A couple of weeks ago I was in Montreal staying with a close girlfriend that I hadn’t seen in a year. I was preparing to move to a new city, far away from all my good friends, and the visit gave me a chance to spend some quality time with people I’m not going to see much of for a while. It was Thanksgiving and we decided to make a proper holiday of it, with good wine, good food and good times at the top of our list of priorities.

I’d been thinking about starting this project where I try to become a more conscious consumer by buying nothing new for a year, but I knew that starting it in Montreal would be tough. Usually our girl-style good times have at least something to do with clothes shopping, and sure enough, one of my friend’s first suggestions for the weekend was that we make a pilgrimage to H&M. I hedged a little, and even mentioned that I was thinking of starting this project about consumerism, but it was weak resistance at best. I can’t kid myself. I love shopping, especially with my best girlfriends. It’s part of how we have fun, let off steam and relate to each other.

What I’m beginning to realize is that it’s this social aspect of my relationship to shopping that makes my particular brand of consumerism so insidious. My overconsumption is not just about acquiring stuff. It’s actually about my identity and how I interact with the world around me. It’s about how I connect with people I care about in my life. It’s even a coping mechanism I use when I’m stressed or depressed or bored – a medication I use on myself after a nasty day at work or a major (or minor) disappointment. It’s all of these things, and as I become more aware of what and why and when I consume my eyes open to all of this and I realize how complicated and fascinating a project like this could actually become.

When my friend suggested H&M, I didn’t know how to handle it. I was thinking about starting this project, but I was scared to talk about it because I wasn’t sure if it was crazy or if I was capable of it. I was scared that making a big deal about it and refusing to go shopping would make me a hypocrite if I started the project and then couldn’t pull it off. The other side of it was that I just wanted to go to H&M with my good friend and try on fun clothes and be silly. I wanted to go!

So we went. We burnt a bitching mix CD and drove out to a mall in the ‘burbs. We dug through the heaps of Cambodian and Indonesian-made clothes and stood in line waiting to try them on. I blew some cash on some clothes I needed and some that I didn’t. And then we drove home, laid our new purchases out on the couch to admire, drank some wine, watched some movies, and did all the other things that I love to do with my girls.

Two weeks later I’m in my new home in my new city, where there’s no H&M or Jacob or Zara. I’m also one week in to what I hope will be a year of buying nothing new. I decided to have a go at it to see what happens.

When I sent my friend the link to this blog to tell her about the project, she wrote back: “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone about H&M.” At first her response embarrassed me. I mean, who enjoys having their hypocrisies pointed out to them? But it also got me thinking. I knew going into this project that I didn’t want it to be about asceticism or preaching some high and mighty set of values. Nobody’s perfect and I know I’m not either, nor am I trying to be. I like to shop and I hang around people who like to shop. Shopping with my friends is fun. Shopping when I’m down makes me feel better.

All these things are true about me and probably always will be, which is what makes this project so perfect! I’m aware of my hypocrisies, but I want to know even more about them. This project isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being imperfect and in process, and exploring what happens when my awareness of that deepens. It’s about setting an example by being flawed and increasingly conscious in the process.

The things I own don’t define who I am, but I’m finding that saying that and actually believing it and really putting it into practice are two entirely different things. I’m also starting to figure out that that is what makes this project so very interesting and necessary.

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