January 2019 is one week old and I haven’t shopped for more than a year now. I just finished my annual challenge for 2018: no shopping for clothes, shoes, handbags or jewelry. Way back in April 2018, when I wrote about the experience at three months, I had a clean feeling, as if I’d cut something pleasurable, yet toxic, out of my diet. At six months, a fog had cleared after that initial detox and I was starting to get a look inside my shopping mind. By the time nine monthsrolled around, weeks might pass when I didn’t even notice that I wasn’t shopping.
I spent December, the final challenge month, in Paris, a city I go to often and where I always shop with great pleasure and, yes, I admit, abandon. This was the final test of my personal odyssey — Mina as Ulysses tied to the mast of her shopping ship so as not to succumb to the fatal call of the beautifully clothed Sirens. In reality, the buy-me-buy-me-and-me-too siren song played on mute and I was not tortured by an overwhelming desire to shop. That said, I didn’t throw myself in the way of temptation either. I circumnavigated my favourite shoe store (I could hear it singing anytime I was within two blocks), because I didn’t want to look-but-don’t-buy whatever new Laurence Dacade boots were on offer. What I miss most is not having the memory of Paris contained and made tangible by the items I buy.
The gold boots I bought in 2015 remind me of the macchiato I had with my partner and a friend who was visiting right before we went to the shoe store charged up on caffeine. And then the grocery shopping we did afterward, because it was American Thanksgiving and we were hosting a dinner. And the five times I had to run out for items we’d forgotten, up and down six flights of stairs wearing my new boots, which I was ostensibly testing out for comfort indoors before I committed 100% to their extravagance, but had now worn outdoors running errands, thus eliminating any possibility of returning them.
I have no 2018 item to remind me of our sojourn. On the other hand, I will remember the trip by the absence of tangible, boot-shaped containers for my memories.
In fact, as 2019 approached (and now, as it begins to unfold), dread of shopping dominates. What if once I open that door again, I can’t stop it from swinging wide? I want to set new parameters for myself, to provide guard rails against my fear that our consumer society will suck me right back into acquisitive mode and it will be as if 2018 didn’t even happen. Maybe I could restrict my online shopping to precise necessities identified in advance? That way I’ll not spiral into the online browsing time warp, where forty-five minutes can pass unnoticed. That way I’ll not use online shopping to make consumption easier than it already is, to satisfy my every passing obsession.
I’m worried that once I start shopping again, I’ll forget how much I enjoyed wearing the same nice things over and over again.
I’ll forget that I don’t needmore than I have.
I’ll forget that shopping doesn’t fill holes in my psyche or provide long-term comfort.
I’ll forget how much I enjoyed all the time I had, all the space I opened up in my mind.
Back in October, I happened past a clothing store called Distill. The name encapsulates the contradiction of our times. We are urged to Distill, to get Real Simple, to buy the only-t-shirt-we-will-ever-need. We are urged to acquire in pursuit of scaling down. Unless a catastrophe has occurred, stripping us of all our belongings, the only way we scale down or simplify or distill, is by shedding things, not by accumulating more things. In the end, I think that absorbing that bit of logic is the ultimate guard rail. If something wears out, I can replace it. But first ask myself — do I need another? I don’t mean the item has to be a strict, bare bones necessity, rather that it will be something I use often and enjoy (I like Marie Kondo’s ideal that everything in our closet should spark joy).
Yes, I recognize the elephant in the middle of these notes. Privilege. To choose not to shop is a luxury that many do not have. I am lucky. For that I am grateful. More. That gratitude drives me to investigate how I might free myself from the ubiquitous tentacles of consumerism, so that I may be more present and mindful in the world, which needs our attention. At the same time, I’m not an advocate of self-denial for its own sake. That is the purview of the supposed saints, and I’m not convinced that making ourselves unhappy, because others are unhappy, is useful or enables us to make a positive contribution.
All to say, I haven’t shopped yet and I’m hesitant to start again. At the same time, I’m looking forward to having something fresh to wear.
Here I need to make a full disclaimer. While I haven’t shopped, my partner did buy me a new pair of long johns for cross-country skiing a few days ago. At the end of ski season last year, I threw out a twenty-year-old pair. I mentioned to my partner that I was trying to decide whether I could make it through this winter with my two remaining (also very old) pairs. He asked me in advance if I’d be upset if he bought the new long underwear for me. I said no. I’m not counting that as meshopping. If it happens again, I will.
What’s the first thing you’re going to buy? That’s a question I’ve been getting. I don’t know. I need some prosaic things like sports bras, regular bras, socks and underwear. But to end my streak of no shopping with something so utilitarian feels like a fizzle. Shouldn’t my first purchase be something wild and wonderful, something extra special? Or is that putting too much weight into the purchase? Maybe buying a simple necessity would be perfect. I once fasted for four days as part of a vision quest and the first food we ate was simple and nourishing — hard boiled eggs, miso soup and avocado.
Here’s one possibility: My partner recently bought a handmade suit. It is gorgeous and sexy (not usually something I think about suits). When I saw it, I tossed off a pie in the sky comment, “If I ever win an award and need something for the ceremony, I’m going to have Danielmake me a fabulous black suit.” My partner (and later some friends) responded, “Get the suit now! Believe in yourself and the award will come.” I don’t know about that latter bit, but I am tempted!