The first thing anyone wanted to know – usually with raised eyebrows and a well-warranted look of disbelief, – was, why? The short answer was gratitude. Or more accurately, the practice of it.
You see, I, along with my Mom, a reluctant co-conspirator, had vowed to ban shopping for the whole of 2012.
We couldn’t wait for the significant, spiritually enriching moments that were sure to ensue. The kind brought on by, say, fighting off the seemingly insurmountable urge for an impulse buy in favor of charitable giving or, at the very least, thoughtful meditation. Accordingly, as the New Year neared, we had lengthy phone calls regarding accountability, expectations, and fashionable triggers to avoid, lest they turn into temptations.
Needing guidelines to govern our attempt at eschewing retail therapy, we established “rules” to regulate our efforts. They consisted of the following simple stipulations: no non-essential clothing or accessories purchases allowed from January 1 to December 31, 2012; basics, like undergarments, or utilitarian items, such as athletic shoes, were eligible as exclusions with permission, as granted by fellow participant; and should my sister become engaged to her beau during the year, Mom could opt to be automatically released from the resolution due to wardrobe-boosting measures considered mandatory for the Mother-of-the-Bride.
We brimmed with giddy, slightly self-aggrandizing anticipation as our year of gratitude was finally underway. Not yet knowing we were monumentally mistaken in gauging the possible reactions and emotionally rewarding outcomes that might result from our resolution. Unlike the catalyzing factors that prompted our decision initially, which I can confidently recall and defend with clarity.
Fourteen. That’s how many cumbersome, overstuffed garbage bags were piled in my kitchen after a comprehensive apartment purge in late 2011. Next to the gargantuan heap laid two additional bags that, having been filled well beyond capacity, had toppled over into my tiny foyer, spilling some of their contents and taking out a floor lamp.
A cheaply made belt in an excruciating shade of chartreuse had been ejected from the lolling bags, alongside a heeled shoe that was almost a pump but was actually an unfortunately modified bootie. It was a rather disgusting display, in terms of volume and itemization.
Cringing as I observed the Goodwill-bound lot, I experienced a wholly unfamiliar feeling. I never wanted to shop again. Maybe ever.
Since I’m a fashion writer, I counted this as a momentary conviction. But the sentiment continued to nag, and very shortly, my shopping shame collided with what would become the key motivator behind my resolution.
“When is enough, you know, enough?” the visiting speaker asked the congregation of Park Cities Baptist Church, inserting an emphatic pause that belied his casual language. His intonation suggested our personal idea of “enough” was likely better defined as “too much.” This was not an uncommon message for those with a pulpit to deliver during the holidays, given the conspicuous consumption that accompanies the season.
Expecting typical spending-related admonishments, what followed – a challenge to give your best, give more of yourself to those you love – was surprising. And coupled with a lingering obsession as to whether or not I could, in fact, just stop shopping, I was struck by an idea– I’d conquer two worthy goals at once by partnering with my Mom for a commitment to retail abstinence. Brilliant.
As winter concluded and spring progressed, we both maintained an impeccable record of success. We had perfectly adhered to our objectives – yet we had not a single episode of extreme, life-changing acknowledgement of gratitude to show for it.
It was as if the concept of not shopping had eliminated the urge altogether. Like our ability to rationalize our materialism had gone dormant in an effort to survive. Or perhaps it was a different sort of instinct, just as hibernating creatures know they’ve stored plenty for the long, cold season ahead.
So, though it isn’t possible to manufacture a transcendent experience, Mom and I were determined to catalyze the process. Taking action by taking stock, we made meticulous lists of the people and things that deserved our grateful attention, and began sharing them with one another regularly.
While this didn’t result in instant gratification – pun intended – we did notice an uptick in general optimism. And given the serious trials of health and heart our family had faced during the previous two years, this was no small victory.
Then, the closest thing to a watershed event arrived when my sister and her fiancée announced their engagement – and Mom decided not to exercise her escape clause. This thrilled us both, as we finally felt we might, just might, be inching closer to an attitude of gratitude.
But then there was the cheating. Mom purchased, and then confessed to purchasing, a long linen tunic for upcoming travels. I’d fallen prey to the exceptional wares at one of my favorite vintage boutiques, unable to resist an unbelievably discounted cashmere jumpsuit by Valentino.
Penitent, we proceeded to right the wrongs. Mom gave the tunic to me for safekeeping until 2013, and I sold my vintage find to a friend.
Shortly thereafter, the year ended in anticlimactic fashion. We had more or less succeeded in keeping our resolution. We’d bolstered our already strong relationship as we championed and encouraged each other by openly sharing appreciation and gratitude. We’d bolstered our savings accounts as well. We celebrated the fiscal benefits by anonymously donating to friends in need, sneakily paying for an acquaintance’s special service dog and giving funds to a waitress at a favorite restaurant who was worried about providing a good Christmas for her kids.
Despite our do-gooding, there was a lingering void where the profound experience of breaking the often self-destructive shopping cycle should’ve been. And feeling bewilderment at just how easy it had been to adhere to our resolution, we were now left asking, why?
Why wasn’t retail abstinence the challenge we’d anticipated? And why had we not felt marked swells of gratitude along the way?
Answers eluded us as New Year’s came and went, releasing us from our resolution. Free to shop, we perused Pinterest and post-holiday sale racks for inspiration, planning future indulgences. Yet as of early Spring 2013, just weeks ago, neither of us had bought a single item.
Which is when the results of our retail experiment became abundantly, embarrassingly apparent. We’d completely curbed our desire to acquire, but we’d also failed to achieve gratitude. Worse, we were surprised that our trite, temporary approach didn’t deliver an emotional charge and obvious change.
With the shortcomings of our efforts exposed, however, we realized that we had, after all, taken a first key step in adopting a gratuitous lifestyle. We had recognized how little we actually needed, and how often we dressed up our “wants” as “needs.”
We were no longer willfully forgoing purchases as if breaking some magical shopping spell; we’d been infected with a new perspective. We hadn’t resumed our former buying habits because we hadn’t seen anything, at any boutique, for any price point that we couldn’t live without. And we wanted for nothing.
Original photography by Heather Lettieri, featuring model Daniela Sevilla, The Dragonfly Agency. All images credit DFW Style Daily.