Exactly a year ago today I made the decision to go a whole year without buying clothes. Before you get too impressed, you should know there were some exceptions. If I was given a gift card for a birthday or other special occasions, I used it on clothes. There were a few other exceptions, but the main point was, I loved to shop, maybe too much, and I knew I needed a practice in self-control. So, for the year, I decided to cut myself off.
Growing up I had earned a reputation in my family. If gifted money, I would spend it like it was burning a hole in my pocket. Quickly. Efficiently. Easily. My sister was the exact opposite. We could go to a drugstore and she could spend hours staring at the various shades of lip gloss debating the perfect shade and the thirteen cents price difference, where I thought, why not put both in my red basket? Problem solved.
And then I became an adult and I my habits didn’t really change. And the problem was, they didn’t have to. I had never been in debt. I wasn’t putting us in financial trouble with my decisions. And yet, December 31st, of 2017, I found myself thinking maybe the point of my money habits wasn’t to avoid financial ruin but something else.
So I stopped buying clothes. And it was terrible.
For a little while. And then I just I shifted my shopping impulse to other things. And it wasn’t until I was about half way through the year that I realized as long as I made the year about clothes, I would have the same problem with different symptoms when the year was over. That the real issue was learning how to say “no” to myself. Not because I had to, because it was good for me to.
I heard Rob Bell say once, “This is really about that.” And all these years later, I’ve never forgotten it, and am continuously surprised about how often it applies to my internal life. We, as collective humanity, are masters of denial, avoidance and distraction. I went into the year thinking the this was about clothes. I came out learning the that was learning to identify the itch the clothes were scratching.
There is a scene in the third book of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when one of the main characters, Eustace, is turned into a dragon. He was a miserable little boy. A grumbler. A complainer. A selfish and preoccupied child. He thought dragonish thoughts, he acted in a beastly way, C.S. Lewis tells the reader, and so he became a dragon. Until one night Aslan appears to him and offers him help. How? By removing the scales. By tenderly, expertly, deliberately, getting beneath the scales to the raw skin beneath. It was painful work. As change often is. But it is the only way.
What did I learn in my year of no clothes shopping that ultimately became a year of learning to say “no” to unnecessary things? That the scales in our lives are persistent in growing over the most vulnerable parts of us. That it’s easier to ignore, cover up and distract. Whether it’s with shopping, eating, drinking, television binging, social media scrolling, busyness living or anything else. Too often they act like scales. A way to keep from getting to what’s really going on beneath. And when we stop the behavior we are finally made to ask the most vulnerable question of all.
Why did buying clothes give me an emotional fix? Why do I feel the need to scroll through my phone instead of dealing with the commotion of a small family? Why is it easier to obsess over food than to deal with the emotions the food is masking? What are the million of small and big ways I am disconnecting from my life with unhelpful things, but also sometimes good and healthy things, because it is a way to avoid dealing with the raw, and the scales feel much safer?
I woke up this morning glad my year of no new clothes was over. But also very much aware that it would take nothing much at all to end up right where I started out. A master of using this to avoid dealing with that. A creator of habits that may not harm me, but may not bring out the best in me. A wearer of scales so as not to confront the vulnerabilities underneath.
Ultimately the year wasn’t about clothes at all. It was about learning to ask harder questions of myself and confronting the sometimes not so flattering answers. It was about dealing with this and that. It was about risking exposure of my still-a-long-way-to-go self at the expense of comfort and ease and habit and routine. In order to become better, healthier, more whole.
I’m not saying everyone should take the year off from buying clothes. I’m saying whether it’s the Whole 30, or a break from social media, or a month of no evening glass of wine, or denying yourself Netflix for a season, they are all a way to figure out what your scales are. And a way to get beneath the scales to figure out what the scales are doing for you. How they are serving you, but at your souls expense. How they are keeping you from engaging with your real life, and becoming who you were meant to be.
So what did I learn this past year? Saying “no” to yourself for no other reason than learning how to hear it and listen to it is harder than I thought and better than I thought. That living life with scales is much easier, but also living at 50%. And I would much rather live all in, all awake, all alive, all here, however hard it is, however much it asks of me.