The urge to acquire

Sometimes the urge to acquire knocks at your door and says ‘hey, you really really need something new… no, you *deserve* it… how could you possibly go on without a mustard cardigan’, and your shopping fast goes out of the window. Sounds familiar?

Since I started pruning my wardrobe in 2014, I’ve mostly observed others going through these dynamics: friends telling that they just *need* to buy something new every month, seeing how some wardrobes fill up immediately with new things once the old ones are edited away, people digging through swap piles frantically to take away something, anything. And, no, I am not immune. It happens rarely but I had a recent flare-up that got me thinking…

Let me set the stage for you: September, Porto, late afternoon, vacations. After lunch C went back to the apartment for a siesta and I went to see an exhibition on Frida Kahlo photo archive. Nice. After coming out of the museum I just walked around and ended up in front of a Humana, suddenly having it very clear that I was going to buy something there.

After a short mental scan of my wardrobe for possible need, I proceeded to meticulously review every top and dress in that shop to select my winners. As after the September swap, I touched the garments, looked at fabric composition tags, scoffed ‘ugh, 100% polyester, of course’, looking for something nice in at least 100% cotton or viscose. While linen or silk would have been nice, Humana in Iberian peninsula is not that kind of place; as with the swaps, what goes around, comes around. And after several trips beyond the fitting curtain I had two garments that made sense for my wardrobe for €12.78. Both of them can be assumed to be functional replacements of a ‘beyond repair’ garment I said bye bye this summer, like so:

To make it even funnier, both are Zara, made in Portugal (the black one) and Morocco (the white one), and the black one even had its tags on: from the original €17.95 to €7.59, even less than the price tag said because in Humana they do all kinds of ‘sales’ – all for €4, all for €1 – and that day it was the -20% day. And on top of that – just to make fun of my fabric composition obsession – none of them has that information. The tags on the white one have been cut off, and all the intact tags on the black one does not reveal the material… my guess would be a cotton and elastane mix + synthetic lace for the black one and no clue for the white one, except for the synthetic lace panel.

Although I can rationalize this episode of the urge to acquire much better than the previous time I heard the the little voice of ‘oh, you are so buying something here’ in the WAG shop in Cape Town last year which cost me €160, I am still curious about that voice and where it came from. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t need a lift-me-up. But I needed a garment, and I needed it now.

I can think of two different but resonating dynamics for this. First, food cravings! Assuming that food cravings can be similar to shopping cravings not only in the good way of ‘my body is smart and wants natural yoghurt / comfy shoes, so I shall provide’, but ‘my body is weird and wants pickles in ice cream / a giant pack of chocolate chip cookies / another supermini dress I’ll never wear…’

The cravings story I like to tell has a morality subplot to it – as does garment acquisition after you have learnt enough about the harmful ways of the fashion industry – and involves anchovies. I’ve been an ovo-lacto vegetarian since 2006 and mostly vegan since 2011, but there were episodes in late 2000s when I just wanted a can of anchovies (always when it was already sitting in my mom’s fridge, never in shop). So I would eat it and move on. With no remorse, btw. And nowadays I act similarly around cheese and ice cream. If it feels like a good idea, enjoy it and relax. If it happens rarely enough – and only you can feel what’s rarely and what’s bingeing – just do it. Relaxing your standards occasionally to improve your quality of life is a good idea. And helps to not get too caught up in the purity politics of holier-than-thou. Note to self: Nobody needs another judgemental and suffering martyr.

I considered a photo of anchovies to illustrate my point but that somehow seemed too triggering. Here, look at this moldy piece of milk robbed to calves instead:

Second, selecting from a fixed set. Contrary to Clarissa trying to expand our horizons thinking beyond the given – look up her smorgasbord analogy; in a nutshell, even if you are presented with a multitude of readily available options to chose from, think about what you want without looking at the buffet as your true wish might be on another table – we tend to treat the given set as final, even in fleeting situations. I’m sure I’m not the only one who, when unpartnered and open to encounters, would enter a bar/party/class and without even thinking about it, do a hypothetical potential mate selection along the lines of ‘if this bunch of people would be the last bunch of people on earth, who would I…’ Why? It’s ridiculous. If you are somebody doing this with garments at shops or swaps, play the game, but try to keep in mind what you already have in your wardrobe. For example, when you have selected a winner at a swap, ask if you would swap anything out of your wardrobe to bring this one in. If the answer is no, reconsider taking it.

I keep reassuring people that it’s fine to bring their swap finds back the next time. The frantic buzz of the swap – as in shops during the sales – alters our decision making and sends it into a post-apocalyptic mode of thinking. Relax! Just shrug and bring it back on December 1.

As for me, I think I’ve found the perfect pastime that allows to open a safety valve for wanting things and prevents me from the scarcity-mentality browsing: sewing magazines! I stroll to my local libraries, fetch a pile of Burda and Patrones, and leaf through, annotating via phone photos and sketches things I like. As I’ve taken up learning to sew, these are fantasies that could be made reality but not immediately. The results look like this and may or may not turn into real garments, but I had my hour or two fantasizing and evaluating along the lines of ‘oh, this is nice… yuck, who thought that that was a good idea? …wow, I could totally enjoy one of these…’


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What’s your relationship with that little voice? Do you have it? Do you indulge it or ignore it?

Share it with a friend!

Luīze

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