Today I looked pretty sharp in a brand-new pair of Levi’s 505 jeans. Straight cut leg. Prewashed fabric the color of the sky at twilight in October, soft and snug. They replaced a pair that had mostly faded to a ghastly blue-white, that displayed splotches of paint from a fix-up project, that had frayed at the cuffs and that were literally splitting apart at the inseam. (“Air-conditioned,” my wife jokes.)
But my purchase of badly needed Levi’s signified much more than a wardrobe update. It helped me experience two virtues sorely missing in today’s voracious consumer economy: Satisfaction in doing without, and delayed gratification.
You see, as an experiment in thrift and voluntary poverty, I vowed to avoid buying new clothes in 2011, no matter how badly I needed them (underwear excepted). I was certain that the clothes in my dresser and hanging in my closet would be more than enough.
The experiment began well enough. Taking inventory of my wardrobe, I rediscovered and wore clothes that I had forgotten about for some time — years in some cases. Moreover, amazed at how many items I had that I didn’t need, didn’t really want or no longer fit me, I donated several enormous trash bags full of clothes to the local thrift store.
Even after giving away about half my clothes, I still possessed enough for any occasion — except one. I got married on June 5, and I really needed a new white dress shirt. So I bought a new shirt and a new silk tie. (They went well with the charcoal gray suit I had bought at the same thrift shop where I donated my clothes.)
All was well, except for the jeans. I live in blue jeans during nonworking hours. My one pair of Levi’s started the year tired, and they were pretty well spent by autumn. Despite this, I simply refused to buy a new pair, even as they became tattered and scruffy. And then something funny happened. The shabbier they became, the more pride I took in wearing them. The jeans became a symbol of my thrift and resolution. So I learned the satisfaction that can come from doing without.
And I knew that after the New Year I would be released from my vow of “No new clothes.” So I waited. Delayed gratification is gratification, indeed.
Now every purchase occasions the simple questions, “Can’t I just make do with what I already have?” and “Do I really need it now?”
Two good questions that reflect good stewardship and good economic virtues.
Photo by Anirav, via Bigstock.com.