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.