them boxed up until another appropriate but dry occasion, missing the opportunity to enjoy them now. This was growth for me.

But when a girlfriend noticed me switch out of the sandals and back into the flip-flops as I headed into the rain again, I felt an uncontrollable need to blurt, "Don't mind me. I'm just fussy." One step forward and another back. I was a child again, ridiculing myself before anyone else on the playground did.

It took me a while to understand where that had come from, my shame for wanting to protect something I treasured. I wasn't being fussy; I was being careful. Somewhere during my lifetime, though, I had unconsciously accepted the myth that consumption is cool and preservation is for fussy people. In our consumerism society, if something isn't shiny anymore--never mind if it still works fine--it gets tossed or gifted to somebody else. Or, if you're like me, donated to charity to assuage my guilt.

No wonder debt and dumps are growing. According to authors Helen Spiegelman and Bill Sheehan, Ph.D.*, New York City garbage collectors picked up more than 1,200 pounds of waste per resident per year a century ago. Three-quarters of it was coal ashes, 15 percent was garbage, and eight percent was what we now call "product waste", items ranging from paper to old mattresses. Today New York collects more than 1,600 pounds of waste per resident, but product waste is a whopping three-quarters of that.

Since we tend to preserve and keep what we care about, I wonder what that says about what we mostly buy? I know for me in the past I too often bought things to follow a trend, copy someone else's style, or fill a space in my home I didn't know what else to do with. All were eventually purged.

Then, last year, I bought a pair of shoes I didn't love just to work with a handbag I did. Within weeks I regretted the purchase, but I couldn't return what I'd worn. For some reason, that acquisition bothered me more than any had in the past, and I couldn't understand why. It wasn't that the shoes had cost much; they were inexpensive. So what was the problem? After all, I'd done this before.

And that's when it dawned on me: I wasn't the person I was before. I knew better. My transgression? I wasn't mindful.

For me, mindfulness means being consciously aware of everything I do and my motives behind it. But as I handed the saleswoman my credit card that day, I was totally oblivious that my motive was impatience. I didn't want to wait to find shoes I loved; I wanted to use the handbag now. Yes, yes, I know I don't have to match shoes to my bag, but this particular pewter metallic tote screamed for gray shoes or sandals (in my non-fashionista opinion).

Since then, whenever I consider buying a non-necessity, I try to remember to ask myself what my motive is. If my answer is that I love it, or at least really like it, and it's in my budget, I buy it. (Of course, my husband thinks the only acceptable motive should be to need it, but that's a whole different topic.)

Being mindful about what I buy also means taking the time to recognize the quality, significance, or magnitude of a thing. It means honoring the fact that someone took the care to create this object. On some level, it meant something to them. It expresses their inspired essence. So I'm trying to change my attitude about those gray shoes. After all, someone thought they were beautiful enough to create them for me. I want to be respectful of that.

I hope someone else would do the same for what I create for them.

*Products, Waste, And The End Of The Throwaway Society, by Helen Spiegelman and Bill Sheehan, Ph.D. "The Networker",

QUESTION: How are you or are you not mindful of the things you possess and why?

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