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.