Starting a No-Buy

Once again, I find that my shopping habit has gotten away from me, spilling out into the world like a deluge. Hence, I’ve decided that 2020 will be a year in which I do not buy any items in my problem areas. These include clothes, shoes, handbags, costume jewellery, fabric, yarn and books.

Clothes, shoes, accessories: their presence on this no-buy list is quite self-explanatory. I do buy too many clothes and spend less time wearing them than they are owed. Also, I find myself less interested and engaged with the things I own because I’m often thinking about the next thing which will enter my wardrobe. I want this to end now. Rather than feeling down about the clothes I have – all of which I loved enough to purchase them, and then keep them after several wardrobe culls – I want to celebrate them by wearing and enjoying them. Am I the only one who buys clothes and is then too nervous to wear them out in public for fear of attracting too much attention?

Next, for craft supplies, my rules are going to be a bit greyer. While I will be unable to purchase yarn, fabric, etc, to start any new projects, I will be allowed to purchase notions and supplemental fabric to finish projects if I find that I’ve come up short. This is not ideal, but I don’t want to have dozens of works in progress and be unable to finish anything because of my no-buy year.

I’ve struggled most with the inclusion of books on this list, but I can always read new books at the library, or I can purchase e-books. However, for environmental reasons as well as space on my bookshelves, I have decided to include my favourite medium in my prohibited items.

I know that starting it on a set date is less about having a clean break with a clear end and more about panic buying. This is obvious to me; otherwise, I would have already declared my no-buy year open. As it is, my book wish list is cleared, as is the one for my craft supplies. The clothing wish list is, as ever, where I have struggled. I’m still trying to crowbar my finances into a shape which allows me to buy a truly ostentatious summer dress that has been on my wish list for seven months or so. If I manage to get the money together before the end of December, perhaps I’ll declare my no-buy open early!

A personal shift

One usually says ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ when exposed to extreme poverty, injury or death. However, this phrase is deployed when one recognises that something kept us from that path, even if we don’t know what that something was. Chalk it up to God, feel relief, move on with the day.

Except that today, I’m wondering what kept me from a life of ignorance and bigotry. Because I used to be what I now consider to be a bad person. I realise that we all learn from our mistakes, but my life’s trajectory has been akin to a pendulum’s swing. When I was a teenager, I was judgemental, bigoted and superior. I believed that being gay was a sin, that women should have fewer rights, having an abortion was murder and that animals’ lives were really just an inconvenience on the path to getting them to my plate.

When I saw a few interviews from outside the Hershey rally last night, I saw a woman who I may have become. Her red hat, her orange hunting jacket, her happy dance as her man complained about Joe Biden. As a young teen, I was on her path. I wore my wranglers and boots to school, waiting for the day when I would marry my very own farmer and be his helpmeet. My job probably would have been writing anti-abortion propaganda, because I was passionate about it.

But something happened, and I’m unsure what it was. I was a carnivore, and then I was not. I was full of hatred, and then I was full of empathy. I cannot pinpoint it, but I am grateful because I know what I would have been without: cranium-deep in a red hat.

These days, I feel the need to atone for my previously held beliefs. Maybe this is why so many vegans get militant: to make up for their own ignorance in the past. Or maybe it’s just that the lies we once swallowed make us angry.

Dreams and the fantasy self.

I dreamed last night that I was going back to America by boat, and all the women working at the cruise line’s desks were girls with whom I’d attended high school. Checking in for my voyage as my mom and husband waited behind me, I felt ashamed to be returning to the US – as if I was an ordinary failure with unfulfilled expectations, just like everyone else. I hated that anyone from my past would know my movements as well, as if their not knowing what happened to me left them free to imagine that something better had transpired.

And yet, in real life, I don’t find myself thinking that anyone from my past is doing amazing things. I assume that most of them still live in the same small town, or perhaps the slightly larger one across the river. I assume that most are doing computer-based jobs, raising children and socialising on the weekends. I don’t think less of them for living this way, and yet I never doubted that I would do grander things myself. I expected that I would have more than my parents did – more land, more square footage, more handbags, more children. I envisaged a lifestyle that I had never experienced or even seen. Even as I was paying for new eyeglasses on credit and choosing store-brand groceries because I could save a dime, I expected that this would change and suddenly I’d suffer from the kind of eccentricity which makes one put up a chandelier in the bathroom. And I’d also have the funds to warrant it. Two-story houses with pillars and hardwood floors: I saw and I coveted. I expected that I’d live in one of these houses without any sign that this would be the case.

Of course, my definition of luxury changed from living in the UK. High-ceilinged flats became more attractive to me than sprawling country homes. If anything, their square footage, rivalling that of American suburban homes, felt decadent. And, after latching onto my dream of living in a Glaswegian tenement, so, too, does my new home. I have more space than ever before and as many bathrooms as people. It feels excessive, and yet it surprises me to realise how easily I’ve grown into it. I have space for yoga without hitting a coffee table, and I don’t need to walk sideways through any of our rooms. We weren’t overcrowded before, but our life is spacious now. And as I write this, a robot hoover is circling the house. If that’s not decadent, I don’t know what is.

Which makes me wonder where my feeling of failure in my dream came from. Why is having a life different to my adolescent expectations (or even my expectations from the last few years) leaving me cold? It occurs to me that my shopping habit may be contributing to this. I wonder if, with every purchase, I believed that I was buying myself a better life. Not necessarily better things than I already owned, but stepping stones on the way to a more glamorous and fulfilling life. Or maybe I thought I’d be glad of such accoutrements once I got there. The Chanel handbag, the McQueen dress, the silk blouses: they were the trappings of someone living her ideal life. I think I believed that the flat and the air miles would simply follow.

I understand that it’s usual for children to do slightly ‘better’ than their parents – indeed, it’s something that most parents work for. However, I’m not sure where my extreme fantasy self came from. I was never one for reality television or even high-fashion magazines. And yet, somehow, my desires for my future self grew to unreasonable proportions through my shopping addiction. I believed that I would suddenly have a life where silk blouses and Chanel handbags were requirements for my everyday life. Or maybe that, in purchasing them, my life would grow to a proportion which made them practical and useful.

My new surroundings

So, my husband and I have moved to America. We have transported ourselves and our pets to a new home, and I’m slowly getting used to it. In the beginning, there were a few document-based issues. But now my name matches on pretty much everything and I’ve been able to open a bank account, apply for credit, renew my driving license and start getting a bit of income. So far, so good.

I’ve also been getting our house decorated and functional. For the first time, we’ve been able to have a separate office and guest room, which has been surprisingly calming. In our previous house, I barely wanted to use the office because something felt a bit off in it. Here, however, I’ve happily set up a desk and a hand-me-down chaise for writing.

Actually, the pieces of furniture we’ve taken in from family members have been surprisingly functional for us. We’ve taken in a sofa, bedside tables, a couple chairs, an outdoor table, an end table and the chaise. It’s made for a space that is a bit eclectic and very cosy. I guess we got lucky that so many other people in my family were moving house at the same time we were.

That’s the thing: my family is here, with nearly all members in the same city. Though I didn’t grow up here, my mom and brother moved here in my absence. They relocated to my mom’s hometown and have been here since. My brother had a brief stint in Texas, but has now returned to raise his own family. My mom has remarried and rebuilt her life here. Suddenly, I see the draw of living amongst them. Even with the baggage and resentments, they’re still family. I’m not sure why I failed to see this before.

It’s strange, but the last few weeks in our new house with our new surrounding have felt more permanent than the last ten years did in the UK. Maybe this is because I’ve returned to a part of the world where my accent matches my surroundings, or maybe it’s because living abroad always feels like an eternal moment of anticipation. I wouldn’t say I feel at home yet, but I feel rooted.

Preparing to Move

My husband and I decided to move over two years ago. We selected our new house and put our current dwelling on the market. When it didn’t sell, we accepted that it wasn’t the right time for us to pick up sticks, and so carried on with life as usual.

‘Life as usual’ has continued until this past weekend, when we realised that the movers will be here in a few hours’ time to put our furniture in a shipping container and send it across the Atlantic. It’s crept up on us. Even through all the planning and phone calls, our visual landscape hadn’t changed. It’s been a fact…but so far off in the future that it hasn’t felt real.

And so movers arrived and loaded up a container filled with our worldly goods, all wrapped up and nestled together. The goods, that is – not the movers. Our house is empty save for the things that the new owners requested for themselves, as well as the two suitcases of clothing and toiletries we each have set aside for the next two weeks. Although, if I’m being honest, one of my husband’s suitcases is mostly filled with my stuff. He’s much better at being minimal with his clothing than I am.

Because the last few weeks have been quite rushed, there wasn’t as much time to declutter as I was hoping. However, I’m sure that there will be time to do that at the other end. For now, I’m just going to enjoy the freedom of living in a near-empty house, revelling in the expanse of wooden floors beneath my feet.

Closet Refresh

I really thought I was past my shopping addiction. I’d gone over a year without feeling the obsessive pull towards shopping apps – eBay in particular. Actually, it was strictly eBay. It still is. It’s embedded in my thoughts.

It started when I changed sizes. Don’t get me wrong, it was time for me to gain weight. I’d been the same size since I was about 14, and maintained this with bouts of anorexia. Eating healthily and daily was new for me. However, it did push me up a dress size. I went from a UK 8 to a UK 10. Not a major shift, but still noticeable. At any rate, I’m very happy with my body, and my husband seems happy that I have a bottom. So good changes all around.

However, few things I owned fit me anymore. Everything that wasn’t flexibly sized or too big when I bought it was unwearable. So I sold some things and donated some others. It was a lengthy process. I had no desire to go back to my old size, which made this easier. But if something was especially favoured before, I felt sad for a day or so. After that, I had to let it go.

What I wasn’t prepared for was replacing all the old things with new ones. I found a few of the old favourites in a size up on eBay, which was excellent. I also learned which jeans best suit me (wide leg all the way!). But I’d spent over a decade cultivating that old wardrobe – how could I come up with something that felt like me without all the years of hunting, saved searches and field tests?

The answer appeared to be ‘buy everything.’ I tried loads of styles – then kept some and sold others on. It was not the most efficient method of finding my style. Still, I’ve taken a few gambles and won some. I bought a new coat for a tenner, tried out white trousers and found that I don’t like floral dresses nearly as much as I thought I did.

Some days, I think that my closet has arrived – that everything I could ever need to make endless outfits is contained within and that I can stop. But other days, I realise that I’ve omitted basics like camisoles or no-VPL underwear and I question my tactics. Why have I been so happy to buy a velvet jacket but forgotten about a well-fitting pair of black ballet flats? Basics seem to have been overlooked in favour of exciting pieces with embroidery or some statement detail that, ultimately, makes the item harder to wear. It’s as if I’ve set myself up for failure but don’t know how to shop any other way.

This push and pull between my tentatively minimalist self and my old shopping addict self has been tricky. These days, I have a functioning wardrobe that I’m mostly happy with, but I still find myself shopping. I still want to ‘elevate my look’ and ‘appear relevant.’ However, the process of changing sizes has made me think that the investment pieces shouldn’t be blouses or jeans. They should be handbags, shoes and jewellery. The stuff that adorns us in ways that are unchanging.

Becoming Vegan

My ancestors left Russia with a full-term pregnancy and a work permit for an abattoir. There are two generations between us. My family’s past dependency on the slaughter of animals provides a bit of irony to my decision to go vegan, because I wouldn’t be where I am today if they hadn’t taken employment. However, I can’t help but feel that any other work would have taken fewer psychological tolls on them. I feel horror when I think of them paid to kill animals and then go home to the people who raised me. I’ve heard about what a problem alcoholism was in my family, but never about the conditions which may have instigated the desire to drink. Can we just decide that the slaughter of animals is bad for animals and people?

But back to me. I’d wanted to stop eating meat from the time I first learned that Lent=no meat season. This was when I was around 7, and I was vaguely aware of its virtuous connotations. Saints were vegetarian, and I was all about the virtuous abstention. Also, it sounded appealing to me from an animal-loving perspective. My mother, however, was against it because I had several food allergies (dairy, wheat, egg, nuts, fish) which meant that my diet was already limited. So my desire was put on hold. Indeed, it went in the opposite direction when I decided that I loved to eat meat.

When I was 14 or so, I gained a bit of independence in my food because I was at a new school close to my home rather than commuting with my mum and brother to another city. So I learned about cooking for myself, and decided to cut out meat entirely. One of my friends went on the Atkins diet and told me the horrors of carbs, but I shrugged it off. My body felt normal for the first time, confirming my choice as the right one.

I went back to eating meat briefly when I was in an abusive relationship and he told me, among other things, that vegetarianism was stupid and didn’t make a difference. In retrospect, the obvious response to this is that we all must follow our own moral compasses, regardless of how much impact we make. I want to ensure that my choices reflect my own ethics.

As I write this, I have been meat-free for several years. The last straw was when I started having nightmares in which the cows or pigs would talk to me or cry or berate me for discarding a bit of gristle. It’s clear that I’m not meant to eat meat, and I’m okay with that – even though cold winter days really make me want a haggis.

Dairy and eggs were never a question – I don’t have the nostalgia for cheese or Cadbury’s, because I’ve never eaten them. In this, my allergies have been rather good for me. (This is the only time I’ll say that.) But the last sticking point has been honey. I love honey. I can eat it straight from the jar. It goes in my tea, it goes on my porridge. My friends and I bring each other raw honey from across the world when we travel. It’s a treat and an antioxidant marvel.

Unfortunately, it also results in the gassing of bees at the end of the season, and the mutilation and artificial insemination of the hive’s queen. I’ve read several arguments on the topic, and have seen both angles. My personal ethics have previously convinced me that eating honey was correct for me. I now have rethought this, because I’m not and never will be perfect. If anything, it’s made me want to keep a hive and not eat the honey. We’ll see on that. When we move, we’ll have the space for it.

But back to me and how this decision affects my own little life. What will I have in my tea?! Green tea with honey and oat milk is my drink. It’s the highlight of my morning. Will blackstrap molasses suffice? Or golden syrup? How about maple syrup? I think I’ll start with maple and work backwards through this very tiny list, then do more research if necessary. In fact, with the weather on the turn, it’s probably the perfect time to try maple syrup in a breakfast context – and not just on fluffy pancakes.