Anything But Average* is an experiment that a friend and I began on April Fools’ Day. At the six-month mark, it’s time for an update. So I asked my friend how things were going. And what follows is her soul-baring response.
“I've been dreading the question. I have weeded out quite a bit, which feels good, and have kept mostly only those things whose hanger was turned in the right direction by the middle of summer. But I am a consumer, I'm afraid to say. I was keeping track for a while, and it adds up- a pair of socks today, a bathing suit, then a bathing suit cover up, then a sun hat, then, and then and then. Somewhere in mid summer I lost track. I spend easily on clothes- mostly wants, not needs. The worst feeling about all this is when I buy something that loses its luster almost immediately. For instance, I bought a pair of black flats about a week ago, wore them once and wanted to cut off my feet they hurt so much. I couldn't tell in a ten-minute try on that they would torture me. So, change is in my future- it's got to be a change of heart, an increasing awareness, and not just a contest. I am getting there, slowly.”
Her first sentence filled me with both regret and optimism. Regret for getting her involved in something that had caused her dread, and optimism that the project had encouraged change- on her terms. And that’s the way it should be. Keeping track of purchases wasn’t an end unto itself. It was a tool for increasing self-awareness and for altering behavior. And to those ends, it was a complete success for my friend.
What about the other participant- me? My confession comes with a good bit of dread too. I have dutifully logged every purchase- all seven of them, which includes one pair of socks. The other six items were a bit less trivial, but not much. I’m below average, which on this scale, means above average. But you’ll not find me strutting. In fact, my tail is tucked. I believed I would be better than average and you better believe I was going to prove it. I exhibited so many biases- confirmation, superiority, and social desirability- a psychologist could have a field day.
Without the pressure of the experiment there would have been more purchases. I have no idea how many, but probably not enough to move me from below average territory. I’ll never know because being a test subject changed my behavior. That’s one of the limitations of experiments, but I’m still glad we made our inquiry into stuff.
But we’re shutting down early, so this update is really a final report. The buy/don’t buy dilemma that I anticipated was real. I never once made an acquisition that I didn’t seriously consider whether the enjoyment of the potential purchase would exceed the dread of having to record said purchase. In the end, Anything But Average only confirmed what I already knew. I am a bonafide enoughist. Some people are consumers. Some are minimalists. I’m most comfortable with my version of enough. My strong tendency toward less doesn’t need to be reinforced. The little gray journal exerted powerful control. But I’m back in charge. I might celebrate with another pair of socks!
* For background see Anything But Average (April 14, 2017)