Covid Has Shown Us We Don’t Need Material Things yet We Keep Buying them.

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This past year, most of us have realized less is more. As we continue to stay home, we’ve evaluated our expenses. Those that are employed are saving money without the usual commute and daily expenses. Those without jobs are likely spending as little as possible to maximize their dollar. Regardless of employment, we’re all trying to make do with less.

We’ve realized a big house and nice cars don’t mean much when we’re all home. The financially successful person you envy has had to quarantine just like you.

Yet with this realization, we’re continuing to spend. The numbers are surprising. Overall, total retail sales in the US grew 6.9% in 2020. Total ecommerce sales grew 44%.

The ecommerce increase makes sense with the pandemic but can you believe retail sales grew as well? How is that possible? With everyone penny pinching and counting their dollars, how is it that we’re spending more? And who’s going to the mall these days?

The truth is we’re not spending less. We’re not starving. We’re getting by. We’re still shopping.

I’m guilty of it too. The more you’re at home, the more you declutter and trash your belongings. With the loss of some items, you buy others. As you reduce the clutter in your home, you assume you need things to organize. You need bins. You need drawer inserts. There’s always something you “need”. Covid hasn’t taken that from us. We’re still living with excess.

Still skeptical about the increase in spending, I looked at numbers for November of last year. Surely, people weren’t spending as much as they traditionally spent during the holidays.

Retail trade sales were down 0.3 percent from November 2020 but 6.3 percent above last year. Nonstore retailers were up to 19.2 percent from December 2019 while food services and drinking places were down 21.2 percent from last year.

Food and drink places had a drastic revenue decrease in November and December. It makes sense. With the cooler weather, there was less of a desire to eat outdoors. And many of us were scared to eat inside.

Amazon clearly did very well this past year. It started 2020 valued at nearly $1800/share and grew to $3200/share by the end of the year.

Looking back at November last year, I spent in preparation for Christmas. All of my Christmas shopping was done on Amazon. Since we’re all going to stores less, it makes sense we relied on non-store retailers like Amazon.

While I understand holiday spending, the overall increase for the year is still surprising. With the unemployment rate the highest since 1948, it’s unbelievable we managed to increase our spending. It seems we did better than I thought. Maybe the stimulus was the cause.

In 2020, I made a conscious effort to spend less. I adopted a less is more mindset and spend many months decluttering. I cleaned out most rooms in my house and donated things not in use. I ran back and forth to the garbage can with junk collected over the years. The process is ongoing. I am slowly tackling different areas of my house. It feels good. I feel free.

After I started decluttering, I noticed a decrease in stress. Waking up to a tidy organized house with minimal belongings made me feel less overwhelmed. The feeling was so good, I continue to minimalize and declutter.

We’ve all realized what’s important during this unprecedented time. We’re become more self-aware. We’ve figured out what we like and what we don’t. We’ve discovered what we value. Some of us have started learning new hobbies to maximize our time. Others have spent time getting their lives in order. We’ve all moved ahead despite the world temporarily halting.

We are changed people due to Covid. We can’t return to the normalcy of early 2019. It’s not possible. While we may eventually walk around mask-less with strangers, it may not be something we choose to do. While we may eventually buy a bigger condo in a crowded city, we may opt for the cabin in the woods instead.

For some people, the change isn’t as profound as others. For some, this has been life changing. It’s been a wake-up call. Covid has forced us to slow down and live in the present. We’ve learned lessons in living simply and enjoying daily activities. We’ve learned to appreciate friendships. We’ve learned our pre-Covid lives were unnecessarily stressful.

Covid has shown us the value of experience. It’s shown us the importance of health. It’s shown us to make the most of our time with family and friends. It’s truly been eye opening.

With this awareness, it’s difficult to understand how we’re continuing to spend more year after year. Surely, we focused on other things this year. Surely, we didn’t sit at home and buy dress after dress, expensive shoe after expensive shoe.

We must have done more with our time. Did we learn? Did we grow? Did we challenge ourselves? Did we find love? Did we lose it? Did we grow closer as a family?

I’m not sure what we’ve done but I do know the lessons I’ve learned will stick with me. The person I was before Covid and the one I am now are completely different. Pre-Covid me was scrambling to earn more money with a better title. Current me relies on her salary but knows my title is meaningless. Current me is okay with earning the same salary for the rest of her working years. Current me wants to experience things more than buy them.

The lessons we’ve learned during this time must have had an impact on us. I wonder what 2021 spending will look like. Will we follow the increasing annual trend? Will we continue to fill our homes with items we eventually throw away? Will we continue to use retail therapy as a way to deal with our unhappiness? Or will we use this time to focus on what matters — our health, growth and fulfillment.

Jill of all trades, master of none. I write about self-awareness, personal growth, life lessons, and parenting.

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