I am embarrassed at how hard it is for me to not buy things.
There. I said it. Two and a half months into retail jail and I am learning things about myself that are not making me feel too good. I thought this experiment was supposed to have the opposite effect--make me feel all empowered and frugal and in control of my life. Instead, I find myself wondering: who am I if I'm not a consumer? Who am I if I'm not wearing that which I have recently purchased? And while I'm on the honesty train, I'll say this: I've thought about cheating. Who would know? Just me, and as I've proven so many times in the past, starting with nursery school, I have a certain...moral flexibility that allows me to bend rules using some odd and contorted rationalization that makes perfect sense to me and anyone who will listen.
I have not cheated. I have, instead, twitched at multiple times. I twitched when I found myself in Macy's with Betsy, who, apparently more confident in my resolve than I am, meandered through the Jones New York racks, commenting on how cute some of the new fall line is. Yes, the fact that we were in Macy's was my fault (I needed some of my preferred moisturizer--see previous blog post about my hard-to-alter personal care item habits). But this seemed to border on cruelty. Interestingly, though, even though I suggested she could try some things on if she wanted, she demurred. And so perhaps by not shopping myself, I saved her from the lure of the dressing room.
Shopping is one of those rare endeavors that I enjoy equally both with others and on my own. Golf is like this as well, I've found. A round of golf played solo is time spent in my head, thinking through both the immediate (how am I supposed to make a shot from this god-awful lie?) and the long-term (maybe it's time to get serious about buying a small lake cabin). The answers, by the way, are: 1) move the ball, because you're out here alone and no one cares and you want to have a chance at just hitting it at all, and 2) no, it's not. When I'm shopping on my own, there are these more immediate questions (Brown? Black? Both?) and the long-term (no, it's still not time to buy real estate). But doing either of these things with other people changes the dynamic completely. Suddenly the immediate issues are shared concerns and instant feedback is available (use your wedge and hit down on the ball, brown is a better color for you, and it's probably better to just rent a lake cabin for a month and put the rest of your money in a CD).
All of this is to say that solo shopping with no intention of buying anything is a pretty lonely thing to do, leaving me with way too much time to ponder serious, long-term matters that are best figured out in the company of those who keep me in check. Realizing this, and thus skipping the solo shopping adventures of my recent past has freed up some time in my schedule. I'd like to report that I'm using it to exercise, or volunteer, or learn Arabic. But not yet. Like the money I assume I'm saving by not shopping, this benefit has not been accruing in the most positive ways. I still find plenty of excuses to avoid doing healthy and useful things. Some habits, I have found, are much harder to break.
My friend Sandra recently sent me a link to an article about a fascinating blog kept by a woman named Christina Dean, the founder of ReDress, an "eco-friendly, fashion-focused organization" (I did not know such things existed). Dean spent 365 days finding and wearing "100 percent dumped and donated" clothes. Her concern is less about personal frugality and more about bringing attention to the incredible waste in first-world countries--clothing that ends up in landfills when it is still perfectly good, but perhaps out of date and in need of a wash and iron. Here's the link to the article, which is worth a read:
I read this and found myself almost immediately thinking about "the bag," the clothes I decide I don't want and so put in the Goodwill box down the road. How many of those items end up being used again, and how many ultimately end up in a landfill taking up space on a finite planet? And how did the manufacturing of my clothes impact the places they were made? Did the dyes end up in rivers? What happened to the rest of the animal this leather came from?
Quite suddenly, my closet...okay, closets...have become a source of the kind of consumer guilt I probably should have developed decades ago. I find myself looking at each item and pondering its origins. Not that I am about to become an anti-sweatshop activist. Or maybe this is how it starts--with a growing realization that no matter how the clothes and shoes I own were created, if I just throw them out when I'm tired of them, or they don't fit well, then maybe I am causing problems for others on both ends--being a ready buyer of clothing made in poor conditions and a ready disposer of those clothes into an environment that doesn't have room for them.
That's what I was puzzling over a couple of weeks ago when the weather started to get cooler and I went into the closet and pulled out the bin o' boots. Autumn! Normally, I'm pretty happy to see my boots, and I look forward to adding to the collection. And so very many catalogs show up in my mailbox that tempt the heck out of me. One of my favorite catalogs, Acacia, had the coolest pair of red boots on the back cover, staring out at me for the ten minutes it took me to put the catalog in the recycling bin.
But also that day, another catalog arrived, one I haven't seen before: Hotter Shoes. It's a British company that looks poised to break into the American market, possibly because of women like me who prefer comfort (albeit stylish comfort) to Jimmy Choos that look more like a medieval blacksmith's tool than a shoe. I browsed the catalog. I pondered. I puzzled (black? brown? really cute red boots, even).
I did, though, make a purchase some might consider frivolous. I somehow lost my very cool and comfortable Kate Spade sunglasses on the drive between Norton and Burlington last month, leaving me wearing an old pair of Ray-Bans that have the annoying habit of constantly fogging up because of their fit (too close to my face, I think). I did dig up another old pair, but they didn't fit well and weren't polarized and yes this sentence ends with a rationalization: I bought some new sunglasses because I sort of needed them. There. "Sort of." I will not say I needed them, but I don't think they were completely a "want" thing. I wear them every sunny day. I will keep them for years (the Kate Spades were purchased right before a trip to Bonaire four years ago, so I certainly got my money's worth) because, in spite of what this paragraph might indicate, I don't lose sunglasses (in this way, I am completely unlike Betsy, who has made a habit of leaving her sunglasses on store counters and seats of taxis). I keep them for years, motivated in large part by just how difficult it is for me to select a pair. I will wear them with scratches, with arm hinges that are on their eighth screw. I wear them till I wear them out, which is what made the inexplicable disappearance of the aforementioned pair so distressing.
But it made me wonder: what is it about me that enables a long-term commitment to sunglasses and not to so many items of clothing? Maybe the answer is in what I just wrote: the time and mental energy it takes me to buy a relatively pricey pair of sunglasses. I found myself thinking about this as I dropped off two pairs of well-loved but worn shoes at Miguel's Shoe Repair in Mansfield. In the past, I probably would have relegated these to the bag, but knowing I couldn't replace them this season, I brought them to the man who has re-soled and re-heeled several pairs of boots I didn't want to give up. "Can you make these look...newer?" I asked him. He nodded solemnly, turning each of them over in his calloused hands. "One week." And seven days later, I had them back, looking close to new, good for at least another winter.
Every item that could possibly be jettisoned from my wardrobe is now the object of careful consideration. I find myself digging further into my closet to wear something I haven't worn in a while, maybe longer than a while. I rifle through my too-big collection of scarves to find some new combination of colors and textures. And then I put on a pair of three- or four-year old shoes that have been polished and buffed into a fresh shine by Miguel and head out to work. Sunglasses on, of course. The weather's been pretty nice. By my next entry, I suspect I will be far enough into cold weather to have had some come-to-Jesus conversations with myself about sweaters and, of course, boots. See you around December 1st.