It was just 11 months ago that I received a phone call at work that my father had been taken to the hospital with a heart attack. By the time I got uptown, he was gone. I won't detail the emotional tailspin into which this sent me; sometimes words are inadequate to express the varied and vacillating feelings we experience. But I'd like to take some time to reflect on just one aspect of the past 11 months, the one which undoubtedly has had the most impact on this blog (and perhaps therefore will be interesting to a few of my dear readers): my shopping ban, which is nearly done.
What does the shopping ban entail? In the Jewish tradition, children mourn for their parents for a year. This of course is not an emotional mourning, which is a process that I can only assume continues for a lifetime, but rather a specific set of actions denoting the status of mourning, meant in some way to differentiate this year from all others. According to Jewish law, one is not supposed to say the blessing of "Shehecheyanu", which praises God for bringing you to this moment, while mourning. This blessing is recited while lighting the Hannukah menorah, eating matzah on Passover, and on new clothing, which makes sense given how rare new clothing must have been in the ancient Near East when the system of blessings was developed. What all this legal theory boils down to is essentially the mother of all shopping bans: no new clothing for a year. I was able to purchase accessories and shoes, but for the past 11 months not a stitch of new clothing has touched my body.
Has it been difficult? Before my father died, I was a pretty frequent shopper. Purchasing a new item provided a mild high, the promise that this sweater/skirt/shirt will make me a better dresser, more popular, fit in more. I don't think I was really cognizant of the ways in which I used new clothing to try and assuage my insecurities, but abstaining has made me almost hyper-aware. When I pass an incredibly well-dressed woman on the street, the type who seems to exude confidence from every pore, I can now recognize that my immediate impulse is to try and find the clothing that will make me look like her. Recognizing my insecurities is not the same as curing them, however. The thrill of the new is demystified, but still there.
What I've realized is that I have plenty of clothing, more than enough to sustain me through another few years of not shopping. But there are many items that I bought because they were good deals, or trendy, and I just don't love wearing them. Unfortunately, there are too few things in my closet that make me excited in the morning, and just a lot of excess. One of my challenges to myself going forward is to pare down my closet to what I love in order to foster confidence and pride, rather than relying on new purchases to try (and fail) to accomplish that goal.
Are you excited to start shopping again? To be honest, the concept is a little scary to me. Without such an absolute ban-- no clothing at all-- my time-honed techniques of deciding whether something has the right balance of cost vs. worth is rusty. Especially given my new commitment to stop purchasing for its own sake, entering retail stores is slightly nerve wracking. Every time I've done so over the past few months, I've been astounded by the amount of goods there- the colors, textures, prices- and find myself wondering how to decide what is special enough to come home with me. This sensitivity will undoubtedly wane as I become a regular member of commercial society again, but I do hope I retain it to some degree. The experience of looking from the outside has taught me a great deal about modern society's excess, and even more about myself.
What changes will you make? To start, I'm selling some clothing in great condition at shopalltumbledown in an effort to shrink down my wardrobe( if you see something you like, shoot me an email and we can talk pricing, which is very flexible.) I'll eventually take that which hasn't been sold to Goodwill so others can benefit from my self-realization. In terms of buying new items, I am going to make an effort to ask myself with each purchase, not just the big ones: Do I love this? Will I love it in a year, or ten? Does it fill a gap in my closet, and can it be worn in different ways? If it is trendy, is the price cheap enough to warrant a year's sojourn in my wardrobe and then a trip to Goodwill?
I have a month to go, and one more reflection on the way: How does daily style blogging fit into the shopping ban, and my resolutions for the future? If you have any comments, questions or insights of your own, I'd love hear from you. Thanks for reading.