Last week I broke down and bought myself some new socks. Couldn’t even pull the trigger and buy them in person. I retreated to Amazon and selected the first reasonably-priced, wool-blend hiking socks with decent reviews. I clicked Add to cart, Proceed to checkout, Place your order before I could change my mind.
My feet are always cold, but I’m not a slipper person. Wearing slippers makes me feel elderly and shuffling. Maybe when I’m eighty I’ll wear slippers, but for now I wear socks. I wear them until they’re more hole than sock, yet I struggle with buying new socks, buying new anything really. Something in my genetic makeup or a past life makes me feel that material things should really last forever and ever.
Sometimes my thriftiness is problematic.
Like clothing. I tend to see new clothing as a luxury, not a necessity. Unless you’re walking around naked, you really don’t need anything new. In addition to genetics and past lives, this idea was reinforced when I was a clothes-hungry teenager. My mother determined which items were necessary, and then everything else was an extra, out-of-my-pocket choice. At this point in my life, I really could get over it and just buy some new socks without too much fuss, but instead I snag Jim’s socks. He’s not too happy about my wearing holes in his socks as well as my own, or about finding his sock drawer empty, so he finally comments that I really should go ahead and buy myself some more socks.
So, I click Place your order, and two days later my assorted four-pack arrives. Even my kids notice. “Oh mom, are those new socks?” they each asked separately. Truly new apparel is such a departure for me. They know my usual habit is the thrift store – new-to-me, gently-used vintage finds for a few dollars, with proceeds going to a local hospital. Checks all my boxes. Except for socks and pajamas. And underwear. I do have limits.
Not everyone in my family is on board with the idea of reduce, reuse, recycle when it comes to clothing, and I admit that new clothes are great. New clothes can make you look and feel new yourself – confident, renewed, energized. And I like feeling that way. I do. A cemented memory: About six months into motherhood, most of my everyday clothes were vomited on, pooped on, over-washed, and/or ill-fitting. I admitted, cringing at the excess, that I’d ordered several hundred dollars’ worth ($700 actually, crazy talk) of new clothes from Land’s End because they were well-priced, durable, and I could return whatever I didn’t like to Sears. Jim’s response, no joke: “Oh, thank God.” He viewed new clothes as an accessible necessity, especially for a new mom, and he’d just been waiting for me to realize it, too. (Note: I kept only two pairs of pants, a sweater, and a couple shirts. Know what? Seventeen years later, I still wear the pants!! Victory in my book, though I’m pretty sure Jim will cringe if he reads this.)
Jokes aside, why do I have such a hard time buying clothing, really? Self-analysis reveals a combination of survivor’s guilt and shopper’s fatigue. The moment I walk into any kind of store, I’m overwhelmed with the amount of available stuff – clothing, groceries, home décor, beauty products, whatever. I probably don’t do myself any favors by shopping at places like Marshalls, where things are discounted, but usually heaped, picked over, or haphazardly shelved. Shopping in higher-end, better-curated stores would probably cut down on the fatigue, but it would definitely increase the guilt.
Guilt that I have so much already – healthy children, a happy marriage, shelter, food, great friends, meaningful work. My need hierarchy is met and exceeded. I have so much more than probably (an unresearched) ninety percent of the world population, so I’m stretching it to want a new jacket or new jeans or new socks when I already have several jackets and a few pairs of jeans and lots of socks, holes or not. After all, I only have one body, and I can only wear one item at a time on each part of it.
When I’ve finally worn things out or worn them so much I just can’t stand to look at them, I donate them to Goodwill or the Red Cross. Except, of course, my holey socks. When I know something is too used to even be donated, and I just have to throw it out, I’m reminded of one of Julie Andrews’ early lines from The Sound of Music. Her character, the novitiate Maria, arrives at the von Trapp family villa wearing a castoff dress. She asks the housekeeper for some fabric to make additional clothes because all she has is that one dress. She explains that when young women enter the convent, all their worldly goods, including clothing, are given to the poor. The housekeeper looks her up and down, and asks, “What about that dress?” And Maria looks herself up and down, and replies without guile, “Oh, the poor didn’t want this one.” Oh, I think I would have really liked Maria von Trapp!
Note: This post was inspired by Jacqueline Mitchard’s essay, The Power Towel, from The Rest of US, Dispatches from the Mother Ship (Penguin Books, 1997). If you haven’t read her work, rush to do it. Her novels are familiar and unique all at the same time, extraordinary gems of stories filled with real, everyday people.
About our Blogger:
Elizabeth Dougherty is a freelance writer in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Her blog, Plan Q, chronicles real, everyday experiences and viewpoints — funny, stressful, tearful, mundane — and how they all tie together to define our lives. She aims to make her readers laugh, cry, feel, think, and wonder. That’s what writing and reading do for her, and if she can pass on any of that, then all the twists and turns that whip her right past Plans A through P and land her at Plan Q are more than worth it! Visit Plan Q at www.elizabethdoughertyfreelancewriting.wordpress.com or connect with her on Facebook