Friday, January 09, 2015

How to shop your way to frugality

The BBC Woman's Hour has taken on the question of minimalism, bringing in anti-stuff advocate Teresa Belton. At one point Jane Garvey asks Belton about whether all of this let's-get-rid-of-everything is, in a sense, a class luxury - something for those who've always had enough and then some to ponder. Stuff, Garvey was saying (or was this just how I interpreted it?) is perhaps more appealing to those who can't take it for granted. Belton seemed to think Garvey was asking her whether it's materialistic for those who have nothing to dream of a roof over their heads; you'll be relieved to hear that the answer is no.

More frustrating, though, was the discussion throughout of "modest" consumption. "Modest" spenders were asked to call in, and call in they did. Some mention was made of there being a range of what "modest" means, but I'd hardly even classify it as a range. It's like "low-maintenance" - virtually no one's going to admit to being the other way. Everyone (with the exception of cast members of certain reality shows) points to the people who spend - or primp - even more. What's my hair iron and eyeliner compared with that lady's Botox and extensions!*

Anyway, my point is that I don't feel right discussing Cheapness Studies from the perspective of someone who has all the answers. I have yet to be able to teach myself to enjoy eating most legumes, so the proverbial pot of lentils isn't in my repertoire.

But what I will say is that Marie Kondo's thing about how you should love everything you own makes sense. I'd even go so far as to say that (with certain caveats) you should - for frugality's sake - own everything you love. With the I-hope-obvious disclaimer that "love" for objects is different from love for people, although analogies can (and will) be made. A further disclaimer: this is about clothes, makeup, jewelry. If you're a masculine-of-center individual, this may not be the post for you.

So. First, let me reiterate that loving what you own doesn't have to mean shopping at expensive stores. Just as people admire famous actors and models but love their partners, it's possible to appreciate the objective beauty of a Prada dress, while loving a particularly soft and well-cut t-shirt. And (to keep on mining my own shopping history for examples) as much as I can accept that there's beautiful expensive jewelry out there, I remain beyond thrilled with these splurge-for-me earrings I bought over the summer. And while I'm sure there are higher-end versions of the same (Céline? Eileen Fisher?), my grayscale-minimalist wardrobe is mostly Uniqlo with some Muji thrown in. (Note: none of these places paid me to promote them, or sent me free stuff. I should be so lucky.)

But why have, as a goal, owning all the clothes you want? Because - and here's what's either a brilliant thought I had while walking Bisou in the cold without headphones, or nonsense - it defines one's wanty list (credit for that oh-so-useful term, as always, to Kei) as finite. Or, if not finite, then temporarily achievable. Rather than assuming that every season, every lunch hour, you'll discover something new, figure that you have a limited list of things you simply must have. And once you find the pencil skirt or the corduroys, or the cap-sleeved black t-shirts that somehow make you feel like Angelina Jolie, you've checked that box, and the hunt is over. Having this approach doesn't make you immune to wanty-creation upon entering a store or checking out a fashion blog. But it does keep things from getting out of hand. Also: Owning everything you love doesn't mean going out and buying it all at once. Love isn't lust. It needs to be something that you've thought about, mulled over.**

More caveats: Yes, things get worn out, or go out of style. Yes, there's such a thing as the laundry cycle, thus meaning with stuff like t-shirts, you're not buying just the one. And no, you never really know which items you'll end up wearing for years. What I'd say on that front, though, is that you should avoid the ubiquitous advice to purchase "classics" or "basics" (which tend to be the very things where the silhouette will most quickly look dated - jeans and dress shoes especially). Instead, the thing to do if you want to wear something for years is to buy something you love. If you were super-excited to buy the thing, if there was sufficient mulling-over beforehand, you may very well keep on wearing it after it's no longer the thing, or (ahem, Petit Bateau Breton-striped shirts) after it's definitively worn-out.

*Indeed, I sometimes wonder if the point of those reality shows isn't just the straightforward product placement for whichever companies are ostentatiously named, but also to set the bar higher and encourage spending/primping more generally. Not because viewers will emulate the people they see onscreen (fine, some will), but because every indulgence that falls short of what's onscreen starts to look restrained.

**There are certain constraints. If the object is something general - alpine hiking boots, to give an example from my own stash of long-anticipated purchases  - you can wait for ages. But if it's one-of-a-kind - which can include fast fashion, given the turnaround, thus the never-purchased and still-regretted Uniqlo camel cape - you may not have that luxury. Thus why items seen while traveling cause such angst. Or did before globalization and e-commerce meant that those Japanese cosmetics are probably on Amazon.

1 comment:

caryatis said...

I suggest Indian recipes if you want lentils to taste good.