At the beginning of 2021, I signed up for a Contentment Challenge with a podcaster I follow and made it my own, inviting friends to join. It is a 90 day challenge to resist frivolous purchases and do the hard, good work of unearthing simple satisfaction with what you have.
Though what people give up for the 90 days varies, for me it’s looks like saying no to material purchases: clothing, home items, jewelry, books, beauty and cosmetics. It’s also a hard pass on feel-good buys like coffee, plants, bakery treats, spa and nail treatments (opting for home manicures and massages from my guy). And it’s been about delaying hair appointments, workout classes, online subscriptions, and app and in-app purchases.
If that looks hard it’s because it is, y’all.
But here I am halfway through the 90 days feeling more satisfied with my “stuff” than I ever have before.
It turns out, constantly thinking about the next thing to buy for my home, or the sweater I want before it sells out, or the promotion at my favorite store, is exhausting. Truly. It takes up so much mental space. AND the room freed up in our budget has allowed us to pay off debt and put a sizable chunk of money in our savings account.
Sitting in my discontent at the beginning of the year was uncomfortable—a sad narrative about what “stuff” had come to mean; about the disordering of my loves through accumulation.
In the book You Are What You Love, author James K.A. Smith says, “Your deepest desire is the one manifested by your daily life and habits. This is because our action—our doing—bubbles up from our loves, which are habits we’ve acquired through the practices we’re immersed in. That means the formation of my loves and desires can be happening ‘under the hood’ of consciousness. I might be learning to love a telos that I’m not even aware of and that nonetheless governs my life in unconscious ways.”
These last 45 days, I’ve slowly and methodically pulled my loves off the shelf, gotten curious as to their purpose and what I believe about them, and then tucked them back on high for a little while longer.
While I process the things “under the hood” as Smith writes, I continue to learn things about myself:
I can walk through Target and just get what I came to buy.
I can skip the coffee shop run just after the grocery store run.
I can propagate the plant instead of buying a brand new one.
I can go 30 days without browsing my favorite clothing or home sites.
I can let the desires come without shame, and then let them fade away.
And here’s what I’ve done instead of purchasing:
I’ve borrowed and accepted used clothes from friends.
I’ve given clothing away.
I’ve made a home list of things that could be replaced/upgraded eventually.
I’ve used what I had at the time even if it wasn’t perfect.
I’ve given gifts, a thing that always brings joy.
I’ve accepted gifts, like flowers from a friend, coffee from my guy, or a Venmo from a friend who knew I was having a hard week.
What will I do when the contentment challenge is over on April 1st? Well, a pal and I have made plans for lunch and Madewell. And that, y’all, will be a satisfying day.