Chapter 7 – Thing of Beauty


One of my artist friends is understandably nervous about my no-shopping pledge — and this blog. On Day  #10, I click on her Facebook message

“What about art?” She’s a painter.

I reply “See Rule #12.”

And if I do spend…I’m going to try and buy one of two ways: ‘previously owned’ from the secondary market so I’m not consuming new goods, or handmade items by people I know or from artisans I trust.

That’s a simplistic answer, and I owe her (and you) a fuller explanation.


Art is regarded as ‘frivolous’ by many, but that’s not the right word. Some would consider it spendy, defined as “costing a great deal; expensive…spending a great deal of money; extravagant.” Extravagance has long been viewed as the purview of the wealthy; excess dollars lead to excessive habits.

Extravagance, however, is relative.

Is a $300 painting extravagant? Is a cup of coffee extravagant?

  • Buy a small cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts every weekday morning and you’ll spend $1.59  a day, $7.95 a week. 
  • Make the same cup of Dunkin’ coffee in a Keurig and it’s 50 cents a day, $2.50 a week. 
  • Brew it in a standard coffee maker and it’s 37 cents a day, $1.85 a week. 

Home brewed would save you $1.22 a day.

Multiply that by every weekday in a year.

You’d save $317.20 — the price of that extravagant painting.

Coffee goes in and comes out. It wakes you up and gets you going, but technically you have nothing to show for it.


Spend $300 or more on a painting and it becomes the focal point of your home, a family heirloom, a joyful legacy that’s passed down. If it gains in value, so much the better, but what matters is that you enjoy it.

Buying art is a thoughtful, careful, considered purchase.

No shopping isn’t simply about not spending money.

It’s about mindfulness: examining where we spend and how we decide to make those purchases.

Compare acting on extravagance with being nickel-and-dimed.


Extravagance is spendy only because it happens in one fell swoop. If expenses are pinched from your budget in $1, $3 and $5 increments, it may not feel so bad. You may not even notice. But in the same way $6 a week for ‘convenient’ coffee adds up, so do small fun purchases.

Target gets this. Target knows if they offer inexpensive price points and create FOMO (fear of missing out), you buy more. You come in for one thing, but then you spend another $6 because when you enter, you pass that cheap section up front. Once the Dollar Spot, then the Spot, it’s now rebranded as Bullseye’s Playground. Why? Because few if any things are still a dollar.

You enter Target for a pack of batteries, or a dozen eggs (if they sell groceries) or a new set of towels, and your attention is hijacked by those cute little things. It’s easy to drop $6. It’s easy to drop $40.


Nobody calls this nickel-and-diming the customer; that’s usually reserved for car repairs, hotel stays, other ‘minor services’ as Google sees it: ‘ [to] put a financial strain on (someone) by charging small amounts for many minor services.’ But the slow death of a budget by the drip of these tiny purchases easily amounts to $300 a year, or a quarter, or even a month if you’re not careful and you stop into Target twice weekly. (I never did, but many do.)

If you think art is impractical, it’s all around us. We regard it as design, but often the most enduring things we take pleasure from are functional art.

Like cast iron pans. I had a conversation with another friend about them: how I search out vintage ones, scrub them down, re-season them with oil and slow baking, and end up with a glossy, practically non-stick surface. They’re one of the safest surfaces to cook on health-wise, and yet we’ve abandoned them for ‘nonstick’ which are potentially toxic when burned. Once scratched, they’re thrown out. The new cast iron pans are made in China and their surfaces are much rougher than the old ones–they can’t be seasoned like the classic pans by Griswold and Wagner.


Eat or drink from handmade wheel-thrown pottery and you’re enjoying functional art. That handknit cap, necklace of lampworked beads, serger-stitched skirt, printed cotton dishtowel — spend a little more for something someone actually made in small quantities, and you’ll not only gain in quality and practical utility, you’ll mindfully appreciate the integrity of the things that surround you.

This is the slow movement at work — the antithesis of fast food, fast production, convenience, immediacy. But if you purchase for posterity, you treasure and care for your things with greater attention and gratitude.

If it’s an impulse buy, you can live without it. But if it’s something that’s tugged at you for weeks and months and you still think about it — if it’s a thing of beauty and it’s made by human hands, it’s likely to be a joy forever.

Love people, not things, the saying goes. But if you love the people who’ve made the things, you’re supporting their work in that acquisition. If you do shop, that’s the way to go.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

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