Monday, January 28, 2008

How to shop without buying anything

I have a problem most other women would like. When my husband comes shopping with me – in real life, via catalogue or online when I really need to have something replaced – and I chance upon something nice and have difficulty deciding between one colour or another, his response is always, “Have both. Or all three.”

As a result there are a few things in my wardrobe and coat cupboard which I have not yet been able to wear because of this.

But things are getting better. I have learned to arm myself with some useful phrases when I shop with husband, or to remind myself when shopping alone.

For clothes shopping, useful anti-buying mantras are:

1) “Do I really need another of those?”

When one coat could see me between or over two seasons, just the one will do.

If there is a very similar item in the wardrobe, just the one will do.

Do I need another hat, another pair of gloves, another this or that?

Do I really, really need another one of those?

2) “There’s no room in my wardrobe.”

For a long time I have operated on a ‘one in, one out’ policy. Or rather it is ‘one out, one in’. If I haven’t thrown something out first, then there is no need to buy a replacement.

If there is no room in my wardrobe that means I have enough to wear. If I have enough to wear, there is no need to buy another one.

3) A veritable selection of “It is not my colour”, “It is not my size”, “It’s not my style”, “It’s made from petrochemicals/poisonous cotton”, and so on.

Often I come across items that I kind of like, but can’t really make up my mind about it. Sometimes these are well-tailored clothes, a well-designed bag, or whatever.

The truth is often they are of the wrong colour for my skin tone, or it does not fit exactly. Never succumb to the temptation that “I’ll lose enough weight to fit”. Actually skinny me have the opposite problem – I should be able to pad it out. (Never!)

I have learned that these things only sit unused until I have the heart and guts to find another home for them.

4) “Just because it looks nice, it does not mean I want it.” Quite often I am flipping through the newspapers and I see a pair of shoes, a handbag or a dress that is really well-designed. If my husband notices this he would ask, “Would you like to have this?”

Just because I admire something that is well-designed it does not mean I want – or need – to own it.

5) “How could it be so cheap?” Having been a completely skint student, I loved bargains. But I’ve also noticed that some things are getting to be so ludicrously cheap. Other follow-up questions to “Why so cheap?” are: “How much was the worker who made this paid?”, “How were the raw materials for this made/grown/mined?” and “What possible damage to the environment was done?”

On those occasions when one really does need a new item, here are a few buying strategies.

1) Never buy anything that is strictly “fashionable”. Very seldom would I buy an item of clothing that is ‘in fashion’ because the chances are it will not be in fashion three or six months down the road and one would feel a complete fool wearing that. So think, which variation of this fashionable item would take you through the next few years (yes, years).

For example a few seasons back short, pastel check/tweedy jackets were in vogue. I knew I would look silly a few months down the road if I wore a baby pink or mint green version. My husband spotted a brown one which fitted me nicely and as I had no similar jacket I agreed to buy that. It is still serving me well.

2) Know your colours. Don’t forget our colours change, with the seasons, with age.

When I first came to this country I was very dark-skinned. So wearing black was OK. But the lack of sun, or diet, or plain ageing, whatever, caused me to lose colour (yes the hair has gone grey) and I realized that I looked a bit sad in black.

I used to have lots of black in the wardrobe. These have been gradually replaced by the browns, greens and olives and a few more vibrant colours (some say this is another sign of ageing), as well as grey.

Whenever I have to buy clothing – I recently made a couple of purchases after a year or so of not buying new clothes – I am mindful that it should fall well within this new colour scheme. So little black dresses are nice and those tailored skirts look really smart, but if they just don’t go with the general colour scheme, they don’t go into the shopping basket.

3) Buy clothes to last, not disposable ones. Of course some supermarkets would have us believe that it’s easier to buy multiple copies of cheap clothes rather than washing them after use. Don’t fall for that.

I remember growing up with Mum fishing out frocks out of a metal trunk. I wore only hand-me-downs from my cousins for the first 10 years of my life. So wearing cast-offs is not an issue with me. Well-meaning friends at church gave me very nice cast-offs when I was at university.

In fact they were still giving me cast-offs when I made enough money to buy designer clothes. I used those, too, if they suited me.

When I first arrived in the UK it was in the charity shops that I found clothes that fitted me better with trouser legs and sleeves that have already been taken up by the previous owner, but in very good condition. Then the ‘Petite’ sections appeared in department stores. What a blessing!

Now I think of how long the clothes I buy would last before buying. I don’t mind paying a bit more for those well-made, ‘seasonless’, classic pieces. (I can do this from all the savings I make from not buying thoughtlessly.) When they become too big, too small, too baggy for me, there is still life in those for others.

Non-clothes shopping

Apart from shopping for clothes, kitchen utensils are another area that galls me. Tea-bag squeezers, tea-bag holders, spoon stands, disposable baking trays, etc. Do we really need these?

Kitchen appliances that promise to do everything, apart from washing themselves out and putting themselves away, well, I stay away from those.

How many of us have the luxury of a whole pantry at home dedicated to storing utensils for all manner of cooking, like some TV chefs do?

So I buy appliances which can ‘multi-task’ or be put away easily (eg, a food processor which does cake mixes as well).

But not a citrus fruit squeezer. My husband has one of those, left over from his bachelor days. I’ve seen him use it once. Can’t believe the number of attachments that needed washing after that.

What’s wrong with squeezing oranges by hand, and simply putting the squeezer in the dishwasher? (Helps prevents ‘bingo wings’ as well – at least on the arm you use to squeeze those oranges!!)

Many things in kitchenware catalogues are so pretty and seem really useful – but only at first. Most of the time, they only add clutter to our homes, which gets shifted somewhere else, and eventually end up in a landfill.

What I find most interesting is finding the heavy granite mortar and pestle being advertised in kitchenware catalogues these days. No household with a decent cook could do without one of these back where I come from in Singapore, before the days of the food processor.

So we pounded and blended using a bit of elbow grease and sheer gravity (and a telephone directory underneath the mortar so that neighbours in the downstairs flat do not get headaches).

With the advent of the food processor, the mortar and pestle went out of fashion, though some super-tasters will insist that certain spice combinations taste better when ‘pestled’ in a mortar as the action presses out the oils and essences, whereas in a food processor spices are just chopped very small.

Would we now rush out to buy this fashionable kitchen tool only to find it too much of a hassle to shift and therefore leave it languishing in a pantry/cupboard/shed somewhere?

Who knows?

Back to Organic-Ally.

1 comment:

yeti said...

good thoughts. thanks for sharing