Milestones & No Buy Reflection

This past weekend, I attended convocation for my graduate certificate, with my parents in tow and friends who were receiving their Bachelor’s degrees. I hadn’t been back to the campus since 2019 (the certificate was done online), and the wave of nostalgia was real and alive. I used to set aside part of my semesterly visit to the campus to stop by the bookstore and buy more school “merch,” whether t-shirts, water bottles, rugby jerseys (it’s a whole thing), or winter wear, something new was coming home with me.

The school has a strong culture of “hand it down to the next generation,” so much of my decluttering of school shirts – particularly those with slogans that only make sense on campus – has gone back to people who will use it. Though, much of that culture stems from having bought so much in the first place.

This time around, the only new item I left with was a frame for my certificate. More accurately, my parents bought it as a gift, so I made no new purchases over this weekend. But it was interesting to see how many opportunities there were for buying something along the way: the bookstore is usually closed on Sundays and has reduced hours on Friday and Saturday, yet was open the whole weekend (understandably so, especially for anyone who hasn’t been back to the campus in two years); tables were set up in the convocation venue to purchase degree and grad photo frames, stuffed mascots in grad gear, and class rings; there were tables on both floors by the main entries to purchase flowers; and the sports complex had their team gear store open as well. I understand that part of this has to do with tradition (we give flowers as congratulations, but why?), but much of it felt like enabled impulse purchases. I can’t even remember if we’d bought anything at my 2018 ceremony (same university), not in the sense that I think we left empty-handed, but more so that if we had bought things, I have no recollection of it.

Much of how my family celebrated was experience-based – we chose the nicer hotel for comfort (and its spa), we knew which restaurants we’d enjoy most in the area and went back to them, I got a bunch of photos in grad gear – rather than me receiving physical gifts. To be clear, I’m not judging anyone who left campus this weekend with the fanciest frames for their photo and degree, a new alumni shirt, and a handful of other school spirit items that can remind them of their shortened time on campus – I get it, fully.

What I want to question – reflect, muddle, whatever – is why we associate milestones with stuff. I’ll be honest and say that even before the no-buy, I was a big fan of practical gifts or consumable items. Perhaps that comes from a place of privilege that I have all my necessities (or make do with reasonable alternatives) and I have the spare money to cover needs and wants as they come up. I get that “traditional” gifts for milestones – cookware for a wedding, a full toolbox for your first apartment (maybe that’s just my family, though), driving lessons or a car at 16, etc. – are reflective of the next chapter the person is going into (a baby shower is definitely helpful for the family’s first baby, but much of it can be reused amongst cousins and younger siblings, no?). I understand, too, that we’re all looking for reasons to celebrate after making it through 2+ years of the pandemic, but “stuff” was still available through online ordering.

I know that different traditions and cultures will approach celebrating milestones in different ways, and my perspective is a reflection of what is culturally common for me versus what I’m questioning. I guess what I’m trying to get at is that were I not on a no-buy this year, I would have set aside an entire portion of my budget just for this past weekend. Knowing my past shopping habits, I would have likely bought anything that said “Alumni” on it, home décor items for my apartment, and anything else “cute” from the bookstore. I didn’t buy new clothing, jewelry, shoes, accessories, or make up for the weekend, which is a 180-degree difference from my first convocation. “Shopping” my own closet also meant that I could wear anything fancy that has been waiting to be worn, and I wouldn’t have to worry about something arriving on time via shipping.

I think this post it more like a guided reflection than anything else – look at what I’m doing differently, what do I still want to ponder – so there might not be much of a “point” to it, but it’s been rattling around in my brain for a week. Thanks for reading!