A few weeks ago, my husband and I attended a “block party” event in nearby Pasadena. The shops and restaurants in the downtown area known as “Old Town Pasadena” were opening their doors and offering free champagne, appetizers, wine, and raffle prizes. Free stuff, we’re there.
Of course they weren’t doing it out of the good of their hearts or to dish with the neighbors, it was a way of promoting the businesses that weren’t doing so well. I marked our flyer with all the places to hit, and we arrived early to get a good parking spot.
It wasn’t a trick, and we had a good time visiting some of our favorite restaurants for free wine and food samples. But in one couture clothing store that I’d never stepped foot in, my husband pulled out a blouse and said, “This would look good on you. You should try it on.”
Say what? We’d gone in for the spicy tuna on crackers, not to look at the enticing, spell-inducing clothing. The blouse was so pretty. It was a piece of art, really. Literally, an artist had painted these gorgeous designs that were printed on the clothing. And it was my favorite colors. I knew it would look good on me before I even tried it on.
You should know that my husband watching me try on clothes in a clothing store is about as rare as… pandas mating in the wild. You know, like when Richard Gere buys Julia Roberts a new wardrobe in Pretty Woman? Not really our usual mode of interaction. But the salesgirl quickly had me in $150 jeans that fit really well, and the blouse looked really good, and… I looked great. When she said, “you’re not going to buy it?” I think she was truly baffled. She really couldn’t understand the madness. I didn’t mention The Compact.
But I knew I could live without the blouse, even the super cute jeans. But THEN… my husband pulled out the skirt. The skirt of my dreams. This same designer had put together a patchwork of beautiful fabrics into this skirt which was exactly the kind of thing I wear, only a lot nicer and a lot more expensive. It fit perfectly, it would look great with my boots, I knew I would wear it all the time… The cost? $200.
This is a price I’ve never paid for a skirt. The skirts I bought before I started The Compact and still wear usually cost about $50. They’re stylish, but not trendy, and will last for years. So $200 was way outside my budget, even without the complication of my commitment to The Compact.
The interesting thing was that I noticed how my brain was working. I was starting to try to figure out how to GET THE SKIRT. What if… I waited until it was marked down? Not an option, it was the last one left, and just happened to be my size. It would probably be sold by the next day. What if… I asked for it as a holiday gift? Too much money to ask my husband to spend. What if… I just bought it, to heck with The Compact? Who would know?
Literally, this is what my crazy brain was doing. My first time in a clothing store all year, the first time I’ve tried anything on, and I was in a full gotta-have-it, can’t-live-without-it, frothing-at-the-mouth consumer frenzy.
I did manage to walk away from the skirt. I was very proud of myself. It flitted through my brain a few times over the next couple of days, first offering itself as a real possibility, and finally fading out as a wistful what might have been (the skirt: “we could have been good together, you know.”)
But it taught me very clearly something I’d been vaguely aware of for a long time: if you don’t see the stuff, you don’t want it. Why in the world would I need another skirt, especially one that costs $200? Because I saw it, and that made me want it, and have to have it. It’s obvious really, but most of our wants originate from magazines, advertisements, and malls. If you stop seeing the stuff, you don’t want it.
I’m not suggesting we should all start dressing like Minnie Pearl (sorry, that reference is probably a little obscure for younger readers), but there’s no reason you can’t be stylish without spending tons of money. You can buy less trendy clothes and wear them longer. You can shop secondhand. Or you can eschew fashion altogether. That’s probably the most effective way to break the addiction.
Because, speaking for myself, I do feel like wanting this stuff, thinking about it, and conspiring ways to get it (not to mention working to make the money to buy it), is a habit that takes way too much time and energy, and so in a sense it’s like an addiction.
If my Buy Nothing New year helps me break that addiction (as low-level as mine was), then it will have been a very successful experiment.
What about you? Are you, or have you ever been, a shopping addict? Is there a 12-step program for shopaholics? Or are you oblivious to fashion? Tell us about it in the Comments section.
Kate Sommers says
Sounds like you were seduced…first the wine, then the spicy tuna crackers, the fun of purchasing something new and pretty.
These marketers are oh so clever!
Good for you for not falling for it…or did you buy the skirt?
Would it be possible to find the skirt second hand? I know it was designer, but stranger things have happened.
I'm w/ hiptobeme. Give your husband the name of the designer & tell him to stalk amazon till he finds the skirt used. This Christmas, next Christmas, whatever. If it was meant to be it will be!
I do get your point though. I have this same problem. There really is something about a new & shiny gadget to me. I'm working on it & the easiest way is just to stay out of the stores.
I used to be a shopaholic where clothes were concerned, so you know what? I stopped looking at them. I stopped flitting over to clothing websites "just to look." I stopped window shopping in the mall with my best friend. And now I don't WANT to buy tons of clothes. The worst part is that most of the clothes I bought–and spend so much money on–I never wore! They didn't fit right or were the wrong color or just didn't make me feel good. My wardrobe is much smaller now (and I could stand to have a few more pieces), but I like everything in it and it's easy to coordinate stylish, classic outfits. That's definitely good considering I have a 4 month old and not much time to linger over clothing choices in the morning!
Congratulations on resisting the skirt. That's always hard when it's something you love. (Though I bet the $200 price tag made it easier!)
Wow.. good for you! I think it's awesome that you stuck by your 'compact'! I've been reading your blog for quite a while (don't think i've commented) but find you very inspiring, and this just cements everything for me! Hope you get that skirt one day|!
Good post on consumerism. I'm going through the same thing now, unplugging from the need to shop–thrift stores! I used the "it's cheap, it's used" excuse to justify anything and everything for a while, and it's time to recognize that that can be just as out of control and consumeristic, even if on a different level of the consumer chain.
Personally, I think you should have bought the skirt. To me it sounds like a once in a lifetime find, that you would have easily gotten your money's worth out of for decades to come.
About 15 years ago I was on a trip to Albequerque with my husband, and I bought a $75 skirt with hot air balloons all over it. ($75 was a ton of money to spend on a skirt at the time) He was so mad at me, but that skirt has been my favorite outfit for all this time, and now my daughter wears it too.
It always reminds me of how much fun we had on that trip (in spite of the argument about the skirt) and my husband almost always comments that he is glad that I bought it after all! I am no fashion queen, and usually where jeans, but that skirt has been the perfect thing for me so many times.
I know you have to watch those voices in the head, but sometimes a particularly special and perfect garment is worth the money.
I've never really been a shopping addict, but I used to be an update-addict. I felt like I always needed a few new pieces each season, because, well, they were new an in the stores! But you're sooo right: if you just don't go to the stores, don't look in the catalogs, don't visit trendy fashion blogs–that wantwantwant desire will gradually fade away.
nicole 86 says
As for me I am not a shopping addict but whenever I am SURE ' this is the right item", I buy it and never regret it.
Betsy Talbot says
Good for you, Angela! We are not on the Compact, but saving for a trip around the world and getting rid of all of our stuff means NOTHING NEW. Sometimes people don't understand what the commitment means, and comments like "these earrings won't take up much room" or "that scarf looks beautiful on you!" sound harmless. (I was successfully tempted by these words recently at a conference – ugh!)
You and I are on short-term projects that seem extreme to a lot of people because they are. That's the point. The extreme project gets to you to a better place afterward, which is why we do it.
I think the short-term pain of sacrifice without any long-term negative side effects is the lesson in the Compact (or dieting, or saving money, or downsizing, etc.)
I got the feeling that I'd been shopping too much and for no good reason so I made Oct "no buy" month. I'm not buying anything (not even if it's used) that's no a need this month. And I've got to say, it's a little liberating.
Mountain Man decided to join me and he even upped the anti by suggesting we do it through the end of the year. With some modifications (really, I need to be able to go out to eat occasionally to maintain some sort of social life!) I jumped on board.
It's kind of nice to give the old MasterCard a break.
I'm pleased for you that you did not get that skirt. I think you would have been disappointed in yourself if you had.
In your shoes I think I wouldn't buy it during my first Compact year but would seriously consider it in subsequent years. Then again, I'm the incremental type, not the cold-turkey type. YMMV.
thanks for your comments everyone! I'm not going to respond to every single comment, but just that the point of my "experiment" of the Compact is to notice my level of consumerism, distinguish between needs and wants, and especially to sort of "exorcise" it from my brain, freeing it up for more creative endeavors.
I'm glad I didn't get the skirt, because I really can't afford to pay that much and I would have felt bad about it. It's not that I think I would be a bad person if I'd bought it, just that I want to follow through with my commitment and see what I learn.
Leah- I can see your view, and I actually think your purchase makes a lot of sense- it reminds you of your trip, you still wear it and love it, and it was only $75, not $200. Even 15 years ago, that was not such an unreasonable price. So your decision made a lot of sense. This skirt wasn't in the same category.
halfdozendaily- welcome, I'm so glad you commented. I have to tell you something funny, your wii avatar looks exactly like mine, down to the orange shirt and blue eye shadow (I'm also size 4 but only 5'5", so I weigh about 5 pounds less). And I can't wait to try one of your "green monsters."
Wildermiss- Good luck with your no-buy "season." And send me another photo for Thrifty Threads if you have one!
Thanks everyone for engaging in the conversation…
Way to go, Angela!! I was thinking about addiction when you described how badly you wanted the skirt. I was thinking about times I have not been strong as you were, and went ahead and purchased something I really didn't need, but only wanted because it was there to want. I think about all these people who don't have as much as we do – just in our regular Western lives – and wonder why we've (I've) traveled to this sticky and expensively structured place of materialism. Great post!
Non Consumer Girl says
I understand your desire for the great skirt!
On the one hand the skirt sounds lovely and from a clothing and wardrobe perspective it sounds like a great buy to purchase something you love and that suits you, as you will wear it a lot.
On the other hand, you feel like you have made a commitment to the Compact for a year.
And that is what it really is about, observing and feeling the desire for consumer goods and recognising it for what it really is.
And making conscious choices about your consumption.
You are making a difference.
With luck, your husband snuck back and got it to set aside for a gift to present you at the end of your year without shopping.