Sunday, December 25, 2011

One More Week!


Calendar, by Daphne Cholet on Flickr

Merry Christmas and Happy Everything!

It is hard for me to believe that it's almost one full year since I set out to do this no-shopping thing. What's even harder to believe is that after the first few months, it really wasn't as formidable as I thought it would be. What I didn't expect to have such a hard time with was paring down my closet. There's so much stuff in there, some of it was just stuff. I must have taken four bags of clothing to the local shelter this fall, including my favorite Aran cardigan that I accidentally shrunk in the wash (right after I started this clothing diet).

Shopping for gifts over the past month has been full of challenges. There were many trips to the mall under the auspices of finding a shirt for my husband or a present for my mom... which would somehow lead me to take a peek at my department "just to see what's there". There were shiny tops for holiday parties, beautiful boots without nary a scuff, and snuggly sweaters. On more than one occasion, I thought, "It's December. Close enough."

But I'm a person who believes in the power of symbolism. The time and energy I've diverted away from shopping during the past twelve months has been tremendously fruitful for me -- in my career, in my spiritual life, and in my sense of self. I honestly don't think I would be the person I am today without this experience of separating myself from my clothing. And I want to see this thing to completion.

Having said that, I am also somewhat of a shabbier person than I was back in January. The right knee of one of my favorite jeans is being held together by a web of threads. I have gained more weight than I'd like to admit.

I almost put a trench coat in my shopping cart (electronically) today. Actually, I put it in. I just didn't proceed to checkout. I'd be lying if I said I'm not looking forward to New Year's Day like a starving person anticipating a buffet. But I've been to a few buffets in my day, and I've learned a few things about them. The anticipation is always better than the eating. You know, the rows and rows of roast beef, crab legs, sushi, dim sum. You can get bloated and sick in a hurry. I've decided that when I find myself at a buffet, I have to ask myself, "What do I feel like eating today?" or "What really, really looks like it's well made here?" Sometimes, I mentally pick a theme, such as Italian or Chinese, and choose a few things that complement each other. And while I used to skip the salad and fruit (more room for fried chicken!), I now try to pick the same balance of foods I would during a normal meal.

So what I'm getting at is that I'm trying to pace myself as I prepare for re-entry. There are so many darn things I want: a new trench coat, a sweater that's not black, red or earth-toned, black skinny pants, a new pair of boots. Not to mention fresh socks and underwear! There will be some purchases coming up. Perhaps not everything on my list, but hopefully the right things.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Yes, I'm Still Doing The No-Shopping Thing (For the Most Part)

A lot of people have asked me if I'm still doing the no-shopping thing. I've been quite quiet on this front lately, but it's not because I've been secretly binge buying. (Okay, in full disclosure, I bought a couple things since my July reveal: a sports bra and a pair of sandals for the BlogHer convention.)

But for the most part, I've been staying away from the malls and from the shopping websites.

I was talking to someone today about why I'm doing this, and I started getting all emotional, with my eyes tearing up. That's a sign that I'm on the right track.

I hate the clutter of and rotating door of cheap clothing/goods.

I don't want to support the dubious labor practices that enable retailers to sell this stuff so cheaply.

I don't want to model to my kids that this is how we use our resources.

I want to spend our hard-earned income on bigger, more worthwhile things.

I want to be able to spend my time pursuing things that are worthwhile, not pursuing stuff.

It has been ten months since I set out to change my buying habits. I feel the difference. The other day, I took a bra out of the drawer and noticed that the underwire was popping out (TMI? too bad!). It's been a long time since I actually wore out an item. Most of my clothes are looking a little worse for wear, but that's what they're for, right?

No, I haven't gone cold-turkey all year, but I feel that internal realignment has happened and will continue. With the holidays coming up, there will be more challenges. I'll let you know how it goes!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The End of The Great American Apparel Diet

It's been almost eight months since I decided to stop buying clothes. But for Sally Bjornsen and hundreds other women, it's been almost TWO YEARS.
Sally is the founder of The Great American Apparel Diet, which will end on September 1, two years after it began. I stumbled upon the site a few days after I decided to start my year of (almost) no shopping, and found out that I was not the first one to come up with this idea, and I was not alone. There were 300 other women who had given up shopping for various reasons-- to save money, to cut back on the waste of resources that goes into our disposable clothing, or just to get a grip on an addiction to spending.

The rules of The Great American Apparel Diet are a lot tougher than my rules, but we have a lot in common: try before you buy, quality not quantity, don't buy anything on sale that you wouldn't buy at full price -- all this after, the non-shopping year is over, of course. I allowed myself that 40th birthday allowance, but Sally says shoes are allowed. No way I'd put in that clause, or I'd have myself a huuuge collection of shoes by now. (That pair of sandals I bought before BlogHer will have to come out my end-of-year savings.)

In the early weeks of my Year (Almost) Without Shopping, TGAAD was a big part of keeping me on track. On more than one occasion, I followed my old habit of wandering over to the mall when I had an extra hour between appointments or before picking the kids up from school. Those after-Christmas sales were mighty tempting. It sounds cheesy, but I really did think about those 300 other non-shoppers at TGAAD, many of whom have blogged their accomplishments -- and slip-ups -- and that was enough to keep me from buying something I didn't need. Either that or I'm just really competitive, and the idea that if all these other shopaholics could kick their habit, then so could I.

On the rare occasion that I go “window shopping”, I still get that OMG, I NEED THAT, MY LIFE WILL BE SO MUCH BETTER IF I HAVE THAT urge. But I am able to recognize it for what it is, and — for the most part — resist it.

While TGAAD isn't accepting new members anymore, the website will stay live and there's even a section called Maintenance, with tips on how to transition back to the real world and avoid the post-diet binge.

So thank you, Sally, for creating The Great American Apparel Diet and inspiring (soon to be former) shopaholics like me.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

I thought I could pack for BlogHer wihout buying anything

This is my first blogging conference, and there are a lot of posts on the Internets about what to wear to the event.You need to plan ahead. Be comfortable. Sell yourself. And look picture ready at any given moment. After all there are thousands of other camera-happy bloggers snapping photos like paparazzi and ready to post them on social media for all posterity.

No pressure, or anything.

I braced myself for some kind of combination of sorority rush and the Filene's bridal dress sale. Not that I've been to either of those - but you can imagine.

As part of my "birthday month" expenditures, I also bought a pair of skinny cargo crops and a teal blue tops. But that's one day's outfit. What would I wear the other two days? And nights?  I started to panic.You see, my pants are a little tight. And my "professional" clothes are circa Ally McBeal. And since I started this no-shopping thing, my mind doesn't revolve so much around what I'm going to wear.

After all, I'm going there because I'm a writer, not some wannabe reality TV star or D-list celebrity. I been updating my main website and making sure I've got business cards and marketing materials. I also spent the weekend going through my closet, trying on outfits and making my packing list.

I thought I needed just one more pair of slacks. Tan or brown, please. But my trip to the mall didn't really uncover any pants worth buying. Dodged that bullet!

Or so I thought.

Until I saw a pair of black Earthies sandals that look like something a geriatric dominatrix would wear. Marked down to $39. I had to have them.

I guess I'll be subtracting that from my savings. Hope they're worth it!

Friday, July 8, 2011

What Women are Spending on Shoes

I saw this interesting article in Marie Claire magazine--  What it Costs to be Me: US Edition. In it, the magazine features several young women (all of them are single, living in cities, and working in rather creative type fields), in which they spill the beans about how much they make and how much of that they spend on shoes. Like serious shoes. Even the dancer who brings home less than $40,000 a year is buying serious footwear. 

Read the full story at Marie Claire.

What do you think? Worth it?

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Month of Shopping

Photo by wearitdotcom, via Flickr

I know, I've been awfully quiet about my no-shopping lately. I've been quite busy during the last month, as I'm now working as the Race and Ethnicity editor at BlogHer, and reading and writing furiously for the HapaMama Summer Reading series. But I have a confession to make: I've been shopping.

Save your breath. It was part of my plan all along. Remember? This is A Year (Almost) Without Shopping. My 40th birthday was last week, and I gave myself grace -- and a budget -- to purchase a few things. Starting in late May, I returned to a few of my old haunts, and tried to zero in on what I really needed, as well as what I really liked.

One thing I've learned over the past few years is that it's really easy to buy a LOT of stuff, if you jump at everything that catches your eye.

Over the past six months, I've learned that it's actually not that hard to buy NOTHING because if you just set some limits and never go to the mall or log on to your favorite websites, the temptation is gone.

Over the past few weeks, I've learned that what's really difficult is to buy JUDICIOUSLY. Not just in terms of price. In fact, searching for bargains can often get in the way of purchasing things you truly love and can wear over and over. Case in point: I wanted to buy a flirty summer dress for my birthday dinner. All along, I intended for it to be a nice piece, from a recognizable name. But then, during one of my sporadic shopping sessions, I saw this grecian maxi-dress in one of my favorite colors: drab olive green. (I know, I know) I had to have it. It was so cheap and cute, I couldn't resist. After all, if I wore it one time, I'd get my money's worth...

By the end of dinner, I realized this was probably going to truly be a one-wear dress.

Lucky for me, I did make several other -- much smarter -- purchases, including a new bathing suit (I've worn it almost every day this week and it's still going strong) and an awesome Knomo purple computer bag that I'll be rocking at the BlogHer Conference in San Diego.

My husband has been joking that I'm "stocking up" for the next six months. But I know all about stocking up, and this ain't stocking up! It's time to wean myself away from the shops again. And move on to another crucial part of developing a better wardrobe: weeding out the stuff that's been lingering around, unworn, waiting for the day I will finally have the occasion to wear the rose-print Victorian jacket (sad but true).

Saturday, May 7, 2011

What does a bin of Legos have to do with it?

Besides clothes, the other thing I have a lot of in my house is Legos. Star Wars, Bionicles, just plain bricks. You name 'em, I got 'em.

My family spent the better part of last weekend rearranging furniture and assembling shelves from IKEA to store our evergrowing collection.

Why are you talking about Legos? I thought this blog was about shopping.

Yes. And no.

It's actually about not-shopping. But what it's really about is everything that we are truly looking for in the perfect sandals/jeans/bathing suit.

Since Christmas (I know, it's May), my living room has been shamefully strewn with toys. Not because we are lazy and don't make our kids pick up after themselves. It is because we are hoarders. Every birthday and holiday, my boys receive dozens of new toys. Their eyes light up as they unwrap each one. But after a few days, many of them are ignored. Some are broken. Some just never worked the way the package promised. Still, if I ask my kids to give some away, they swear they still like EVERY SINGLE ONE... and they might want to play with them again someday.

Do you get what I'm driving at?

The one kind of toy I won't pressure them to give up are Legos.

I love seeing bins full of them.The colors, the shapes, the sizes. The different ways they can be mixed and matched. The potential they represent.

Sort of like a pile of t-shirts in every color. Jeans organized from darkest to lightest.

Enough lipglosses to wear a different color every day of the week.

Let's just say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Sometimes, when I want new clothes, what I really want is:


If we look around, there is beauty all around us.

It's May! I have gone four months without buying a single stitch of clothing. Okay, I did buy those lipglosses above at Costco. Technically it's not clothes, but you know what lipgloss is really good for? Making the slope really slippery.

Next month is my birthday. I need to ponder what that means in terms of a gift to myself...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Could You Go One Day Without Shoes?

I am not one of those barefoot people... you know, the kind who can walk around in no shoes, or go anywhere in thongs. My husband is one of them — he thinks the most comfortable footwear for a day at Disneyland is a pair of well-worn flip flops. Me, I need arch support and a slight heel. Frankly, I like my feet to be separated from the dirt, wads of gum, or shards of broken glass on the ground. Especially at an amusement park.

For some people in developing countries, going shoeless is not a choice. It's just the way life is.

Tuesday, April 5 is One Day Without Shoes , a day of action to get people to walk around, barefoot, to raise awareness for the millions of kids around the world who can't afford shoes. The project is sponsored by Tom's Shoes, a company that make these fabric espadrilles, starting at $48.

For each pair of shoes sold, the company also donates one pair to a child in need.

A typical pair of Toms Shoes

I'm not planning on taking part in One Day Without Shoes (c'mon, I'm already going a whole year almost without shopping!), but I do admire those who will sacrifice their soles. And I like any company that has an element of social responsibility, especially in this disposable age where most Americans buy often and buy cheap, without much regard to how products are manufactured or where the profits go. The Tom's website states that their shoes are made in Argentina, China and Ethiopia — under "sound labor conditions, pay fair wages and follow local labor standards".

As I just finished my third month without buying myself any clothes, this no-shopping thing is actually starting to feel sort of... normal... to me. When I do go back to purchasing things, I do hope to have a refined sense of need v. want, and to be able to make choices that will be good for my bank account, and also for others.

I know, this post sounds incredibly naive and cheesy of me, but I believe, I really do!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

If you must shop, shop for Japan

I'm sitting here typing this instead of figuring out an outfit for my kids' school fundraiser this evening. In my closet, there are at least half a dozen dresses that would be perfect for the tropical theme of this event, but I  am rethinking my plans, as it is raining and 55 degrees outside.

My plan has been all along to not buy anything new to wear to this fundraiser (more money to donate!) and recent events in Japan have gotten me to thinking about how our spending money could be used in ways to help where its most needed. It's kind of awkward for me, on a blog called A Year (Almost) Without Shopping to recommend things to buy, but consider it sort of like the tobacco industry slogan... if you must smoke... Yes, I set my bar high!

So here goes. Feel free to quickly change the page and come visit another day I am leading you astray;)

Threadless, a website which sells hip and edgy crowdsourced designs has two designs for a good cause: this one above, called Rebuilding Japan, to benefit the Red Cross Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Fund and a lovely blue one called Many Hands to benefit Architecture for Humanity in New Zealand.

If you can handle browsing ShopStyle without triggering a binge, there are cute t-shirts from Tory Burch and Ralph Lauren, plus lovely red handbags by Rebecca Minkoff.

Say you really don't need any clothes, but might like to buy something for a good cause. Over at HapaBento they have set up shop on eBay, creating the Bento4Japan fundraiser, which includes adorable bento boxes, dishes and cookbooks — all donated by their manufacturers — so 100% of the sale price is being donated to the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Victims Relief Fund via Mission Fish. 

For other non-shopping ways tocontribute, check out my other blog, HapaMama, to find out how origami paper cranes can benefit the survivors of the disasters in Japan.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Giving it up for Lent

This isn't the first time I've made a conscious effort to not shop. For the past three years, I've been in the practice of giving something up for the 40 days of Lent. The traditional no-meat on Friday thing isn't quite my style. I prefer to choose to forgo things that are really near and dear to my soul. Coffee... chocolate... and yes, even clothes shopping.

That's what I did the first time I tried this Lenten practice. (I'm an all-or-nothing girl) One the one hand, it sounded extremely frivolous. So frivolous that I was embarassed to tell anyone my plan. But it made perfect sense.

At first, I found myself wandering around the mall, admiring window displays. One particular outfit at the Gap caught my attention. They had this rack of Liberty print floral shirts, paired with matching pastel cardigans. I am a sucker for anything that resembles an Easter egg, although that particular palette is not especially flattering on me. I obsessed about that outfit, stopping by the store several times to admire it and think up ways to justify its purchase. After a few days, I realized that I already owned a blouse with little yellow flowers on it, and that I could wear it with a lemon colored cardigan, also from my closet. I wore that combination obsessively for a few weeks. Until I realized that Easter egg shades really aren't very flattering on me!

By the end of those 40 days, I was jonesing to buy clothes. I have to admit that in the month afterwards, I  more than made up for any money I saved during that time. But it taught me a valuable lesson: as hard as it is to give up something I think I can't live without... it can be done. The time I would have spent wandering the malls or clicking on shopping sites, I spent doing some serious journaling, introspection and writing. That experience was the catalyst that started me on the path I'm travelling down now.

If you observe Lent, what is your practice?

Monday, February 28, 2011

I know what I'm going to buy next

I'd love to come over and watch Friends, but I've got tickets to Pearl Jam

You'd never guess this from my performance on the slopes, but I actually lived in a ski town for  a couple years during my early twenties. But if you need want to take a trip back in time to... oh, the mid-nineties, you just need to take a look at my snowboarding get-up.

Before Super G and the entire Olympic women's snowboarding team was even born, I was an O.G.: Original Gromm-ette. I had the super baggy pants, the oversized jacket, with the waterproof butt-flap (really don't know how else to explain that awkward long part in the back).

Then along came my colicky first child. Then my second child. My snowboard and boots were sold to a friend during a garage cleaning session, but I kept the outfit. Why? They still fit, and our family often goes to Tahoe over the holidays, and I need to wear something.

In the last few years, we have been venturing on the hill again, taking our boys sledding and skiing. We spent this past weekend up to our knees in fresh powder that never turned to Sierra cement. Only, I felt like the Michelin Man, bogged down with extranneous fabric and pants that make that awful swooshing sound as I walked.

But I am proud of myself for keeping this snowboarding ensemble. The pants were purchased for around $50 at a ski store in Idaho, and the jacket was under $100 from the Columbia outlet. And I have worn them for FIFTEEN YEARS. I'd say I got my money's worth!

So, come January 1, 2012, I'm going to buy myself some new snow clothes.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

That's it! I'm going to the mall...

A friend of mine says that when she and the dear husband have an argument, her final blow is, "That's it! I'm going to [insert name of upscale boutique]!"

Do you have a "safe place"? You know, when you need a break from the kids after being cooped up in the house all day... work is stressing you out... or you just have an hour to fill before an appointment or school pickup?

If you're like me, you head to — The Mall. Okay, maybe Target. Borders (RIP). Costco.

That happened to me. All in one week.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My closet runneth over

This weekend, I had the opportunity to do some volunteer work with a group of women from my church. Our service was to go to a local women and children's shelter and host a Valentine's brunch and party for the residents. My particular job was to take portraits of the women and their daughters for them to put into special picture frames they decorated as part of the event.

As I walked in, laden with camera equipment and wearing my heart socks (yes, I decided to keep them), I felt so conspicuous. It reminded me of an instance many years ago, when a journalism classmate of mine went to report on a soup kitchen. This particular classmate was a returning student, an "older" woman in her mid-thirties from a very wealthy background. She came to class with perfectly coiffed hair and a diamond ring the size of gumball. The day she was supposed to go to the soup kitchen, she "dressed down" — in perfectly pressed white jeans and a polo shirt. I felt like a less-posh version of that journalism classmate, as I stood in the hallway of that homeless shelter.

It turned out to be harder than expected to take photos of the shelter residents. While one or two volunteered as soon as I had my camera ready, most shied away, or said their hair was a mess, they didn't have any makeup on, or they didn't want their pictures posted on the Internet. I tried to at least get some portraits of the children, since these families may not have many to remember this stage in their lives. Sometimes, the mothers would follow when they had an opportunity to have a picture taken with their girls.

For the most part, these subjects did not smile for the camera, nor did I force them. I wanted to capture the reality of this moment in time: their suffering, their toughness, and their inner beauty. To respect the privacy and safety of the women, I won't be posting any of their pictures, but they were some of the most memorable — and beautiful — I have ever taken.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

One dollar dilemma

It's been a bad week. In my last post, I explained how someone stole my iPhone. However, the shock of it didn't really sink in for a couple of days. After investigating the options for replacing the phone, I started to realize that it was a much bigger inconvenience than I first realized. This, after spending several days cancelling all my credit cards and changing passwords to my email accounts and mobile apps. By Monday, I started to feel really bummed out, depressed even, discouraged with people in general. Yet I had to go to Target — we were out of laundry detergent and tooth paste!

In I walked through those sliding glass doors, to find pink hearts and sparkly shamrocks all over the place at what my husband calls the "Dollar Trap". Immediately, I gravitated toward these pink and red heart socks, and somehow, they slipped into my shopping cart.

Okay, after my instictive grab to throw them in the basket, I realized: I'm not supposed to be buying clothes.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Another Trip to the Mall

I made a trip to my local mall today. It was a necessity, as I lost my iPhone (Yes, the one I just got a month ago. "This is going to be, like, your third iPhone!" my eight year old commented.) and needed to check on the price for a replacement.

So, deflated by the news that it would cost hundreds of dollars to replace my phone, in effect getting me nothing more than what I had at this time yesterday afternoon, I moped around the shopping center. There was still an hour before I needed to be at school to help out in my son's class.

It's been almost a month since I've been at this mall, and even in that short time, I noticed that my friends Kenneth (Cole) and Max (Studio) had moved out. Feeling depressed — how stupid could I be to leave my phone sitting on a bench, even for a few minutes? — I was tempted to get a little pick-me-up.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Missing Out on Chinese New Year

This week, most of Asia — and many other people around the world — will be welcoming in The Year of the Rabbit.  Traditionally, Chinese New Year is celebrated with lots of food, parades and firecrackers, money envelopes, and red clothing. Preferably, new red clothing.

Not that I grew up participating in this tradition of new clothes each New Year. During my Midwestern 1970's childhood, we really didn't do much to celebrate Lunar New Year, except for a few red and gold paper symbols being taped on the kitchen cabinets, and perhaps driving into Chicago for a Taiwanese community banquet. Which is not to say that shopping is not deeply engrained in my heritage.

Some of my clearest memories from early childhood involve going to Sears or JC Penney for back-to-school shopping. Garanimals — with their animal hang tags showing you which striped turtlenecks match which corduroy pants —if I was lucky.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Week Three Check-In: I'm getting weak...

You know how optimistic and full of resolve I was last week? Well, that was last week.

Maybe it's allergies or a cold coming on, but I've been dragging the past seven days. I've been doing a lot of reflection and writing on the role that shopping and clothing has played in my life, which I will share later,  but I keep hearing that nagging voice that's whispering to me: you'll never be a real writer, what are you doing with your life? so what if you go a whole year without buying clothes - plenty of people do that anyway, what are you trying to prove?

At the beginning of the month, Groupon offered a deal I couldn't resist (see how I am hardwired to respond to bargains?) for a month-long pass to a swanky yoga studio. In many ways it's a huge upgrade from my usual gym. It's perfumed with essential oils and the ceiling is lined with bamboo mats. But it presents a tremendous stumbling block: the room where you wait for your class is also a boutique full of insanely cute and very pricey Lulemon clothes. Needless to say, I find my eyes wandering over the racks of purple tops as I tie my shoes. Note to self: wear slip-on shoes next time.

But I really knew I was heading for trouble when I took my son to a rock climbing class. The indoor climbing gym also has a little sport shop in the lobby — mostly caribiners, rock tape and serious equipment like that. While waiting for the class to finish, I found myself wandering over to the sale rack (again) and thumbing through the different colors of t-shirts printed with the gym's logo.

The backstory: I rarely wear shirts with words or company logos on them. In fact, if you ever see me dressed in a tee with a saying on it, I am either
  1. Required to wear it for some event, or
  2. About to do some really dirty job and put on a shirt I got for free (see above) that I hope will get horribly stained or destroyed.
This goes back to my middle school years, when ESPRIT sweatshirts were all the rage, and my dad gave me a big lecture about how if I was going to wear some company's name, they should be paying me, instead of me paying extra for the brand logo. I normally don't take fashion advice from my father, but this little tidbit stuck with me!

Luckily, I came to my senses and averted the near-disaster of purchasing a shirt from the climbing gym.

You're not going to wear THAT, are you?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Week Two Check-in: What's Better Than Shopping?

My friend Susannah posed this question to me a few weeks ago: Is there something else that could give you the high you get from a new article of clothing? At the time, the best answer I could muster was, hmm... let's see...there must be something... let me get back to you...

Well, my answer is a resounding YES.

For me, writing is the thing that makes me feel like I'm doing what I was put on this earth to do. Especially, when it is actually read by other people and generates a meaningful disussion. This week, Amy Chua's controversial Wall Street Journal essay, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" set off a firestorm on of debate about Chinese parenting. Like any good Asian American blogger, I followed the issue closely, even reading the Chua's memoir and writing several pieces about it, one of which was published on Salon. I was too busy to even think about shopping. And you know what? The ensuing dialogue was more satisfying than any new garment could ever be.

However, the writing life is also riddled with pitfalls. For every exhilirating moment, there are also dozens of times when the muse is mum, nobody reads my blog, or I receive a deflating rejection letter from a publication. That is why writing and shopping have become entangled in my life. As opposed to the sometimes soul-questioning, start-and-stop process of writing, refining, editing — shopping provides immediate gratification. I cannot tell you how many mornings I have spent in front of the computer, for seemingly little payoff and my mouse drifts over to some shopping website for immediate, tangible rewards.

They say identifying the problem is the first step toward solving it.

What gives you an endorphin rush? What is most satisfying to you? And what you turn to for an immediate thrill?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Is Anybody Else Keeping Their New Year's Resolution?

It's the second week of January. The holidays are behind us, and for many people, so are the New Year's Resolutions. Did you make one? Are you still sticking with it?

I have been a serial resolution maker ever since I was a kid. I have become vegetarian more times than I can remember. I have started the Couch to 5K training program enough times to have run a marathon. And each time January rolls around, I keep making these pledges to better myself.

For the past couple years, I can honestly say I have been successful in keeping my resolutions. How? Let me let you in on a little secret: you just have to set the bar low enough.

Seriously, what I mean is do not set lofty goals, such as:

"Lose 25 pounds"

"Write the Great American Novel"

"Become a better person"

Instead, set smaller, process-oriented goals that take you toward the Big Goal. For example,

"Exercise three times a week"

"Get in the habit of writing every morning"

"Say one positive affirmation to someone each day"

It is important that your goals involve your choices and are not dependent on other people's reactions. And it's also helpful if the goals center around every day situations that you will have plenty of opportunity to practice... and succeed... and fail... and try again... and succeed more often. Last year around this time, I started the Couch-to-5K training program. Which was great, until I started getting busy and didn't have time to run three times a week. And when I missed one (or two) weeks, I had to step back a bit in the program. And when I went all summer without running at all, I had to start the darn thing all over again.

So why should you even listen to my advice if I can't even complete a basic fitness program?

Because the act of trying — repeated, long-term trying — takes you closer to your goal than if you had set yourself up for frustration and just quit altogether. I was really close to buying something I didn't need today. It was red and shiny, two qualities I absolutely cannot resist. It wasn't a pair of shoes, but a Le Creuset enameled steel stock pot, marked down quite appealingly. Yet, I really don't need a new stockpot. In my previous life, I might have bought it, with the understanding that I would return it if I later decided it was a bad idea. That mentality was one of the slippery slopes that led me to mindless spending. So, one of my "sub-goals" in my Year (Almost) Without Shopping is that I won't buy with the option of returning.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll tell you I have yet to finish the training program, but I say that I have much better strength and endurance than I did before I started.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

One Week Check-in - Feeling (over) Confident

High: I made it a full week (all seven days!) without buying an article of clothing for myself.

Low: There are 51 more weeks in the year.

Seriously, I felt so confident in my resolve that I ventured to The Mall. My mission was to buy some Clone Wars cupcake decorations from Williams-Sonoma, but to do that, I had to walk past windows like this:

Isn't that teal dress on the sale rack adorable?

And this:

My defense mechanism: I took my five-year old son with me. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't have gotten much shopping done, because a Kindergartener doesn't have much patience for looking at women's clothes.

For the near future, I plan to avoid malls and the shopping websites as much as possible. But eventually, there will be occasions when I legitimately need to go to stores that sell things that will tempt me. Maybe I will have to take a friend with me...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Do You Remember Your First Time?

It is a one of the major milestones in the journey from girl to woman, and every shopaholic remembers it in great detail.

I'm talking about the First Big Purchase. For some it may have been a Louis Vuitton handbag; for others, simply an item of clothing that was bought at full price from a chain store. A First Big Purchase is not characterized just by its expense; more importantly, it symbolizes the crossing of a mental threshold. Perhaps you believe that you have "made it" or are "worth it". Or maybe you're the superstitious type and place your faith in a certain article's trasformational powers — if you buy it, they will come...

My first time took place in San Francisco in the early 1990s. I was fresh out of college and looking to start a career as a television news reporter. The job I had at the time — assistant to the assistant of paper printing and videotape rewinding — didn't pay much, but I really wanted needed the right wardrobe to show the world I what I was made of. So I put all my money on red. Red blazer, that is.

It was in the window of a Bebe store on Fillmore Street (before Bebe became a ubiquitous mall fixture, specializing in the type of clothing that could only be worn to a nightclub.) My First Big Purchase was a wool gabardine blazer the color of cranberries. Double breasted, with covered buttons and peaked lapels,  the jacket was cut with shapely princess seams back and front. I had to have it.

Back in those days, it was unthinkable to take a purchase home at first sight. Instead, I made excuses to walk past the storefront, going to a certain coffeeshop while there were five others closer to my apartment. One day, I mustered the courage to walk into the store and try it on. The blazer fit like it was made for me. Yet, I hung it back on the rack.

As much as I tried to put the red blazer out of my mind, it was all I could think about. In my daydreams, I schemed of ways to stretch my budget to make it mine: eating ramen every night, avoiding buying gas, and making no other purchases for months. At the end of that summer, it was time to make my resume tape, a video of myself announcing a mock-newscast that would be sent out to hundreds of prospective employers around the country. That red blazer would complete the package.

Giddy, nervous, excited, hopeful, scared... those were just some of the emotions in my heart as I handed over my credit card to the clerk. The price tag: $198.00.

That red blazer was my go-to job interview outfit, and I continued to wear it weekly for years. Although it is probably a bit dated now, the red blazer is still hanging in my closet, a symbol of who I was and who I hoped to be.

Did you have a First Big Purchase? Or am I overthinking a piece of fabric?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Last Package

I opened my door yesterday to find a plastic wrapped parcel on my front porch. Oh yeah, I almost forgot— I ordered a pair of new black yoga pants from Athleta during their after-Christmas sale. Make that two pairs (I didn't know which size would fit me. I'll return one of them. Really.). As I tore the package open, I realized that if all goes as planned, this will be the last time I get a new treat in the mail for a looong time. Can I go one year, without hearing that satisfying thunk on the steps and running out to find the shoes/pants/sweater I've been waiting for?

At Day 4, I feel pretty good about my resolution. I even managed to make a trip to Costco and walk past the stack of wool pea coats on the way to the cereal aisle. But I am waiting for the other — super cute — shoe to fall. What's going to happen when I have a bad day, a bad week, or simply see something that would look fabulous on me (and marked down to a price I can't pass up)?

I need to buy a few gifts and am strategizing how I can do this without walking into the lion's den. My first thought is to go to small stores that sell only the specific type of merchandise I need, ie: a toy store for the kid's gift, a baby boutique for the newborn gift. Instead of walking into the mall where there are landmines all over the place, there will be only certain things. Sure, I'll pay a little more, but I'll be supporting a local business and perhaps more importantly, supporting myself.

Speaking of support, I have joined a movement called The Great American Apparel Diet. It's a group of women who have for ethical and financial reasons decided to go for a year with no new clothes. The program started on September 1, 2010 and there are are 239 days left on the ticker. Reading the other members' bios makes me feel a little like I'm walking into a 12-step program. I mean, I can stop at any time, right? I'm not like those addicts. But the refrains are quite familiar to me, and I know I am just like everyone else there. And it is quite inspiring to see women from all around the world who struggle with the same things I do and are succesfully making changes.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The No-Shopping Ground Rules Pt. II - The Fine Print

I shared the concept of my year (almost) without shopping to some friends, and the overwhelming responses involved words like 'brave', 'bold', 'seriously!?!'

I shared the concept with my husband, and he jumped about three feet in the air with a fist pump.

Which led to a discussion of: how exactly is this going to work?

Me: "Well, I try to avoid buying new clothes for a whole year, and with the money we save, I can get this really great digital camera, or we can go on a vacation, or something like that."

Husband: "Just how much money do you spend on clothes?"

Let's not concern ourselves with petty details, just stay at the 40,000 foot level, okay? But I do agree that there have to be some guidelines.And there has to be some leeway for slip-ups, or else this New Year's Resolution will be done before the month is up.So here's what I've come up with:

The Fine Print

  • In the event of emergency (big job interview, loss of luggage, Half-Yearly Sale at Nordstroms) purchase of new clothing for the principal (who will heretofore be referred to as the Shopaholic) will be permitted. However, any expenses incurred during such "emergencies" will be subtracted from the total sum of estimated annual savings.
  • The Shopaholic shall not use any gift cards belonging to her husband to buy clothing for herself.
  • The "Year (Almost) Without Shopping" experiment  pertains only to the purchase of  new clothing, shoes and accessories for the Shopaholic, not food, clothes for the kids or other truly necessary items.
  • However, this does not give the Shopaholic free license to start spending more in home decor, fine wine or other fun things.
  • In the event of a 40th birthday, the Shopaholic will be permitted a purchase equal or less than the value of one month's amortized savings.
How does that sound? Should I have my attorney look it over? Oh, I am my attorney.

Part I of The No-Shopping Ground Rules is now a featured post on BlogHer!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The No-Shopping Ground Rules - Removing the Temptation

January 1, 2011: I'm already doubting whether this is a good idea.

I started off the morning by checking my emails. Instead of merely deleting the dozens of messages in my (shopping-related) mailbox, I scrolled down to the fine print and unsubscribed to them: department stores (Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Macy's), sample sales (Gilt Groupe, Ideeli, Rue la la), bargain hunting aggregators (ShopStyle, Designer Apparel), off-price retailers (6pm, Smart Bargains). I'm only mentioning a few, because the list is truly embarassing. 

A few retailers I decide to keep (Lands End, Kohl's, Old Navy) because they offer good coupons for buying my kids' clothing and I am largely not tempted by their wares. The book stores are allowed to stay, because hey, reading is fundamental!

Like any addiction, removing the temptation is half the battle. If I am not constantly accosted by offers which will expire in two hours, the likes of which I will surely not see again in my lifetime, I won't have to rely solely on my own will power. For instance, this morning, after I finished unsubscribing from all my emails this morning, I started having second thoughts about the navy cardigan I bought yesterday — should I go back to the store and exchange it for the other navy cardigan I tried on?

I managed to resist that temptation, today, at least. But it's only a matter of time before I find myself inconveniently in front of a sale rack, mentally justifying that pair of boots marked 75% off. I have some ideas for how to deal with that. Next, I'll lay the ground rules for a (few) exceptions and how to deal with a slip up without giving up on the whole thing

Happy 2011! Welcome to A Year (Almost) Without Shopping

For most people, New Year's means drinking champagne and making a half-hearted resolution to lose that last ten pounds. For me, it signals the end of the month-long retail bacchanal known as the holiday season. I'm not against buying gifts for the kids and family, but unfortunately for me, spending time in the shopping arena means constant temptation to buy stuff for myself. And by stuff, I mean clothes. I celebrated New Year's Eve by making one last night-before-the-diet stop at my favorite store, picking up only a navy open cardigan, on sale. This will have to last through the spring, so I'd better wisely choose something that fits well and is versatile.
I've given up shopping before, for short periods, like Lent. This time, I am attempting something I've never tried - heck I'm not even sure is possible: giving up shopping for an entire year. I recognize that for many people, this is a frivolous resolution and the choice to shop or not is made by their budgets. I have been fortunate enough to be able to recreationally pick up a new top while stopping by Target for toothpaste or to lift my mood with a new tube of lipstick. Just look in my closet.
The thing is, that high of acquiring a new thing is temporary in most cases. And my budget could be better spent in other places. Like how I complain that our family never gets to travel anywhere on a "real" vacation. Or how I wish I could afford that really good camera.
I know it's not possible for a girl like me — who's looked toward retail therapy as long as I can remember — to go completely cold turkey. There will be guidelines. And a few occasional allowed "outs", sort of methadone for the shopaholic. It's worth a try.