Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Shopping and clothes

Clothes and shopping have an oddly prominent position in many of our lives.  On one hand, rigid social norms necessitate being clothed pretty much at all times, and many jobs entail additional wardrobe purchases to keep abreast of the ‘business casual’ policies.  On the other hand, clothing is seen as potentially psychologically transformative -- you feel differently when wearing fancy, tailored clothes vs. lazing around in sweatpants.  In a culture where instant gratification is desired and patience and steady progress are considered overrated, shopping provides many with a quick boost of adrenaline and dopamine.  Studies have shown that some women self-medicate their depression with shopping (and that, conversely, when depressed women are given medication to correct such chemical imbalances, their need for and amount of shopping decreases).  

The decorative icing and cherry on top is how cheap clothing in the US is -- if you’re frustrated with your job, lonely in your relationship, or hating your body, at least buying clothes is a quick and relatively easy way to feel better about ourselves.  Nevermind that no clothing will make your body look completely different or change the way you feel about it, that looking sharp can make you feel better at work but that you jacket is not going to march into your manager’s office and start discussing how to broaden your work contributions and get involved with more interesting projects, and that if your relationship sucks, it will still suck even if to everyone outside you look happy and stylish.  But some shopping is also harmless and a good fun way to hang out with friends, right?  I will admit I’ve had lots of good times perusing stores by myself and with my girlfriends.

Anyway - that whole rant about society, kids these days, the good old days of walking uphill both ways in the snow before the world went to hell in a handbasket, etc, is my precursor to how I ended up with so, so many clothes.  It’s actually insane.  I’ve been donating bags and bags of clothes in an effort to reduce my closet, have less stuff, and make packing and moving easier.  I’ve realized that my nightmare is to be that person (or be married to that person) who is all “we need a bigger house, this kitchen/closet/garage isn’t big enough for all my cooking gadgets/clothes/cars”.  I don’t want my stuff to dictate how I live, or cut me off from life possibilities, and would rather be flexible and minimalist enough to be happy and make-do in any environment.  

So here is the scary truth: excluding underwear, socks, bras, shoes, and a few misc things like a romper, I counted 93 pieces of clothing.  And here’s the kicker:  I have 18, count em 18, dresses.  And I have 6 black dresses!  Ok, they’re all like, totally different, but this means I could practically go an entire week wearing nothing but black dressed without repeating an outfit!  I don’t even wear a lot of black, I like colors!

The goods

So, I’m not going to say that shopping is evil (there are plenty of worse things you can spend your time doing), or that I don’t think clothes can affect your mood, how you carry yourself, or that caring about how you look is vain.  (But I also don’t think that some vanity is a bad thing.)  What’s interesting is how easy it is to amass a massive closet without consciously realizing it.  The worst is that we get bored with clothes, or they get ruined quickly due to poor quality, and perpetuate the cycle of buying more clothes, and either throwing out the old items or sticking them in storage (bonus point for paying to store those clothes you don’t like or even wear).  

I can’t think of any way my life would be less fulfilling if I had half as many clothes (say, 50, excl. undergarments and socks) and stopped buying more, largely.  That’s still a lot of clothes.  And then I wouldn’t have to worry about closet space, packing for trips or moves would be easier, I could replace shopping time with other, better activities, I wouldn’t buy duplicates of things I have or items I don’t need, and I would probably love the clothes I have more.  And I would have more money in my pocket.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cesan.nr0.htm), Americans spent $1,700 on clothes in 2010 on average.  That is so not an insignificant number.  If you make $25/hour (~50K/year at a 9-5 job), that amounts to working for 8.5 days to pay for your new clothes. Maybe that’s a trade-off you want to make.  Maybe not.  

Have many clothes do you have -- too many, too few, or just the right amount?  Do you love or dread cleaning out your closet?  How do your shopping habits stack up against the average American?

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