Confessions Of A Shopaholic: One STELLAR Writer On Her Decision To Quit Buying Clothes For A Year

Elle Gordon is re-examining her relationship with clothes and shopping.

My relationship with clothes has many layers to it. It started with a pair of yellow sunglasses. I can remember the day; I was in a treatment clinic as a child and while my sister got to go off to school, I was lying on a wooden bed while a Hungarian physio (who would make Lord Voldemort look like an oul softie) bent and twisted my limbs and did not smile. For a five-year-old adjusting to life with mild cerebral palsy (and even though my mother was a permanent fixture at my bedside) it was a bit scary and not much fun. Then my mum produced the sunnies. They were yellow, plastic and probably cost less than a few punts. Yes, punts, that’s how old I am. But the joy, that moment, of putting them on and feeling oh. my. word, fantastic, is something I couldn’t forget in a hurry. In that moment, in my small world, I was experiencing the feeling of clothes as armour. I put them on and felt invincible.

Then as I grew, clothes started to have more and more of an impact in my life. In my teens, I was in boarding school and my dad would give me a few quid a week to spend on what I needed, which for me, of course, was clothes. So I would save and save, until ‘leave-out’ day – yes, I know, how very Mallory Towers of me. But, during leave-out which was on a Wednesday afternoon, off I would fly to Liffey Valley Shopping Centre and spend my carefully saved money on… well, jeans and a tank top probably. I like to think my purchase choices have improved with time.

And so the cycle continued and the years passed. Off I went to college in UCD, and it was there that style really transitioned from something I simply enjoyed doing to something that felt like a necessity. Some people have their war-paint to get them through the day; for me, clothes are what make me feel brave.

The thing is, beyond all these outfits that I have acquired over the years, I am many things. I am a woman, a friend, a daughter, but given I am also a person with a disability, I can be ‘yer wan with the limp’ which is not something I ever want to be seen as first and foremost. Yeah, I limp. But I also make people laugh, I work hard at my job, am an excellent bun-maker, decent at cobbling the outfits together and a fiercely loyal friend. So for me the fact that something physical, that I cannot control, that I would give anything not to have, should be the first thing that people see can be earth-shattering and heart-wrenching. It is just a tiny-part of the bigger imperfect picture that is me. And so this is where fashion stepped it up a notch to become my saviour.

Walking into a room where suddenly the stares are replaced by admiring glances for that bag is so powerful that at times I have felt giddy, heady with the relief that courses through my body. The cold, the freeze, the moment of dread for whatever awful thing I know this stranger is about to say and suddenly a whoosh of warm as I realise, that in fact they just want to know where my jacket is from. Limp forgotten. Imperfections safely out of reach, and heart intact minus any bruises. Well, that is something worth buying for. But what I have come to wonder is where does it stop? Will I be 80 years of age, nipping into Topshop before an event or am I able to stop when I want to? I’m not sure.

And there is also the dark side my need for acceptance and approval is fuelling. I buy things frequently, shrouding those little pockets of emotional pain with a fab new coat that I feel a million dollars in, or a great new pair of trainers that I think you’d hardly notice my imperfections in while I am wearing them. But what happens is that in protecting myself I am giving little consideration to the impact this is having on my mental health and even on my bank balance.

Imagine, if I buy nothing for an entire year, where else that money could go. Maybe it’s fine now, but if I think about my 10-year plan… worrying whether my appearance is up to scratch and if I look put together enough, is not something I want to be dealing with. And so the only thing I could think of, like with any addiction, was to go cold turkey.

My research tells me that I can expect it to be a transformative experience with umpteen people who have embarked on similar journeys referencing just how much joy this life of simplicity in favour of consumerism has brought them. Many spoke about how it gave them an appreciation for living simply, rather than simply existing, which sounds to me like a very healthy mantra to live by. And so I have stopped shopping. I am writing this now three or so weeks into the ‘new me’ having purchased not a stitch of clothing, and you know what? It feels pretty great. I am noticing things more, pieces that have lain forgotten at the back of my wardrobe and suddenly I am thinking, ‘Oooh, must give that an oul outing.’

It’s a great feeling to root out something that might not have seen the light of day for five years, reminding me as I fling it on that there was a reason that I bought it in the first place, and sure it feels like new after such a hiatus from the world. So I am chasing those ‘feels like new’ moments rather than the ‘must be brand new’ ones.

But it is hard. I find it hard not to shop, which is possibly the most first world problem a gal could write but yes I miss the buying. I miss the rustle, the bustle, the buzz as the kindly shopping assistant gives me a knowing nod and assures me that ‘It is fabulous.’ I miss the process of seeing this beautiful new addition to my wardrobe being carefully folded and popped into a crisp new bag, as I walk home already looking forward to the wearing. I just love clothes. I love their ability to say what I want to say, place emphasis where I want to place it and make me feel utterly at ease with myself when the time requires it.

But I realise now that I cannot live my life on a crutch made of fabric. I want to be so much more than just the clothes I am wearing and be mindful about my consumerism, especially in a time when we are all becoming more and more aware about the importance of ethically-made purchases. So this fast-shopper is pressing pause and in doing so hoping for an overhaul in how I view myself and also in what I am doing to the environment. Hello to the minimalist life and stepping out of my comfort zone. I will report back next month on my mission!

Check in on how Elle’s doing on her no-buy in the March issue of STELLAR, out now

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