Throwing My Hands up: Succumbing to the Struggle and Learning How to Wait
My second rule for a whole year was NO CLOTHES SHOPPING. I allowed myself freedom to buy a few accessories, shoes, undergarments and outerwear. A couple of friends supplemented my experiment (because they love me and they are awesome) and bought me new garments (a killer leather jacket, for example) for my birthday.
I cheated once: for a filmed speaking engagement, I panicked and purchased a new blouse. (The panic itself bummed me out, and I didn't love the blouse in the final video, so the "cheat" was, in the end, a reminder of why I was conducting my experiment in the first place.)
Other than that, no new clothing entered my closet for 365 days. And it changed my life.
History: Before the Skort
For as long as I can remember, clothes-shopping has ignited in me a certain mania. All the choices, the colors, the panoply of gorgeous materials! A beautiful store can intoxicate me--the aromas of the cosmetic department, the promises of well-cut garments, the clever, precious merchandising!
Since I have never been a girl with unlimited funds, looking at price-tags further disorients me. It's easy to become overwhelmed by all the beauty I can never possess. (I end up thinking bitterly about Gustav von Aschenbach and the fatally beautiful, elusive Tadzio, but that's just me. Old lit students die hard.)
I compensated (at an early age) by devoting myself to the thrift-store hunt. When I began my Skort365 experiment, I had to face facts: decades of second-hand shopping had created a monster. My closet was stuffed to the brim with multiples--twelve long black skirts (!), three red suit jackets, four gently used pairs of Ugg boots--none of which fit me exactly well. A Good Find surpassed comfort or logic as I sifted through piles for ridiculous deals. As it turns out, neither a Ralph Lauren wool coat for $4.00 nor a one-dollar trendy tunic is worth anything at all if it is ill-fitting or I have nothing to wear with it.
In March of last year, I pillaged my wardrobe. I removed anything from my closet that did not fit well and did not go with a black skort. It was heady work, anticipating a year of engagements with the intention of buying nothing new.
My purpose all along was to stop feeding the beast. The beast that made getting dressed every day of my life a struggle of one kind or another. Here is a long-winded list of what I gained:
Seven Things I Learned from My Year of No Shopping:
It was weird, at first, entering a department store. The few times I did so, I recall repeating to myself, like a pathetic mantra: "This does not apply to me."
For a few months, it was emotional and kind of panicky. I practiced a detached stance as I encountered enticing window displays and tantalizing mannequins. Once or twice, I actually had to remind myself I control my own breathing and response to the world. I have enough clothes to last a lifetime. Walking away empty-handed from such bounty felt disorienting in a whole new way. But pretty quickly, it felt like freedom.
I walked away. From each new season's fashions, from a $20 designer blouse that would kill with a black skort, when my companions taunted me, when a silk halter-top on sale at Henri Bendel on 5th Avenue developed lungs and screamed my name. And every time--to my surprise and befuddlement--I swear to you, it felt like freedom.
Somewhere along the way, I heard about Sarah Lazarovic's project A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy. For a year, instead of purchasing, she made pretty sketches of the pretty things she coveted. I appreciated the distance her project created between herself, her emotions, and the stuff she decided to do without.
I started treating every tempting garment as a test of time. I reminded myself nothing was actually keeping me from purchasing new clothes. My experiment exists, after all, only in my own little brain. So when I saw something beautiful, which begged me to break my rules, I told myself I could have it if I waited 24 hours and could still justify the purchase.
I never, ever went back.
Gradually, I realized this practice--of waiting, of breathing, of contemplating and not reacting--is a thing. Buddhists and yogis alike seek non-reaction and mindful presence. Contemporary psychology likewise recognizes non-reactive communication as a tool to cultivate strong relationships. I come late to this bit of wisdom, as I am a perennial (and infamous) over-reactor (to all things, good and bad, difficult and sublime).
I gave myself 24 hours before I decided to feel denied. Often, I spent this time evaluating my closet. My lust for a certain jacket dissipated--even though I could justify the purchase as "outerwear"--when I admitted I loved it because it was very like a jacket I own and adore. Once I realized no one notices or cares if my wardrobe is monotonous, I realized the jacket I already posses is probably enough.
(I came to this conclusion sometime in August, I suppose): no one, in fact, notices or cares if I wear the exact same thing every day.
Once I grasped the enormity of this concept, Dear Reader, I felt like I could fly! Department stores, gorgeous merchandising and slick magazine ads entirely lost their power over me. I discovered instead a power of my own--again, it was a brand-new sensation!--the power of being myself.
People treat me now, in a black skort, exactly as they always have. Not worrying about what I wear reminds me every day that people react to my ideas, my speech and actions and ability to be a good friend. Not my wardrobe.
6. The Power of Waiting
I am prone to respond immediately. I have considered it one of my unfortunate-but-good qualities. I've heard it called "creative fervor" and "artistic temperament," but in general, I get stuff done. I go from idea to execution faster than most people, and oftentimes, it works out for the best.
On the other hand, when I finish a script or an illustration, I tend to beat down the doors of my collaborators at ungodly hours to celebrate. I annoy the same people (much like a yappy dog) when "inspiration" strikes me at inappropriate times. I also over-share and externally process and talk a mile a minute. I am exhausting to those I love, and I am exhausting to myself.
So I decided to try this concept of not reacting in Real Life. Gradually--and then almost exclusively--I made myself wait. When I had an idea. When I had a question. An insight. A solution to a pressing problem. An answer to an argument.
With my own physical and spiritual needs, I allow myself to act immediately. I carry a notebook at ALL times and exorcise some of my tangled thoughts by writing them down. (I do come back to these scribblings later, and sometimes there's good stuff there.) When I am hungry, I eat. When I need to cry--if I am alone--I let the tears tumble, wipe my cheeks, and go on. When I am overwhelmed, I excuse myself, stretch and bend, pray and breathe.
7. The Beauty of 15 minutes
In daily interactions with others, however, I make myself wait 15 minutes. My goal is always 24 hours, but at the very least, I console myself: 15 minutes will not make a difference in the spinning of the world. So I wait. Before I hit "send," before I place a call, before I text or post or express my emotions, I wait.
I live in a house with two teenaged sons and a middle-aged husband (read all about it here). "Another day, another sh*t-show" has become my recent mantra. We live a typical, over-privileged American life, replete with first-world problems threatening to knock us off-course at every turn. We are too busy, too cluttered, too wounded to be kind to each other all the time.
Waiting to respond to adolescents who spit venom at me (because it is their job) trumps all other parenting tactics I have ever read about or tried. Much as I do when a white, ruffly skort tempts me at a mall, when my teenagers encourage me to rant and rave, I walk away.
The whole family is still adjusting. They've noticed a difference in my response, but mostly it just makes them feel wonky. They have grown accustomed to my triggers; they depend upon making me go cuckoo under certain dire cirsumstances.
However. Arguments tabled until the morning-light tend to become conversations. A mom who practices a slow eye-blink instead of yelling inspires a nascent trust. A couple who walks away from the late-night crazy, brushes teeth and goes to bed may find new words at the breakfast table.
My BFF (she of the killer birthday jacket) and I check-in frequently on the fine line between non-reaction and burying one's head in the sand. Between walking away from conflict and becoming a victim. And a fine line it is. We must all, always, be held responsible for our words and actions, or we wither on the vine.
But I have discovered, without a doubt, what we in theory already know: you can't argue with crazy, and heated emotions do not generally produce resolution or peace between human beings. Almost everything--given a little time and space--looks better from a distance. Perhaps we gain perspective only by stepping back and breathing our way to peace in our very own hearts.
Against my very nature, I wait before I respond. I walk away--from purchases of gorgeous clothes and from arguments--and I sense a growing calm. I let shocking emails hit and settle before I decide how I feel or how I will respond. I make lists of technological emergencies and present them to my assistant at scheduled times.
When I am overwhelmed by facts, figures and time before the glowing box, I put my hands in clay or spend those 15 minutes doing nothing but soaking up the sun on my back porch. I try to trust this is time not wasted, but time spent living and gaining mindfulness. Mostly, it really, really works. Everything is, after all, temporary; everything gets better.