Making Room In My Mind: Notes from A Third Quarter of No Shopping

The last week I’ve dreamt more than once that I accidentally bought a new article of clothing, only to remember that I wasn’t supposed to be shopping. In my dream I berate myself. Then I wake up with a vague sense of having let myself down. But I haven’t shopped. Despite the siren call of the change of seasons, the arrival of Barney’s autumn tome full of fashion (aka that store’s fall catalogue) and the cyclic surge of new-clothing desire that assails me at each month’s end.

I’m nine months into my annual challenge for 2018: no shopping for clothes, shoes, handbags or jewelry. 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 able to have a better look inside my shopping mind.

The whole month of July I hardly noticed I wasn’t shopping. Here and there I’ve been thinking about an item of clothing that’s worn out. I repaired a torn handbag and patched ripped shorts. I’ve sort-of-darned a few holes. Some of my saggy running bras won’t make it past the end of December. As socks die, I try to pair the odd socks with other singleton-socks of similar thickness and cut. This is a bit painful to my matchy-down-to-my-underwear-and-bra self, but also a new aspect to observe. Turns out I feel quite rakish when my socks are mismatched.

I also threw away my artist grandmother’s broken easel in July. I know that’s not a piece of clothing, but it was a thing I held onto long after I’d stopped using it and well past its useful life. Letting go of the easel was inextricably intertwined with the low-impact-living effort of not shopping.

Speaking of nostalgia, in August my mother brought me a box of letters I’d written to her and my father from summer camp and my first undergraduate years at McGill University. As I read through them, I came upon these little bits of my younger self’s relationship with shopping:

“Well I think I’m almost satisfied with my wardrobe now. Montreal is just freezing right now so I thought an augmentation of the wardrobe was necessary—incl. some new boots. Buying clothes eases my stress level—although only until I do financial calculations and realize I have no money.” November 11, 1984

“… Oh and as to that cut of me being well dressed when I starve to death …” (earlier in the letter I had asked for food money for when the residence cafeteria was closed)February 1, 1985

I’ve diverted some energy into one new stress coping outlet, which is arguably no better than shopping for clothes. In February, late August and again last week I bought some new serums-of-the-moment, which promise me dewy youth. My total outlay hasn’t topped $200 and 2 hours, so this substitute habit certainly consumes fewer resources.

The need for stress outlets, though, is not as pressing as I thought it might be. I continue to feel better about what I’m wearing this year. I can’t quite tease apart whether that’s because I am content with what I have, or because I know that any supposed holes in my wardrobe can’t be filled anyway. If I can’t do anything about the so-called problem with my wardrobe, then why worry about it? Perhaps contentment is built on a foundation of not worrying about what I can’t change. I will extend the practice to other areas in my life with more intention to see what happens.

There was a five-month period of my life several years ago when I lived without a full-length mirror. I noticed that I felt better about my body when I wasn’t examining myself in a mirror and taking note of all the flaws. You might ask—why did you go back to having a full-length mirror? I still like to see how an outfit is working stem to stern. Feeling better about my body is a psychological challenge I am dealing with in other ways, now that I know the mirror is a kryptonite factor.

The biggest thing I notice not shopping is that I have more room in my mind. In the moments I might have decompressed by browsing in a shop or looking online at what’s new on a favorite clothing-store website. I’m engaging with the world in other ways. I’m reading more articles. I have always read a lot of books, but articles less so. Now I snack on articles as a diversion for my brain, in between bouts of work. At first, I thought the reading wouldn’t work as a pause, because it would be too arduous, whereas shopping was relaxing. Nope. Shopping creates a low level buzz of I-want-I-want-I-want. Whereas reading a brief squib about a road trip in Brazil, new directions in AI or how humans play, for example, is actually relaxing. The topic takes me out of myself for a moment. I learn something new in a quick bite. But if I’ve already forgotten the new thing a minute later, so what? The article wasn’t meant to be educational. It was meant to be diverting, to give my brain a break.

Reading little bits here and there allows my brain to wander. I am punctuating my day with periods of reverie. Shopping causes rumination and perseveration along the lines of should-I-buy-can-I-buy.

Here’s something I came across recently that captured this feeling I’ve been having: “Art appreciation is held in high esteem in most cultures and societies. It is often portrayed as a laborious cognitive exercise, but this is to forget that the arts provide an opportunity for intense emotional experiences, positive mind-wandering and psychobiological self-regulation” I especially love the title of the article Iwhich appeared in Aeon) by Julia Christensen, Guido Giglioni and Manos Tsakiris, ‘Let the soul dangle’: how mind-wandering spurs creativity.

Instead of shopping, I am letting my mind wander more. That feels good. Better. For now.

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