16 April 2006

Consumption

The first email I opened yesterday was from Knitpicks: “Sock Yarn Closeout!” It was dangerous territory. Luckily, I’d run across this message before and had already experienced a first drool over Lone Knitter’s stash acquisitions. I thought I’d beaten the “buy yarn now” monster, but there was still a battle to be fought.

I’ve been on a yarn diet since 27 December, not that I’m counting or anything. I’d really like to make it until Rhinebeck and then I’d like to make it until I actually work through my stash. Basically, that means I get to shop at Rhinebeck and then never again, considering how big the stash is and how long it will take me to get through it.

But sock yarn… on closeout… from Knitpicks… Really, could I resist? It’s so cheap. And I really enjoyed knitting those socks.

But you have sock yarn still waiting to be knit up. And it’s for your mother at that. C’mon, there’s got to be some pressure to knit for mom before you knit for yourself.

But I could just put this aside as inspiration. It’ll be summer soon and I’ll need small projects.

You have an apartment full of small projects perfect for summer. And, um, a diss to write…

But the colors… oooooh, pretty.

But you’ll buy enough to get the free shipping. Do you honestly need $40 worth of socks?

But I’m buying not just the product, but the process, the experience of knitting.

You’ve got a lifetime of experience just waiting for you in the stash.

But…. pretty.

Are you honestly going to break the yarn diet for clearance sock yarn?

Oh, good point. If I’m going to blow it, I want to blow it on something big, something amazing, something worth announcing on the blog. Socks are great, but yeah, not worth it. Delete this email now. (Granted, the above reasoning process took hours. I really have very little self-restraint.)

So there’s a justification for blogging, saved me $40 this weekend.

I spend a good deal of time and energy thinking about stuff, things, shopping, acquiring, owning, and consumption. My diss is about this obsession. My apartment is evidence of my obsession. (It really is true that academic studies are autobiographical even when it doesn’t seem that they are… all a bunch of navel-gazing.) The yarn diet is only one way that I try to monitor my consumption. So far, it’s actually been a rather successful enterprise. I never kept track of how much I used to spend on yarn, but the fact that I haven’t made any purchases must be helping that checkbook balance. It’s also been helping my crafty-guilt. I used to “shop” the blogs for great ideas and then feel guilty because I wasn’t producing as many sweaters as this person or didn’t have the nice yarn this other person displayed. I’d buy the yarn, but never get to the project, so I was guilty for wasting money and guilty for not getting the darn project done. Now, since I know I can’t buy yarn for new projects, I can appreciate what others do and simply put my own head back into the projects and stash that I have going, knowing that there will always be great yarns and ideas out there later, when the stash is reduced and the bank account increased.

I’ve made a few other consumption changes in the recent past. I used to be a rummage sale junkie. Every Saturday morning, I’d grab my coffee and check off the list that I made the night before. I never spent a ton of money, but I’d always come home with loads of “treasures.” When I started feeling a bit cramped in my living space, I started thinking that perhaps it would be a better use of my Saturday morning to stay home and actually enjoy my possessions rather than acquiring more. Maybe I should crack open that vintage craft kit and enjoy the warm morning on my back porch instead of fighting with the masses for another pair of jeans for a quarter.

Come spring, a young girl’s thoughts turn to rummage sales, or they used to. Last year I only went to one sale here in Buffalo, one that caught my eye on the way to work. I did find some pretty great stuff, but all day I felt like I’d fallen off the wagon. I couldn’t really enjoy the purchases because I felt icky about buying things that I just didn’t need. In fact, in buying yarn and fabric, I’d actually just managed to put more things on my “to do” list. Buying is never just buying when it’s craft supplies or furniture to re-do or clothing that needs to be altered.

In my research I argue that things are never just things. Every inanimate object comes with a complex web of history, allusions, economic realities, and future demands. At the very least, you have to dust it. Or you should.

So while this may not be knitting per se, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how and why we modify our relationship to things and how that relates to how and why we modify our lives in the immaterial sense. I think I decided to stop buying yarn because I have more than I’ll ever use and I felt rather guilty that I was wasting money on things I just didn’t need. I enjoyed the rush of all those new skeins, but I wasn’t feeling the rush of finishing projects, just guilt that there were more projects on the list. It’s been interesting to go through the process of resisting my old patterns of stopping by the yarn store to get one little thing and walking out with a bag of goodies. JoAnn’s is no longer a browsing experience. I’m there to buy the one thing I plan to use my coupon on and that’s it. I’m not sure if this is really happening or if it just feels like it’s happening, but the crafty room is actually cleaner than it was. I can see the floor at least.

I read an article recently about a woman who gave up shopping for 12 days. She, in turn, was reading a book about an academic couple who gave up all luxury consumption for their sabbatical year. While the project sounds a bit Jane Thompkins-esque, it’s an interesting idea to set up a modification of one’s spending habits just to see how consumption really affects life. I’ll be honest, I like to shop. I like pretty things. I don’t plan to become an ascetic any time soon, but I’ve been thinking about something small that I can do for a month to increase my own understanding of things. It may not really help the diss, but perhaps it will increase my own conception of the interface between people and things.

So, here’s the experiment… for one month, I’m going to document my spending habits. I know, how thrilling, right? But hey, it’s kinda like watching miles of stockinette grow, which is the other blogging option at the moment. I expect to see that I spend more than I think I do on the little things… a Starbucks trip here and an item not on my Target list there. I also expect that I’m going to be a little more resistant about buying those things if I’ve got to fess up for all the world to see. I don’t plan to consciously resist consuming, just be more conscious about it. I know that I’ll be doing a Toronto shopping day during this time period so that will give the credit cards a small workout. I also know that I tend to splurge during transition times and the end of the semester/beginning of summer will hit right in the middle of this experiment. (Thank goodness!)

What will I spend money on between 16 April and 16 May? Oh wait, that’s my brother’s birthday… better go start my shopping…

3 comments:

Emma said...

Wow, really great post. Very interesting musings on the nature of consumptionism and very brave of you to admit your own shopping-issues and the resulting feelings of guilt and anxiety. I'm sure your dissertation will be fascinating.

krisknits2 said...

Hmmm, it really gets me thinking, especially as I have been spending more than I should on yarn lately. Good food for thought

Lone Knitter said...

Leslie, you know what? I've been feeling your same vibe here. I saw this one episode of Oprah in which this couple (maybe the same couple you mentioned?) gave up shopping for one year. It made me think about my spending habits, and then I swore off buying yarn and anything else I really don't need. I admire your will power in resisting the KnitPicks sale! I gave in...I bought more. Terrible of me. I think I'm going to track my spending habits too. I have no idea really how much I spend.