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This September, I’m Not Shopping.
It doesn’t matter how old I get, or how long I’ve been out of school, September still feels like the beginning of the year to me. Summer is filled with adventures and traveling and days of lounging in the sunshine or sitting on a deck, wherever I am, drinking lemonade with friends.
When September comes, it feels like time to hit the reset button, to get back in a rhythm, to start fresh and new.
For as long as I can remember, September has also involved shopping.
Shopping isn’t necessarily my favorite pastime, but the thing I loved about shopping in September is it felt like a fresh start to me. I would wander around the store, running my hands over the fabrics and peeking at the new school supplies and as I loaded them into my cart, I would think about what this new stuff was going to mean for me.
These new pens would help me be studious this year.
I would be so organized, thanks to me new notebooks.
I would be bold, like the new top I just bought, but also classic, like a good pair of jeans.
Something about the simple act of buying something new made me feel like I got to choose these things — like I got to choose how I was going to be. And even now, at thirty years old, there’s something about the simple act of buying something new that makes me feel ready for anything.
Do you know what I mean?
But this September, I’m not shopping.
Early this year my husband and I made a bold commitment not to buy anything new (only used) for a season. I was in the middle of writing my very first book, called Packing Light, which was a call to live with less stuff, and we were working to pay off school debt, and we just wanted to pay closer attention to our buying habits.
A commitment like this, we decided, would help us slow the consumer train we had hopped on (intentionally or not) and take a break.
We needed space and time to figure out if we wanted to go where it was taking us.
So we jumped right in, buying furniture for our new apartment from thrift stores as we could find it, looking on Craigslist when a phone broke, or we needed a new charger or appliance, and looking to second-hand stores for clothes.
The journey has been really eye-opening.
We started to see how easy it was to “need” something on a daily basis, and just drive down the road to Target to pick one up. But without being able to buy anything new, we had to really think through each one of those decisions.
We started to see how we didn’t “need” many of the things we thought we did; and as a happy benefit, our lives and closets seemed less cluttered and confusing.
Then, the other day, I bought a brand new dress.
My release party for Packing Light is coming up, and this is the first time I’ve ever done something like this. It’s a huge accomplishment, and I’m trying to celebrate it well, and when my husband and I talked about it we decided it made sense for me to buy something new to wear to my party and to commemorate the event.
I was thrilled.
I wanted that fresh, new, “first day of school” feeling, like I was ready for anything.
Like I was organized, studious, classy, bold.
But the other day I looked in my closet at my new dress hanging next to all of my old dresses — the ones I have from before this challenge to ourselves, and the ones I’ve picked up from second hand stores in the past nine months — and I ran my hand across the different fabrics, and watched them all sort of dangling there, and I felt something really different from what I expected.
It went like this.
These dresses don’t define me.
They don’t make me who I am.
They don’t decide whether I’m dainty or sweet or feminine or bold.
They can’t do that.
They are powerless.
And suddenly a verse from Matthew came to mind:
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil, nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, oh ye of little faith? Matthew 6:28 (ESV)
I’m not saying we shouldn’t like new clothes, or want them, or wear them.
I’m still planning to wear my new dress to my party. But I’ll wear it to the party knowing that no dress is, or could ever be, the definition of who I am. No dress could ever determine my value (thank goodness). I’m worth so much more than that. That’s what I’ve learned by living with less stuff.
I’ve learned my stuff doesn’t define me. My clothes don’t define me — in September, or any other time of year.
Only God can do that.
Only the love I find in Jesus can cover me so that I become glorious.
And knowing that will help me enjoy my new dress for exactly what it is.
Allison Vesterfelt is a writer, managing editor of Prodigal Magazine and author of Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage (Moody, 2013). She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband Darrell. You can follow her daily on Twitter or Facebook.