Monday, September 30, 2013

Six-Month Fast from Buying Clothes

One of my last purchases - I will miss Zara!

That’s it. That’s it for six months...SIX MONTHS!

I’ve joined my sister and a group of over twenty people who are not going to buy any clothes for themselves for six months...SIX MONTHS! From October 1 to March 31!

Needing to organize my thoughts about this challenge, I’m writing a post today, on the eve of the six-month fast, to record my feelings.

My thoughts and feelings on not buying clothes for myself for six months seem to be in a bit of a sword fight in my mind.

"What am I doing? I love clothes shopping!" is being pitted against "You don't need more clothes! You have more than enough! Do something else with that money!" 

On the one hand, I am freaking out a little. I love to shop, I love fashion, I get a lot of satisfaction from retail therapy. I love all kinds of clothes shopping: as much as I love malls and outlets and the amazing efficiency and ease of online shopping, my shopping adventures often take me deep into thrift shops, where, if I commit enough time, flip enough hangers from right to left, and check out enough labels, I can end up finding the choicest, most interesting and high-quality pieces of clothing that bring me the most compliments! Oh the thrills of shopping! I will miss being able to go out shopping and bring home a new piece of clothing to add to my collection.

On the other hand, the gleaming sword coming from the other direction makes the first sword feel slightly guilty and a little off-balance. There’s nothing wrong with loving to shop (at least, I hope, because I do); however, “I am freaking out because I voluntarily agreed to not buy any clothes for myself for six months” is clearly a first world problem. Actually, it’s even more than that—I’m sure that there are many “first world” people who don’t buy clothes for themselves more often than once in six months, probably because they don't feel they need to, or just don't want to. While part of me is wondering how I am going to have the self-control not to buy clothes until April 1, the other part of me feels bad for feeling that way.

These sword-fighters are quite evenly matched, and I expect to keep feeling a bit of both as the six months progress. The “I love shopping” fighter might gain strength at times, causing me to hit the malls, buying clothes for my nieces and sisters and husband and boys (which is a positive because sometimes I have felt that I’ve neglected their wardrobes and focused too much on padding my own). When that fighter is exhausted, perhaps having transformed into a bit of a “shopping zombie” as a result of the walking, the bright lights, the examining of material, prices and sizes, the lack of water (oh man, that shopping zombie is frightening), the “you really don’t need an umpteenth [pair of shoes/scarf/pair of pants/collared shirt/cardigan/insert your clothing weakness here]” sword fighter will regain her strength and create a feeling of happiness in the good that this fast is doing for my bank account and for my time.

Now, let’s get to what is the primary wonderful effect of this clothing fast (so far, at least).

I need to start with a confession: I shopped a lot in the past six weeks in preparation for this fast. You could call it a compromise—I needed some items, but I also just needed to shop hard for a while to “get it out of my system.” Thankfully, I ended up going through a very useful exercise in the process.

I made a list of all the items that I either wanted or needed, and I even went to the trouble of deciding on a colour palette that I would focus on. (I went with jewel tones and grays/blacks for neutrals, generally speaking.) My goal was to purchase pieces that would fill in the gaps to create a cohesive wardrobe. For me, part of feeling like I have my life together is looking like I am put together, in terms of my outfits. I strive for the put-together looks. I have also realized that even those people who look “effortlessly amazing” probably just spent more time building a good wardrobe foundation, which makes the outfit creating process much simpler. Anyway, the list of clothing I compiled focused on items that I could use in a lot of situations and would allow me to pull together outfits as “effortlessly” as possible. We'll see how that works out for me.

Next, I estimated a reasonable cost for each item. I wanted to make sure that I could purchase reasonably affordable pieces, but of good quality, so that I won’t have to discard them in a year.

Once I made that list, the Dutch in me took the wheel. Fortunately enough for me, my birthday was yesterday, so I was able to utilize some birthday money toward this whole venture. I also redeemed credit card points toward gift cards and cash, which helped. Lastly, I worked some extra hours (thankfully there were extra hours for me to work), which I also put toward my shopping list.

Anyway, I shopped promotions as opposed to sale racks (as was the advice in an article Danielle posted recently on Facebook), which meant that I was able to purchase some nice, fresh styles. (Being Dutch and loving to shop means that there has been in the past a magnetic force that draws me to the sale racks, but I rarely find anything worth even the discounted price...the clothes are either not the right size or I don’t love them enough, so I end up wearing them to get some use out of them but not really feeling good in them). 

Once I subtracted all these shopping credits, and the money I made from extra work hours, and with some savvy searching and, yes, one "tent sale" purchase (sometimes you really do luck out with sales), I ended up only “spending” about $100 of the $650 that I had budgeted. Dutch high five! (I was at the Niagara Falls outlet mall and encountered a black blazer from Mexx that was originally $140, but it was marked down to $30.) 

This whole exercise allowed me to thoughtfully construct a wardrobe that can support itself because of some strong foundations—i.e. good-quality basics, tops and bottoms that go with a variety of items, a harmonizing colour palette, and of course, enough interest—and also challenged me to figure out a way to purchase everything without spending so much money that a six-month clothing fast’s purpose was defeated.

Right now, I am feeling positive about this whole fast: my money can be spent elsewhere, and I hopefully won’t spend as much time as I have spent researching clothing that I am “in the market” to buy because I won’t be in the market to buy anything until next year! I am also looking forward to the challenge of creatively rethinking my clothes, re-styling things and reworking outfits to keep things fresh (I do like change). 

One last thought I wanted to share: the primary challenge here is obviously to not buy clothes for myself/yourself for six months. There is a secondary challenge, though, which I think is possibly the more significant one: What are you going to do with the money you would have spent on clothes? Will you save it? Will you give it away? Will you use it to buy other unnecessary items? Will you use it to focus on improving other areas of your life or your home? What will you invest it in?

To really benefit from both of these challenges, I know I need to consciously pay attention to the money I am saving from buying clothes and thoughtfully do something else with it. If I don’t pay attention to that, then I think the challenge loses some of its true significance.

I’m going to post something at least once a month to journal my experience doing this fast! Let’s see how I feel on November 1st!

If you are up for the challenge, don't forget to use the #6monthsnobuyingclothes hash tag for Twitter/Instagram/Facebook posts on the subject!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

We Will Love [What] We Love

We all love different things for different reasons—and that’s one aspect of humanity that I find both intriguing and endearing. What we love, and who we love—it’s like we were programmed to find certain things extremely appealing and others not. It’s like we follow a flow chart of “nos” until we find our way to the ultimate “yes” of art, music, style, author, genre, significant other—and the list could go on forever...

Why we love our favourite things can't always be explained. Sometimes no gene, trait or life experience can be held responsible for what we love: we just do. Some like one thing, some like another, and I am constantly amazed at the subtle flecks in our brains that cause us to prefer one thing over another. (I often wonder why some people love spicy food and others absolutely hate it—things like that.) 

Arcade Fire is my favourite band. 

This post is not going to include 101 reasons why I love Arcade Fire and why you should love them, too. Maybe you love them like I do, but if you don’t, I would not be offended because I can appreciate the variety in our preferences. Guess what? I have never been a fan of James Taylor. Something about his voice makes my neck and shoulder muscles tense up, and my mood gets a little darker. I don’t know why because I can appreciate the fact that he can sing and that his music has been loved by millions. I hope you don’t judge me for that!

Anyway, my goodness, how I love Arcade Fire. It’s like I was programmed to love them or something. Somehow, they fit every criteria—even those I didn’t even know I really had—for what the most significant and impactful and inspiring musical artist to me should be. I hope I don’t sound kind of “out there” or selfish by saying this, but it’s almost as though if I didn’t know better—knowing full well that they don’t know me by any stretch of the imagination—I would think Arcade Fire wrote their songs to impact me specifically. That’s the connection I feel: those songs electrify my arms, resonate with me and inspire me to create. Listening to Arcade Fire makes my pulse quicken, my spirits brighten, my emotions swell and my soul soar with inspiring ideas and a renewed drive to just be me. Their music, their lyrics (many of the best lyrics I’ve ever heard in my opinion), their vocals, their choices of instruments, even the look of the band members—all combine to form a sound and an image that appeals to a very deep part of me. That is, a deep enough part of me that I prefer to listen and experience and be inspired by Arcade Fire when I’m mostly alone—it’s hard to fully appreciate and be emotionally affected by music like that when I’m hanging out with a bunch of people. It requires introspection only available with solitude. Arcade Fire is not background music, to me.

How does this happen? How is it that when one person creates what is in them to create, that creation and the emotion behind it has such power to affect other people so strongly, so profoundly? How is it that one person’s DNA and destiny can combine to give something to someone—something that is exactly what someone else’s DNA and destiny have combined to desire to receive? Is this a random, lucky accident, or is there something more to it all? Obviously talent and a certain general appeal is part of it, but there’s that other sort of mysterious, intangible quality to this whole phenomenon—that is, the connection between creator, creation and receiver/audience.

What I love the most about this whole idea of certain things affecting certain people is that it basically perpetuates creativity. I am very much inspired by Arcade Fire when I write my own lyrics. I’m sure that Win Butler and everyone in the band have similarly been inspired by other creators when writing their own songs. The cyclical nature of creativity makes me feel like I have a part in creating these things we love—as though everyone who creates is connected somehow. God has given us countless different ways to connect with other people.

Perhaps that is the very foundation of this phenomenon. We feel a connection with others’ creations because we are all part of the creative cycle when we are affected and inspired by someone else’s creation. After all, we are not so different from one another on a deeper level. Sure, we all love different things for different reasons (many reasons that can’t easily be explained), but those differences are superficial to the deeper, God-given, significant similarities that we as human beings all possess—i.e. the way we love what we love, and the way connections are made through our creations, and perhaps most significant, the amazing feeling that accompanies the connections we make with others throughout life.