Monday, January 25, 2016

On Pretty Notebooks, Aspirational Consuming, Etc.

Things got a little crazy at work recently. I might even confess to shedding a momentary tear or two on one of those evenings, purely from being overwhelmed with six active projects going forward all at once. I must admit, given the nature of my workplace and what I signed up for, it'd be more of a surprise if things weren't crazy on any given day or week. As a very new first-year biglaw law clerk though, this was my first brush with how hectic things can get.

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Stress is one of my shopping triggers, but I'm still on track with my month's shopping budget. That coat I bought (seen here) will likely be my only fashion purchase this month. I did, however, give in to another one of my long-dormant shopping vices, a fondness for nice stationery, by buying the pictured notebooks from Rifle Paper Co. in a bid to be better-organized and better-equipped to handle the next crazy period. It wasn't completely silly. My system of using different company-issued legal pads for every project starts to fall apart when I'm fielding surprise phone calls and tasks on many things at once. Half my notes are in their rightful place while the other ends up split between post-it notes or the mini legal pad I keep by the phone. Combine that with my stream-of-consciousness compulsive note-taking style, where the important details are often buried in random places in the middle of a two to three page sea of for-my-own-information but not-that-important context, and things were messy. I'm using these notebooks to keep track of essential details: my daily to-do list and concise details about assignments, and it's working out so far.

That got me thinking about how I'm no stranger to shopping as a way of aspirational consuming, to try and buy my way to being some shinier or better version of myself. With clothing and shoes, the desire was often to look like and eventually be like someone who fit in with classmates or successful NYC professional women. With the steady stream of blank notebooks and journals I used to buy, the desire was to be this vision of a writerly person sitting and looking cool in this or that coffee-shop or cafe, writing thoughtful things in a pretty notebook that fit the aesthetic of a hip, creative person. Never mind that I've never really lived in a neighborhood (whether in California, NYC, or Hong Kong) where there were never any nearby coffee-shops that ever had free seating. Also, I get antsy when working anywhere but home, so coffee-shops and libraries have never been productive settings for me. Finally, I've never actually stuck with journaling for any extended period of time.

Part of the general process of decluttering and working towards an almost-minimalism that works for me (I continue to be reluctant to call myself an actual minimalist because I'm so focused on saving money as my primary motive) has been to question my consumption habits and try to limit myself to buying only what I actually use and is actually a "need" or a well thought out "want." To that end, I think I've been good about cutting down or out many spending categories that I used to deem natural or necessary but weren't: home decor and knick-knacks, most types of makeup because I don't particularly enjoy it, all those blank journals, hard-copy planners because that's what Google Calendar is for, and so on. This brief return to buying pretty notebooks is just a blip. It wasn't the most frugal way of addressing this particular need, but it was a "real" need.

Have you ever looked back and realized that certain things that you habitually shopped for weren't actually things you used or needed? Have you been able to stop buying those items? (And did it make any noticeable dent in your spending?) I generally spend less month-to-month in most of my discretionary categories now than I did as a student, though with my rent and student loan payments, my total monthly spending is higher. 

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