I’m wearing an emerald green dress at work today and I feel like a million bucks, or approximately seven hundred and sixty-six thousand pounds.
This doesn’t happen very often. I usually feel like about a tenner. It must be the dress. I bought it at the weekend and it is perfect; it’s from a charity shop so its purchase isn’t weighing on my conscience, it fits (well, it’s a little tight around the boobs, but that’s pretty much par for the course when you have tits as unwieldy as mine), it’s in good condition, it’s well-made and from a fancy brand, it was cheap, it’s comfortable and it makes me feel pretty and professional at the same time. This is the kind of dress you could wait a lifetime for, rarer than the lesser-spotted emotionally mature adult male. What I mean to say is that this dress is one in a million.
And there have been a million.
In 2018, I realised that my book-buying habit was getting out of hand; I would trawl the review sections of newspapers, Twitter and Youtube every day for recommendations, and suddenly I was clicking ‘Buy now!’ on Am*z*n quicker than you can say ‘Has Jeff Bezos ended world hunger yet?’. Parcels arrived every other day and most of the time I couldn’t even remember what I’d ordered, and given that it took me much, much less time to buy books than it did to read them, they piled up on my shelf in a never-ending Leaning Tower of Paper.
So I stopped buying books. I haven’t bought myself a single book since the start of 2019. I did it to save money, to stop harming the environment and publishing industry, and to stop funding Jeff Bezos’s roasted iguana dinners. Surprisingly, I haven’t missed book buying at all. I haven’t needed to buy books to feed my one-a-week habit; I have borrowed from friends, joined a library, been given books as gifts and in one case found a loophole in my rules that allowed me to pre-order one particular book in 2018 – a year before it was released – so that I didn’t actually buy it in 2019. Cheating? Probably, but the point is this: there was no good reason for me to have been buying the amount of books that I had been. My bookshelves are no less full of unread books than they were at the start of the year, despite having spent a grand total of £0 on them. So if it wasn’t a lack of reading material that was driving my spending, what was it?
While my spending on books reduced to zero, my spending on clothes skyrocketed.
By the middle of the year, I had spent several hundred pounds on clothes before I got so embarrassed about my spending that I stopped tracking it. I’d also bought and returned the same amount on top of that. Since I’d stopped buying books, I’d begun scouring ASOS compulsively even when I didn’t need anything, just looking for something to want – and then another item or two to bring my total to the magic £30 threshold, thereby spending an extra £20 to get free shipping worth £3. I started hiding packages and lying to my boyfriend when he said, “Is that new?”
“No,” I’d fib. “I’ve had it for years but just found it yesterday at the back of my wardrobe.”
Each time I’d hit the ‘Checkout’ button and ‘forget’ to enter the amount I’d spent into my budget spreadsheet (I’m really fun), I’d tell myself that this was going to be the last time. I needed to get my spending back under control. It was wreaking havoc on my financial goals – which, by the way, were not extravagant. They consisted of ‘Get out of overdraft’ and ‘Start saving an emergency fund’, which should indicate just how much I really, really couldn’t afford all the shit I was buying.
I’m not trying to be a drama queen (I manage to be one without any effort at all), but doesn’t that all sound a bit addict-y to you?
Looking at these spending habits, I realised that I had simply substituted buying books for buying clothes. I often justified spending money on books because – well, books aren’t exactly frivolous, are they? They broaden your mind, goddamnit! I am an INTELLECTUAL and I must READ. But when I banned myself from book shopping, my compulsive spending habit just cropped up somewhere else, which made me realise that it was never about the books themselves – it was about the simple act of acquiring an object, about owning it, about the act of spending money and how that made me feel.
This is even clearer to me when I consider my own behaviour before and after an ASOS spree. I would usually only online shop when I was feeling bored, dissatisfied or insecure. I’d sit at my job, twiddling my thumbs, having received two job rejections, applied for four more positions and read all of Twitter before lunchtime, and would think – if I could just look like the kind of woman who edits literary bestsellers in a global publishing house, then I could land that job. Or I’d surface bleary-eyed at 2am from one of those deep, dark Instagram stalking sessions that we’re all guilty of but don’t want to admit to, and think – if I could just look like her, maybe people would think I’m confident, clever, chilled out and that I have my shit together.
For a hot minute as the ‘We’ve got your order!’ email pinged into my inbox, I felt like that person; like a professional, successful, well-to-do woman who has money to drop on fancy clothes on a whim. Then reality would hit and the money would disappear from my bank balance and the clothes would arrive and they would be bad quality and what looked stunning and chic on the model would make me look like a sack of spuds and so I would send the clothes back in a grey haze of disappointment and guilt because the clothes were not enough and nothing is ever enough and I am not enough.
Herein lies the great deceit of capitalism. If you just buy this dress, read this book, wear this coat, lose this weight, get this job, earn this amount, shag that person, eat at that restaurant – you will be content, you will be loved, you will be enough. It’s not true! None of it is true! What buying those clothes will actually do is cripple you financially, harm the planet, keep poor people poor and rich people rich, make you feel bad about yourself and leave you with the acrid taste of guilt at the back of your throat. I know this, I do, but I’m so addicted that I can’t help buying into the lie just one more time in case this is the time that it works.
No more! I’ve had enough! I want out!
I’d previously thought that I’d start buying books again once the year was over, but I’m not going to. I much prefer to borrow from friends, to go to the library, to covert certain titles and ask for them for my birthday. I appreciate the books so much more, and it helps me to decide which ones I really want rather than attempting to buy each must-read ‘that everyone’s talking about!’ that seem to come out five times a week.
Added to this, I’m going to stop buying clothes for at least a year. I’ve got enough clothes, simple as that. There is a slight caveat here in that clothes are not like books – it’s socially acceptable (if not advisable) to get on the tube book-less, but it is very definitely not socially acceptable (and probably illegal) to get on the tube topless – so if I somehow manage to lose/wear out/give away all of my tops/jeans/underwear then I will have to buy some more. In those cases, I’ll try to buy secondhand or from ethically conscious brands.
I hope that this year will help me to reevaluate the value of well-made clothes that will last, will help me feel less guilty by being less wasteful and only buying only what I really need from brands that have better ethical standards than the ones I am currently buying from, will help me make some progress towards my financial goals and give me slightly better mental health and insight into whatever it is that I’m really distracting myself from when I spend money.
Merry Christmas one and all. Remember the wrapping paper scrunch test and don’t buy random gifts that nobody wants or needs. Eat, drink and be merry. Don’t buy into the capitalist lie. Love to you and yours xxx