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To Free Your Mind, Empty Your Shopping Cart

Walmart customers secured Black Friday deals on Nov. 23 in Bentonville, Ark.
Gunnar Rathbun/AP Images for Walmart

The holidays have long been criticized as a consumerist time: an excess of gift sets and gadgets teeming out of department store aisles, seasonal discounts and Black Friday sales. And, there's the constant hum of advertising online, on television and on radio urging us to consume.

In a time of such pressure to give and to get, is giving up shopping a sacreligious idea in the holiday season?

In a recent piece for The New York Times Magazine, author Ann Patchett describes her “year of no shopping” — a whole year without unnecessary purchases: no clothes, shoes, jewelry, technology or gifts (besides books).

Throughout the year, Patchett discovered that she not only saved money, she saved a ton of time, and opened up a lot more (as her friend put it) “space in [her] brain.”

According to historian Nancy Koehn, curbing our compulsion for consumerism is an excellent New Year’s resolution, since most of us find ourselves browsing catalogues or store aisles in search of something deeper. “We do it partly to take our mind off all kinds of other things, including our own woes, including the state of the world,” Koehn said. “[Patchett] discovers not doing that, that not only does she have more brain room, but she becomes acutely aware of other ways that she can actually contribute to some of the things that were leading her to shop or depressing her or making her feel like she wasn’t doing enough.”

Nancy Koehn holds the James E. Robison Chair of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Her forthcoming book is Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times. To hear her entire segment with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio player above.


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