As a shopping addict, I have to admit that not buying stuff is harder than I thought it would be. Also, learning the difference between a necessity, a replacement and a decadence has been surprisingly tricky.
At the moment, for instance, I am in the process of replacing a black skirt. The one I’ve been wearing since I was 13, purchased for my grandpa’s funeral, has become too short as I approach 30. I donated it, deciding I would wear a much longer one already in my closet. However, this plan appears dowdy with my no-heels look. And so I’m looking for a mid-length skirt to suit my needs. Not schoolgirl short, not ‘only fashionable with stilettos’ long. It also needs to fit me well, and look good with tops tucked in or a sweater lying over the waistband.
It’s the type of purchase I have always avoided. My shopaholic tendencies have always leaned towards the flashy, and I was reluctant to spend money on a plain item. This skirt is a basic, not a statement, so why would I have bothered?
Now, though, I’m operating a strict ‘one out, one in’ policy and want to make sure I get it right. I feel it’s ironic that I didn’t learn how to shop until after I tried to shop in a non-addicted way.
I’ve heard these words several times in my life, and I’ve even believed them to some extent. How could I not, when I had consumer debt, student loans and a shopping addiction?
There is no shame in a woman spending her money in the way she wishes, but I am aware of the fact that my habits have been poor. Thus, my decision to spend less does not come from a place of dependence and denial, but rather in the hopes that I’ll be able to see my own consumption more clearly.
As a married couple, the Laird Hamilton and I have a joint bank account, as well as our own separate accounts. He can’t see my outgoings, and I cannot see his. In this way, we have privacy in our spending. However, I swing between wanting financial autonomy and believing that I’ll be unable to spend any funds wisely.
These thoughts are coming up as I reflect on my most recent read, The Year of Less, in the wake of my ‘no spend’ March. In truth, March was probably one of my most expensive months in a long time, and I expect it was spurred on by a sense of deprivation for all the things I wasn’t going to have. Purchases on 28 February slowly spilled over into the first week of March, and what was the point of stopping then?
It is in this spirit that I’m considering planning a no-spend year, complete with lists of approved, necessary items. It makes me slightly uncomfortable to think of justifying each item to myself, but I hope that this practice will lead me on the path to more mindful consumption.
In the past, book clutter was a real issue for me. I’ve had as many as five bookcases full of books, justifying their general disarray by telling myself that it was okay to have this many books when I was doing my Master’s.
Even as I started decluttering everything else in my life, I never thought I’d touch my books. They are too emotive to me, reminding me of all the historical and fictional journeys I’ve taken. And yet, it was the book Paris Letters that first started me on this path, making me think that there was something more to life than the mindless purchasing I’d always done.
The ‘one in, one out’ rule has been in force around Hamilton Hall, but books somehow started getting overlooked in this regard. It was true visual irony to see The Joy of Less lying horizontally across the top of a shelf of alphabetised, categorised non-fiction. Something had to change.
Slowly, I’ve been able to part with quite a few books and am now down to four bookcases. Some of the things I sold were on subjects I was no longer interested in reading or writing about. Others were simply read and unlikely to be reread.
In the past month, all the books I’ve bought have been digital. Though I’ve been resistant to the Kindle in previous years, I think it’s time to embrace it now. It’s not quite the same as reading a physical book, but I still have plenty of those to read when I get the urge. In the meantime, I’ll settle into a world where I know the exact percentage of Start with Your Sock Drawer that I’ve read and that my most recent purchase resulted in zero tree deaths.
So, I’ve been decluttering for a long time now. I started this project ages ago, first to fit more comfortably in our previous flat and then to fit more comfortably in our current house which has less storage space. I’m at the point where I don’t need to own less, but still find myself encountering things I no longer need. It’s made me wonder, where is this leading, and what will happen when I get there?
I know that minimalism is different for everyone, and it isn’t my goal to live out of a backpack or have 100 items. Still, every journey leads somewhere. If the goal was to not have things spilling out of cupboards at me, I have arrived. So, too, if the goal was to have a perpetually clear dining room table or to own no clothes that I hate. I’m still decluttering, though.
If I thought it was to have a simpler life, I’m a long way off. Since I started decluttering, I look on everything with a harder gaze. My threshold for clutter is lower and I find myself unable to stop wondering what else can go. It has not made things simpler.
The goal can never be to have all rooms of my house completely clear of excess clutter because my husband is a true ‘just in case’ type. It also can’t be to have the pristine white apartment because I have dogs.
Is it to learn my signature style? To get down to the core of who I am? To only see things I love and don’t resent caring for when I move through my home? To not have unfinished projects lying around, taunting me? Or is it something much more pedestrian than that: to simply stop buying stuff I don’t need?
Last night, I was finally prepared to deal with all the things I’ve put aside to sell on eBay. The lighting was ready, the dogs were miraculously quiet and I had the house to myself for the evening. However, I fell at the first metaphorical hurdle: listing the shoes.
I could picture myself wearing the boots I was about to list. I knew that there were things in my wardrobe that they matched. I also knew that the last time I wore them, they got quite a lot of attention in Brighton. So why had I earmarked them for selling? I’d always thought them perfect for me.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, this one act of decluttering made me question my entire self. Who was I if not the girl who wore those colourful velvet boots? How did I dress if not in those boots with skinnies and a bouse? Despite my slow indoctrination into a flats-only life, I still saw myself as a dramatic heel wearer. I’ve accomplished things, but have such a visual mind that I’d have difficulty believing I had a doctorate unless I got to wear a white coat.
When the Laird Hamilton returned home, I asked him to describe me to myself so I could somehow remember that I have a personality. He laughed, saying that he couldn’t tell me who I was. Also, he reminded me that my stuff is not my personality, but it can make an impression on others if I wish it to. Did I want my clothes to speak before I did?
Ever the introvert, I decided I prefer for it to at least say something. A murmur of introduction or a quiet greeting. My outfit doesn’t need to shout at others, but I do like for it to be noticed.
I’ve never been one to count my possessions, but this week I wanted to give myself a hard target for decluttering. I decided to put a limit on the number of things that could go back in my wardrobe without feeling as though I was deprived. More importantly, the number itself needed to feel right…and also fit the category where I knew no further decluttering would occur: workout tops.
And so seven became my target. For Spartan minimalists, this will seem excessive. For a more youthful me, this target would have been painful. Seven skirts, seven dresses, seven blouses, seven sweaters. Not everything needed the limit; I only have two jackets, for instance. Maybe I’ll get to seven shoes at some point, but that area is in flux at the moment as I transition to wearing barefoot shoes only – and they’re expensive.
As with any decluttering process, it was time for some honesty. I questioned why I had so many dry clean only items (not for the first time), and wished I could remember how I felt the last time I wore a lot of the pieces. Also, it was time to review the hemlines in light of my ‘flats only’ goal. It was odd to see how many things only appeared flattering when in stilettos. Without that elevation, they made me feel positively frumpy.
This made it easier for me to declutter more, but it made me wonder how many things I’ve bought chasing this cool, stiletto-wearing aesthetic. My pinup clothes, for instance, were lovely to wear but seem to require at least a 2-inch heel to look right. A flat shoe with a knee-length skirt somehow manages to shorten everything. With this in mind, it became so much easier to pick my lucky seven, even if it was a bit forced.
Now, excuse me whilst I fish a lovely sweater out of my discard pile.
In the Tennessee Williams play 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, Vicarro analyses Flora’s attachment to her handbag. In the hot sun, she sits on her porch swing clutching onto the white kidskin bag. ‘It’s certain, it’s sure. It’s something to hold on to. It gives you the feeling of being attached to something.’
Is this what my arm candy says about me? That I need to be attached to something to feel less vulnerable outside my home? Still, whenever I bring my handbag out and find that I don’t really need it, Flora crosses my mind. I do question why I would carry it around when all the things I require fit in a pocket. But still, I feel oddly undone without an accessory on my arm.
With this daily requirement in mind, it surprises me to note that I don’t have too many handbags. There is only a handful, and most are classic and match pretty much everything in my wardrobe. But there was always one that got passed over due to a lack of coordinating items. I’d had it for over a year and it had been used twice. Beautiful though it was, I never got selected.
And so I set about finding it a new home. This was easy and stupidly gratifying, as I gave it to a friend who really loved it. Suddenly, I felt better about it than I had since I bought it, and I can now imagine it being carried with love.