Where Did Your Rent Money Go? The Art of Buying Less

In Obsessive Consumption, Portland-based artist Kate Bingaman-Burt examines consumerism through art. Faced with credit card debt, Bingaman-Burt responded by documenting her experience through drawing and photography. The book represents a selection of three years worth of Bingaman-Burt's ink drawings.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate about her book, artwork and how to live lightly and creatively in a 600-square-foot home. You can view a sample of Obsessive Consumption at her website (But also be sure to spend some time checking out her "What Did You Buy Today" blog of the drawings of items she purchases daily).

Rented Spaces:You've been drawing something that you purchase every day since early 2006. What inspired the "What Did You Buy Today" project?

Kate Bingaman-Burt:
I started making work about personal consumerism around 2002 when I started photo documenting all of my purchases and then I created a brand called Obsessive Consumption to serve as the umbrella for all of my consumption projects to fall under.

Prior to my work about consumption, I worked as a designer in the home gift industry (candles, fancy foods, potpourri etc). Attending trade shows was a regular event for me and I was really engaged by watching what people would buy or not buy so I started thinking about my own purchasing patterns and impulses and the storytelling that people engage in over objects.

Obsessive Consumption has gone through many phases (photo documentation, installations, credit card and receipt drawings, sewing and lots and lots of object drawing), but it has always been about everyday objects and investigating why we buy what we buy and what it says about us.

RS: What did you learn? Did it teach you to curb your buying habits?

KBB: Even though my work starts with my own purchases, I feel that I have learned a lot more about other people and their purchases and stories. I buy a lot of what you buy ... shoes, gum, coffee, tape ... nothing too exciting, but conversations start with others over the shared purchase experience. I am learning new things everyday about others and their buying habits along with my own and the personal story that might be revealed from a mundane item. It is about visual storytelling through a simple system of rules focused around routines that we participate in every day.

I am really aware of objects and prices, and of what I spend and of what I save. I see everyday items in a different light as well, since so many of my drawings are of simple things. But to me they become a bit more special because of the story behind the object.

I overanalyze everything I purchase (and everything I don't purchase) -- and just consumerism, advertising, marketing and branding in general. But I kind of have to go through this twisted set of rules that I have set up for myself over the past few years.

I have made making work about personal consumption one of my jobs and I work really hard at it. Guilt is still a huge theme in my work and so is silliness -- silliness and guilt.

I realize the ridiculousness of a lot of what I do, but I embrace it. Again, guilt is a big theme, but I feel better when I make stuff with my hands and share it with people.

RS: You recently wrote a book, "Obsessive Consumption." Can you tell our readers about the book and why you decided to write it?
KBB: The book is comprised of around 600 of my daily-purchase drawings from 2006-2009. I didn't set out to write a book when I started drawing my purchases, but the book is a wonderful addition to the process. I had been publishing monthly zines of my daily-purchase drawings, and so when I was approached about making a book it seemed like a logical step.

RS: What object would you say is generally most bought but most unneeded?
KBB: Probably parking tickets and library fines. The goods that you don't intend on buying, but end up paying for through accident or laziness. I would also say coffee, but coffee is a pretty needed item in my life.

RS: I recently read that you live in a small, 600-square-foot home that's an LEED-certified live/work space. Can you give our readers tips to live creatively in a small space?
KBB: We live in a very small place, but we love it. Hard to believe, but I don't care that much about stuff. I like giving away items that I don't use anymore and I am a big fan of keeping objects that have personal meaning rather than just having stuff to have stuff. That doesn't mean that I don't love books, vintage items, photos etc. I just try to curate the objects that mean the most to me and then say goodbye to the rest.

RS:Living in a small space can be challenging, especially if you're into crafts and do-it-yourself projects. How do you address storage needs in such a small space?
KBB: I love flat files and good looking storage boxes. If your storage containers look good you won't mind having them in your living space. We purchased a bunch of MeBoxes via Design Within Reach several years back during a big sale and we still use them a bunch. I also really like the small white flat files from Ikea.

RS: You've had a number of amazing exhibits, one entitled "Love Your Money" and another "Available Credit." Can you tell us about your shows? And do you have any coming up?
KBB: I really love taking over a space and making it Obsessive Consumption land. I just had a show at the Land gallery in Portland a few weeks ago. I try to do about one a year and the Land exhibit was the one for 2010. The rules I have set up for myself allow me to work in many different mediums as long as it falls underneath the umbrella of personal consumerism. This is pretty freeing and fun for me. If an idea calls for sewing a dress -- go for it! If an installation calls for designing wallpaper, stitching pillows and a pile of photocopied credit card drawings, I can do that, too.

RS: You mention on your blog that you work with Girls Write Now. Tell us a bit about it and how can our readers support the organization?
KBB: This was something that I was brought into by Rob Walker and Josh Glen who run Significant Objects. I recently did a print with 20x200 and the proceeds supported Girls Write Now. I love supporting an organization that champions writing and empowering girls.

Tammy Strobel blogs at RowdyKittens about simple living and is the author of Simply Car-free: How to Pedal Toward Financial Freedom and a Healthier Life.

The Ace of Space is a bi-weekly column that will provide you with the tips and tools to live lightly and creatively in a small space.
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