Any suggestions for how to avoid the lure of new clothes that comes with the change of seasons? The emails and catalogs are calling to me…
The idea that we need new clothes for a new season sure is a win for marketers, but something I’ve never understood from a practical point of view. I’ve lived most of my life in the Northeastern United States. Every fall I pack away my warm-weather clothes and unpack my wool and heavy pants. Which means each fall and spring I unpack a whole new wardrobe!
Usually the excitement of seeing a t-shirt or a skirt I haven’t seen in six months (coupled with the warm air) is enough “new” to satisfy me. Especially if I unpack something I’d forgotten I even owned.
But realistically that’s hard. So two concrete suggestions:
1. Allow yourself to purchase one new “seasonal” item to freshen up all your leftovers from previous years. I just did this today, in fact: a lightweight pair of pants for spring that I plan to wear while sitting at an outdoor cafe in Paris with an old friend.
2. Get rid of all those catalogs and emails! Unsubscribe from the emails. Cancel all the catalogs. I use Catalog Choice to make it really easy to cancel catalogs. It lets you track and resubmit requests when somehow you keep getting those same tempting catalogs!
The less stuff I see, the less stuff I want and need. So what works for me is to see less. Best of luck as you fight the temptation to keep buying and buying and buying.
I love the idea of Make it Do. I try to do the same, mostly by reminding myself that buying things does not bring happiness. You wrote that you have a few shirts/pants/etc. I think that's awesome. But how do you address the need for different clothes for various situations? I keep several sets of clothes, from weddings to weekend casual to nights out. I try to buy versatile classics but still - it all adds up, even when pared down! Do you have any suggestions? Thanks! -Megan
I agree, it does add up! I have more clothes for the summer, stored away right now, that includes dresses. I find winter is easier and try to have a few things that work for wedding/nights out and then just everyday. I guess I have more than a few shirts/pants/etc but I find I mostly wear those few items, then have the “dress-up dress” and those rarely used but necessary items.
If anything I’d suggest trying to get as much use from something as possible, like a nice pair of black wool pants that can be dressed up with a blouse for evening out but worn with a sweater for work or weekend. Not that I do that exactly! :)
I’ve got a pick-up scheduled for next week to donate a bunch of household stuff. I can’t wait to get rid of all kinds of clothes (sweaters I’ve never unboxed this winter!) and old books I haven’t cracked in fifteen years. I’m already feeling the relief I get from having less stuff, and knowing my space isn’t filled with unused items.
Funny thing is that this time last year, I didn’t want to get rid of anything, for fear of needing “it”, whatever it was, and not being able to buy it. So I held onto all kinds of things I would have gotten rid of. A year later I realize I didn’t need any of “it” and I won’t need to buy “it” again. A few sweaters, a few shirts, a few pairs of pants is plenty for me. It’s all I wear and all I need to wear. And I have piles of fabric from which to craft anything else I may want. Plenty of books from the library keep me happily reading, and there are more there if I need them.
In freeing myself from the strict rules of Making Do, I’ve freed myself from unwanted stuff. Hadn’t expected that, what a treat!
I wish I were posting a “Yay! I did it!” message. But alas somewhere around October, encouraged by a friend’s suggestion to “Just Make It Done!” I more or less gave up on this project. That’s not to say I started buying everything in sight, but I did remove the Rule that had Hung Over Me for the previous nine months. It wasn’t the relief I’d expected, probably because I didn’t go shopping for stuff except for things I kinda needed – like new Gore-Tex pants because I discovered mine from 2004 were no longer water-resistant during a rain storm on a glacier in Wyoming. :(
Mostly I’ve just felt sad about failing at this project in the way I wanted to succeed: in documenting this journey, and in finding it meaningful and profound. While I had tons of posts in my head, I never seemed to have time to write. While I felt it was a good experience, I didn’t wake up this morning transformed. I’ve always valued a less consumer-y, more sustainable, life style. I confirmed it doing this, and ultimately I found some peace following my heart.
But what the heck 2012?! A year that started so wonderfully, skinning into the backcountry of the Tetons on January 1, drove right off a cliff for me in late October. Here in New York City a nanny murdered two young children. Then Sandy hit and we lost power for a week, while others lost everything. An image that continues to haunt me: two young children drowned, swept from their mother’s arms as they fled rising waters. Then the reprieve of Thanksgiving was shattered by the school shootings in Newtown, CT.
A Quaker Open Letter describes what it means to add to the silence of a Quaker meeting:
If you feel moved to contribute after others have spoken, our experience is that it is as well to leave a fair time, and ask yourself whether you will be carrying further what has already been said.
As the mother of two young children, it’s been hard for me to focus on almost anything but just loving my kids these past few months. That doesn’t take money, or stuff, or words with anyone but them. Making Do seems very insignificant indeed.
So this morning I awoke thinking I’ll continue to Make Do as much as possible, and to write about it when there’s something to say. Here’s to a brighter 2013!
Three months?! Three months since a post?! Oh goodness. No time for excuses. A mega-update and we’ll get this train back on track.
(And welcome if you’re just here now from the Etsy blog or the New Yorker…)
On clothes: The husband jeans have been a great success and until it got too warm for jeans, I wore them almost every day. The Remains of the Duvet dress took over after the heat got to me. Without too much detail, I’ll just say with minimal undergarments, the air flows beautifully through the dress, keeping me cool and dowdy-looking as I take my kids around New York.
On buying: I’ve bought some stuff. I’d meant to update about that, but a tiny sense of failure held me back. I bought a tank top and a t-shirt at H&M. I bought the most amazing red sandals for 50% off at Anthropolgie. I seriously have worn them almost every day since I bought them. They’re all leather with leather soles, I LOVE them. They’re probably the best sandals I’ve ever bought. No regrets there! I bought a larger day pack. The justification? I needed an easy way to carry lots of gear and hold two little hands adventuring through NYC. I bought a couple MP3 albums. And I bought trekking poles and gators because…
On the woods: I went climbing in July in Wyoming. My small group (a NOLS alumni expedition) summited Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s highest at 13,809’. I rented all the gear I could but poles and gators were purchase-only, and I needed them for our climb. Since most in our group were 40 years+, we went as lightweight as possible with gear. Talk about making do: being in the woods for two weeks and going minimal refined my awareness of just how little I need. A bed is nice. So is toilet paper. But need it? Nope. (Still trying to get photos and a narrative of the trip posted, that’s another post.)
On food: I’ve been on Nantucket since early August and feel like the hyper-local cooking I’ve been doing complements Make It Do. I made sea salt with my kids by evaporating water we brought home from the beach. We use it to garnish local farm tomatoes, and we top them with basil from growing on our deck. We picked wild beach plums and made jelly. We’ve picked a zillion wild blackberries and are making jelly with those soon. We’re eating local corn and local fish. It’s deeply satisfying to use what’s closest to us. It’s also easy, fresh, and delicious.
On support: I received a wonderful email in April from John B. One piece of it has stuck with me. He wrote, “I am not saying it is OK to shop…but if there are just a few items you need and especially if they represent tools that might help with the overall goal, don’t be too hard on yourself about strict compliance. Allow yourself an exception from time to time without feeling you have failed.” He suggested picking a rate of compliance (85% or so) and sticking to that. That’s basically what I was doing, and his email encouraged me to continue with that. Thanks John B!
On budget analysis: I’m behind on reviewing my spending for Q2, and probably won’t have time for that till fall. I might just combine Q2 and Q3 review in one. Curious to see how I’m doing. Feel like I’m doing really well. We’ll see what the data say.
On the future: I’m still chugging along. I can’t say I love not buying stuff. Especially when I’m in New York, I continue to find it very challenging. With cooler weather and back-to-school on the near horizon, I’m fantasizing about new jeans and wooly sweaters. And winter gear! I’d suspected my Gore-Tex ski pants (c. 2005) were no longer waterproof. This was confirmed sitting on a glacier in a very cold rain in Wyoming. I might get new pants. The rest I’ll probably get over when I open that box of cold-weather clothing that’s been stored away since June. That’s always like Christmas for me, sweaters I’d forgotten, some pants I love but haven’t seen in months. It all seems new.
The reality is I’m two-thirds through the project. What will the final four months bring? And more importantly, what happens on January 1, 2013? I’ll strive for more frequent updates and to answer those questions.
I recently spotted a guy walking down the street wearing loose-fitting jeans, cut-off around mid-calf and left raw at the hem. They struck me as both comfy and funky, and I resolved to have some myself. Since my husband basically wears jeans every day, I figured he’d be a good source for an old pair. And yes, upon inquiring, I was given a worn pair that hung off my hips just perfectly!
Alas, they were worn in the butt, and there was a big hole that allowed my underwear to peak through.
No problem though. I cut off the lower legs, trimmed a patch and sewed it over the hole.
Now the only problem is I want to wear them every day! Yay for husband jeans!
Far and away the best thing I’ve discovered from this project has been my local New York Public Library branch. Though I used libraries in high school and college, once I graduated I mostly purchased books. Poking around well-curated book stores is one of my favorite things to do and I rarely leave empty-handed.
Amazon Recommends became a new, less magical, way of doing that. One-clicked books piled up, often not read. I call these my aspirational books. I believe I’ll read them. I’d like to be the kind of person who would read them. But often I don’t read them. This year I’d planned to read them all. Instead I’m checking out books from the library.
Now when I walk past my local independent book store, I look at the collection in the window and whip out my iPhone. The NYPL has an app and I easily request whatever catches my eye. Usually within a week, it’s at my local branch for pickup. I can be the person who reads To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918!
I’ve been jogging again after ages of not doing it. Before I had kids I ran the NYC Marathon and several half marathons. I ran road races on the weekends and logged 20+ miles a week for years. All that stopped when I had my second child, Minna, and I’ve been slow to return to the streets, until now.
I signed up for a road race to force myself back into running, and it’s been fantastic. Except that it’s suddenly warmed up here in New York, all my running tanks apparently were purchased when “cropped running top” was the style. Also purchased: the “crazy low rise running short.”
Ick! It’s one thing to feel my little belly jiggle as I jog. It’s another thing to expose it to the west side of Manhattan so early in the morning. I didn’t take Vanity into account when creating my guidelines!
So be it. I’m Making Do on this one, and it’s all the more motivation to run hard and fast, so the jiggle is burned off. The plus side? I’m a blur as I speed by everyone!
I broke down and bought a compost bin. I’ve wanted to get one since we moved into our current house and never managed to find one that was just right. I’m terrified of attracting horrible giant NYC rats. And we have limited space. But I found a small one that rotates, the same a friend uses in her NYC yard, rat-free.
I’m excited to be able to produce less waste and to use our compost in our small garden. It will be great not having to buy compost, and being more sustainable in our daily lives. I’m also looking forward to teaching my kids about composting, and learning how to do it together as a family.
Did I break my rules? I don’t think so. I’d say it’s household purchase, not personal. And it’s a long-term investment in something that’s better in the end for everyone. Still, now buying anything makes me feel all weird and funny. I guess that’s progress?
Ooops, that picture below of Minna wasn’t supposed to show up here! I’ve got my old blog Megnut resurrected at Tumblr now: megnt.tumblr.com and I was trying to get instagram to post the photo there. But that didn’t work. Oh well.
Do you have a freecycle network in your area? I get--and give away--a lot of stuff in my area this way. It's serendipitous, it gets stuff out of the house and to the person who needs it, and it creates community. You can also post for things you want. The perfect desk may be sitting in someone's garage gathering dust.
I’ve checked the freecycle.org website but there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of activity in New York City. There aren’t a lot of garages here for stuff to gather dust in. Most people put stuff they don’t want on the curb and you take it if it looks good to you. That said, I’m holding off on the desk for now while we get the kids’ room sorted out. Maybe I’ll happen upon a great desk while I’m out and about.
I’ve gotten some thoughtful emails about my new desk situation, and not just how to convert the crib into a desk. Several folks have suggested looking for a used/vintage desk at a second-hand shop and fixing it up. This has me thinking about the value of time to stuff. Pre-Industrialization if you wanted a wool jacket you grew Merino lambs, sheered them, carded the wool, spun it, wove it and then sewed your jacket. Carding the wool alone took DAYS of work. Now of course I can go to the garment district and buy a few yards of wool and sew a jacket. Or just buy a finished jacket in ten minutes and do something else with my time.
Somewhere between doing it all and doing the buying of a finished product is the sweet spot for me. And while no one (yet) has suggested I chop down a tree, mill it, and build my own desk, the idea of spending hours to locate a good desk and then fix it up feels “expensive” to me. Maybe it’s because I have specific desk requirements (size, storage, etc.) and the idea of searching and searching for just the right desk is unappealing. Or maybe the fixing up part isn’t something I enjoy as much as sewing or other time-consuming crafts I do undertake. Or maybe it’s simply because I know New York City doesn’t have good deals on used desks to fix up and I’d be over-paying if I tried it here. Or I’d have to drive out to the country some place to get the right price.
What I’m saying is: I think I’ll sell some furniture we won’t be using (like my son’s twin bed frame) and put that money towards a desk. I don’t know if that’s Making Do or not. I sorta doubt it is.
Tuesday I arrived at the gym to discover a gaping hole in the back of my tights! My favorite tights! My Pilates instructor said, “Well looks like you get to go shopping!” but of course I couldn’t. And even if I could, I hate shopping to replace something that was perfect. I waste hours trying to find the exact item and the replacement is never as good. During the course of my workout the hole got bigger and bigger. I kept saying, “I’ll sew it!” and my instructor kept saying, “I think you need new tights.”
When I got home and inspected I discovered that the pocket that had torn away was in fact glued (! I know, right?!) in place, and had simply come unglued. So I tore it out, and sewed the uneven hole closed.
First time using the lycra stitch on my machine. Sloppy work. And I didn’t bother to even change the thread but hey, making do! We’ll see how they hold up tomorrow at the gym. I’m pretty confident they’ll be fine. Yay!
“People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else…They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you….You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.”
There’s more to the quote, and I encourage you to click the link and read the whole thing. I’m no street artist like Banksy, but the temptation to do something to the ads that surround me is pretty great. He says, “Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours.” When private property, say the top of a building, is rented to another private party, say Disney, only those two parties gain. The rest of us, the public, trying to occupy our share space, say the corner of Christopher St and Seventh Avenue South, in New York City, gain nothing. We lose. In fact, we suffer. These billboards do leer. And laugh. And push their products. A few months ago, it was a poorly animated penguin movie with a crappy script. Before that, a super high-end boutique just arrived from Paris. Now? A male dating site with two nude “sexy” men.
If I could tear them all down I would. Instead I avert my eyes. I walk faster. I tell my son he can’t see the penguin movie because it’s PG, not G. I keep thinking about this one line, “They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you.” Why did we let them?
I thought it would be interesting to see how my spending for the first three months of 2012 compared with the same time-period in 2011, so I crunched some numbers. Straight comparison of everything on my credit card showed a slight total decrease in spending (about 3%). But when I pulled out all the non-Make It Do items (gas, groceries, kids’ clothes, cable bill, etc.) I discovered something pretty amazing. I’ve reduced my personal spending by 77%!! Yes, I should be spending 100% less, but we all know I’ve cheated. But not much, and not lately.
So what have I learned? That the majority of my spending does go to family/household stuff, it’s true. But I slipped in a lot for myself. Last year 22% of my total outlay was items for myself. This year, it’s 5%. I wish our total household spending were down more significantly, but I suppose that’s not realistic with inflation. If I can hold myself to 5% or less all year, I’m going to be pretty darn happy! I’m looking forward to the end of June to run the numbers again!
Spring is in the air, and with it, my urge to get our house cleaned up and organized. My daughter Minna is two-and-a-half and beyond ready to move out of her crib. We bought bunk beds so the kids could share a room and we could reclaim our tiny office. I didn’t feel too conflicted buying bunk beds because Minna needs a bed.
But now with our office back, further organizing thoughts have struck. If we move our bed into the small office, we can turn our much larger bedroom into a nice big office! With rooms for all our books! With nice sunny space for productive work! And with that, suddenly, we need a desk, for I’ve been using my husband’s desk as a desk/sewing table for years. But if we have a bigger office, he’d like a dedicated desk of his own.
My friend Christie suggested (I *think* she was joking) converting Minna’s crib into my new desk. If only I had the skills and tools to do that! Even then, not sure it’s possible with the materials at hand. My initial thought was to buy a cheap desk at IKEA, but as part of Make It Do and conscious consumption, I don’t want to buy cheap products that will need replacing in a few years. If I buy a desk, I want something that I’ll use for the next twenty years, if not the rest of my life.
I don’t know if a new desk counts as something for me, or our household, or if that matters. I’m mulling this one over while we wait for the bunk beds to be delivered.
Eat your heart out, Scarlett O'Hara! The above crappy photo shows an old 100% cotton IKEA duvet I’ve had forever. It’s been unused since we upgraded from a full-sized bed years ago. With spring in the air, I was feeling the need for a new dress. To the rescue? My unused Japanese “Stylish Dress Book”. Though the instructions were all in Japanese, the pattern for this dress seemed simple enough:
A few snips and some tearing and the duvet was into one giant piece of fabric. Like yards of fabric, all softened from so many washes back in the early 2000’s. (Headbands, kids shorts and dresses, and who knows what else will come along soon enough.) Some sloppy tracing on my part, a couple days of sewing, and voila!
Not the best picture, but I’m a lazy stylist! It’s a little big, I think I could have used a smaller-sized pattern, but not so bad for my very first dress for myself. Now if only that warm weather would return, I’d be able to wear my Stylish Duvet Dress. I might even tackle another dress from this book with the remains of my duvet.
Before I conceived the full scope of this project, I had the idea of not buying anything for one, two or three months. I gave up on that because it didn’t actually seem like a challenge. And now that I’m two months in, I’m glad I did. It wouldn’t have been a challenge. If I could go shopping for everything and anything tomorrow, I’m not sure I’d have learned much.
But looking down the long road of ten more months, I see the challenge only growing. Not just the challenge of making do, but of keeping my spirits up throughout the year. I’ve already talked about the difficulties of living in an urban environment, surrounded by ads and shops and stylish people. Now even the remnants of consumption irritate me. The streets of New York are always filled with trash: little paper receipts from the drug store, take-out coffee cups blown from trash cans. Stuff, and the inevitable waste that accompanies it, is all around!
I think I’m suffering a city schism. Me and the city? Not so good together right now. It’s a bit mixed up in my head, whether it’s the project that’s causing it or it’s the project that’s reminding me of ways I’d prefer to live. After all 2012, and the project, started while I was living in a quinzee in the Tetons. Talk about making do! Though after nine straight days in the same wool shirt, a second (clean!) one would have been nice. Being in the mountains with so little is a clear reminder of how little one really needs to survive. Not just survive though, to be very content.
If I fail to Make Do for the year, I don’t think it will be because I want to buy things and won’t be able to resist. No, it will be because I won’t like who the not-buying-me has become: irritable and judgy, misanthropic, one typewriter away from banging out a manifesto in my cabin in the woods. Can I happily remain in consumptive society without participating? I don’t know. (I do know participating fully didn’t bring me much happiness.) Perhaps this will be the journey of the next ten months.
All along I’ve said my kids are exempt from this project. But I realize now I’ve been resistant to buy anything for them too. The other day I panicked a little: I noticed my son Ollie seemed to be muffin-topping over his little briefs! Was he getting chubby? Closer investigation revealed simply that his underwear was getting really small. Yesterday my husband pointed out that Ollie’s long-sleeved shirt was really ¾ length, and his pants were a good two inches above his ankle.
And even Ollie brought a pair of jeans, whose patched knees had worn-through again, to me for repair. “Mommy, you need to fix these before I can wear them anymore. I left them by your sewing machine.”
Perhaps it was time for some new clothes. We went together, which turned out to be a great way to help me stay on target. Ollie didn’t want to meander through the Ladies’ Department even if I’d been tempted. We went straight to Kids and grabbed some new t-shirts and underwear and socks. His current shirts are size 3-4, so we got everything in size 6-7.
“These shirts will surely last me a long long time, Mommy!” he told me happily as we left. I hope so. I wonder if we can make it the rest of the year without going in another store for him? Maybe a little mini-challenge, just to make things interesting? Hmmmm…
In The Great Email Unsubscribe of January 2012, I overlooked GOOP, Gwyneth Paltrow’s weekly lifestyle newsletter. It had been easy to ignore until today, when “GET - Ready for Spring” showed up. Sure I could have deleted it without reading, but I didn’t. And I safely skimmed it, knowing that “fashion investment pieces” are so rare for me that even if I weren’t making do this year, I wouldn’t be in danger of buying something. Except when I was asked to:
“Consider the jean…there are so many colors to choose from right now”
Believe me, Gwyn, I’ve been considering the jean these past few weeks. I have four pairs of pants in heavy rotation: two fine-wale black corduroys, two blue jeans. Both cords are about to wear through the seat – like must-wear-with-black-undies levels of wear. One pair of blue jeans split at the knee the other day.
I know I just need to do some mending, but lazy me is hoping to make it another month and then switch to spring clothes, like skirts and some warmer-weather pants in my summer clothes stash. Consider the mending! I tell myself. And consider the fact that those bright-colored jeans are mega-trendy, and in a few years I would never consider wearing them.
I was curious if you have any policy on restaurants?
Ah, restaurants. This is a tricky one, especially living in New York City where pretty much everything can be delivered to your door in ten minutes, for nearly the same price as making it yourself. Groceries are expensive here, and grocery stores are small and inconvenient. But I like cooking and shopping at the farmer’s market. Even before I began this project, I cooked most of our meals.
So I don’t have a real policy on restaurants. My husband and I have a weekly date night, and we usually go out to dinner. It gives us a chance to talk and catch up during the busy week. And some nights we’ll order a pizza and watch “Wallace & Gromit” with our kids. But we don’t hit restaurants frequently, or frequently enough that I feel like I need a rule or exception for it.
Much of this project is guided by my gut: what makes me feel good? What make me feel uncomfortable? I suspect too much eating out would make me feel uncomfortable and I’d address it. But for now it’s restaurants, like most things, in moderation.
I paid my credit card bill yesterday and I was disheartened to see so many charges. I guess I had an expectation I’d have no charges because I wasn’t buying anything. But of course I do buy things: a coffee while I’m out, diapers from Amazon, weekly groceries. And to simplify bill paying a lot of monthly charges, like my cell phone, go straight to my credit card. Seeing more charges than I’d expected deflated me.
Did I really think I was not going to buy anything at all? How would I end up with no charges on my card? What was I thinking? I don’t know, but now I find I’m trying to buy even less, just to keep those charges off. And not even buying less in a realistic way. We’re almost out of toothpaste, but I didn’t buy any! I’m headed to crazy-town thinking this way. How crazy-town? I was wondering if I could make my own saline solution as I walked past the drug store on my way home.
It’s got me wondering how much of the buying I was doing in the past few years really is unavoidable, at least until I live in the country on my self-sufficient, off the grid, farmstead. In another few months I think I’ll compare my 2012 spending with the past three years, to see how it tracks. Maybe all the buying I felt like I was doing was mostly the daily life of a twenty-first century city dweller, with the odd book or sweater thrown into the mix.
In the meantime, I think I’ll splurge on store-bought saline. Oh these justifications to save my eyes! They’re just piling up now!
I have a pinguecula, which is a “non-malignant, slow-growing proliferations of conjunctival connective tissue in the eye.” I only recently discovered this, and my eye doctor says it’s caused by UV exposure. I have blue eyes, and used to be really lazy about wearing sunglasses, so this makes sense to me.
Also? I’m in Vermont this weekend, and I forgot my sunglasses in New York.
In justification I’d tell you: the Smith sunglasses I wear for skiing (and running) were purchased in 2004, they’re scratched up, and they’re running at a cost-per-wear of under a penny these days. Also they have no protection on the side and are very narrow, so a lot of light comes in over the top. In justification I’d tell you: this is bad for my pinguecula!
In reality: I bought new sunglasses today when I was buying a new fleece for my son. (Justification there: I forgot his, and tried to squeeze him into a 2T fleece that reached his elbows and prevented him from articulating his shoulders, and it was 20°F and he needed a fleece to ski.)
You know what’s worse than a woman with perfectionistic tendencies who thinks life might be fixed by buying things to make her life perfect? A a woman with perfectionistic tendencies who decides not to buy anything for 2012! And then buys something! And is filled with anxiety about having failed already when it’s only February 3!
About two hours after I bought the stupid sunglasses, the clouds moved in and it began to snow.
On Friday, I dropped my son off at school. In the lobby some students were selling note cards. They were handmade, printed on an antique press in their classroom. The drawings were wonderful, each card a unique print in a different color. The funds would support the school. 25 cards for twenty dollars. Cash. Today only. Until the very limited supply ran out.
This is a situation in the past when I would have bought a set of cards without thinking. And in fact I totally forgot about my project and went right over to check out the cards and find out how much they were selling for. Then I thought for a bit. Did these cards count as something for me? Something for our household? Was supporting my son’s school allowed? Was this really supporting the school, or just buying something nice?
I realized I had no money. When we left, I knew it would be a quick dash, so I’d grabbed my keys and my cell phone. No wallet. No purse.
I walked out without any cards. I still have cards I purchased in the mid-nineties clogging my shelves. As nice as these were, I don’t need any more.
Yesterday I stopped and pulled my old copy of Woodswoman
from my bookshelf. Looking at it, I recalled years ago (1986?), driving back to all-girls’ camp in Vermont, after several nights hiking and camping in the White Mountains. In the van we were chatting away about the woods when I mentioned my interest in building a log cabin in Alaska and living in the wilderness. One of my counselors said, “You don’t have to move to Alaska, you can do it right in the Adirondacks!” and she suggested I read a book called “Woodswoman”, about a woman who had done just that.
After we arrived back at camp, unpacked gear and showered, I made my way to the mailboxes. There was a package slip in my tiny slot, and upon opening the envelope, I discovered a copy of “Woodswoman.” Coincidentally, my parents had been on a trip to the Adirondacks while I was off hiking, purchased an autographed copy of the book, and sent it to me. I devoured it, and read it again. I read her other books (again autographed copies, again purchased by my parents on return trips to the Adirondacks). I dreamed of my own woodswoman adventures.
Then a very long time passed and I forgot about being a woodswoman.
So yesterday I curled up in bed and began to read it again. About twenty pages in, I thought, “What’s Anne LaBastille up to now?” A quick search on my phone and I learned she died barely six months ago at the age of 75. I am still in shock, so sad, so surprised. How could I have missed hearing about this?
For silly and foolish reasons, I’m not in the woods skiing this weekend. My consolation, as January Manhattan drips in 59° drizzle, is to read “Woodswoman.” There is something magical about this book. It finds me when I need it most.
I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d use up my exotic grains in my FAQ. On Monday I cooked up a total awesome black barley risotto from Chef Josie Le Balch from Josie Restaurant in Santa Monica, CA. I can’t seem to find the recipe again online (only the video, which isn’t very helpful) so I’ll post it here for you:
Black Barley Risotto
1 cup black barley 3 cups chicken stock or water 1 oz butter 1 T diced garlic 1 T diced shallot 2 oz brandy 4 oz cream 2 oz Quicke's traditional english farmhouse cheddar (another aged cheddar can be substituted)
Combine stock and barley. Simmer till barley turns tender (1 1/2 to 2 hours). More stock may need to be added so that it does not run dry. Strain barley and let cool. In a saute pan cook garlic and shallots in butter just till they start to become fragrant. Add brandy (may flame up) and cook until it is reduced by half. Add cream and heat until the cream boils. Add barley and cheese. Heat until the cheese melts then season with salt and pepper.
A couple notes: I didn’t cook the barley that long because my bag said to add it to boiling water and cook about 45 minutes. It was pretty chewy, and if I hadn’t been rushed I probably would have given it more time. Also I poured in 1 oz of sherry before I realized that sherry does not equal brandy and that I’d grabbed the wrong item! I didn’t taste the mistake, seemed really yummy to me and my kids gobbled it up. Also I think this would be a great way to do other grains, like farro, and brown rice. I plan on using this “risotto” technique again as I work my way through my pantry.
As I suspect, another exception had reared its ugly head. Gifts! We went to a birthday party over the weekend and I realized I wasn’t clear about gifts in my guidelines. Since I am a passionate gift maker, rather than buyer, I feel like I probably don’t have to declare this exception.
One gift I love to make when we attend birthday parties for classmates of my 4-year-old son is pine needle sachets (I use needles I save from our Christmas trees). Another are little bean bags made with scraps of fabric leftover from pants and shorts I’ve sewn for my kids. The checks above are from a skirt I made and the red stripes are shorts from Ollie.
So the exception will be: gifts must be hand-made, not bought, but supplies can be purchased if all other supplies are used up. Gah. This project is getting complicated!
On Saturday I looked at a really messy shelf of kids’ stuff and thought: “Hey, I should put all these supplies in a neat little basket.” Then: “I need to buy a basket.” Then a few minutes of pondering: “Does buying a basket for the house count as something for me? Or the kids? Or the family?” A few more minutes and I determined to weave a basket out of old newspapers. And voila! Of course it’s not sturdy enough to actually hold the bottles of tempera paint, and it was kind of a pain to make. Nonetheless, a basket! Powered Woven by my own sense of self-satisfaction!
In the fall of 2004 I traded my Tom Brady jersey for a Corey Dillon jersey. Dillon joined New England as a Patriots running back that fall and went on to rush 1,635 yards as the Patriots won the Super Bowl.
This fall I finally thought about replacing my jersey and spent some time thinking about who I’d replace it with. I decided on tight end Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski, but somehow I never ordered the shirt. And now here we are: AFC Championship game, and all I’ve got is my old (but very lucky!) Corey Dillon jersey. What to do? Make it do, of course. I’m actually pretty excited, both for the game, and my very special Gronk jersey. Go Pats!
I've been thinking about your project for days now, and about "experiences" versus "consumables," which is an interesting distinction, and also about self-care. Because I'm a privileged person, I buy decent food, when and where I want, and, similarly, I pay for experiences and self-care sometimes. (Massage, for instance, when I throw out my back.) And somewhere in the middle: MANI-PEDI. The thing is: yeah, I can cut my own nails, sure. But I can't do what they do. What's your verdict?
Hmmm…this is interesting because “consumables” sits between “experiences” and “material stuff” in my mind. Or does it? Maybe there is no distinction. A mani-pedi is a consumable, but it’s also an experience. Going out to dinner is a consumable, but also an experience. Now you’ve confused me, Choire!
Let’s make it clear: weekly indulgent grooming behaviors are definitely not permitted. (That’s easy for me to say because I don’t ever do that kind of thing.) My gut says once in a while, a mani-pedi is acceptable. And bimonthly waxing is absolutely OK. This is not the year of turning into a hairy cavewoman. Thanks for asking.
Upon hearing about this project, my friend @finn sent me a link to Bruce Sterling’s The Last Viridian Note. There’s a lot in there that resonates, especially his definition of sustainability: “So basically, the sustainable is about time – time and space. You need to re-think your relationship to material possessions in terms of things that occupy your time.” One thing I’ve found freeing already is how much extra time I seem to have because I’m not shopping, or needing to shop. Granted I also haven’t bought groceries in a month because my husband’s been doing that!
Since we moved into our current home nearly three years ago, I’ve been a fairly disciplined purger, going through our belongings and giving away what we no longer need or use. Sterling’s observation of stuff inspires me further:
[O]bjects can damage you personally. The hours you waste stumbling over your piled debris, picking, washing, storing, re-storing, those are hours and spaces that you will never get back in a mortal lifetime. Basically, you have to curate these goods: heat them, cool them, protect them from humidity and vermin. Every moment you devote to them is lost to your children, your friends, your society, yourself.
It’s not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross.
Do not “economize.” Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane…So “economization” is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.
I’m sensing a process of curating my goods lies somewhere in this project. The challenge is keeping stuff I genuinely like and use while acknowledging the fear of needing something unbuyable in the future. How to balance a kind of “hoarding so I can make do” – I kept three sweaters I don’t wear, rather than donate, because I think I may patch/mend/craft with them – with the probable reality that I still have enough.
Part of this project involves removing temptations, or as I’m beginning to think of it, putting on the horse blinders. I stupidly walked through Anthropologie on my way to get some groceries (windy and it’s a shortcut habit…) this morning. So many cute shirts and dresses! Now resolved: No more walking through stores. Also I’m unsubscribing from emails that arrive with siren songs of beautiful art and products (sorry 20x200, Kaufmann Mercantile).
And a big one for me: I’m unsubscribing from Martha Stewart Living. I’ve subscribed since 1996 but over the years, the magazine has changed from lots of great craft and DIY ideas to “this is what you should buy,” with most recommended products coming from the Martha Stewart Collection.
January 2012 pushed me over the edge, with an article about Martha’s new homekeeping room that, “makes everyday tasks easier.” She has more packing materials than the Mailboxes Etc. around the corner from my house, and more cleaning supplies than most delis in my neighborhood. The constant celebration of excess by the magazine – must we all aspire to twelve kinds of twine? – is more than I can stand. Goodbye Martha. And goodbye to your collection of late-19th-century yellowware mixing bowls.
Hi and welcome, if you’re coming for the first time to find out what this crazy project is all about. Most of your questions can be answered by the information to your right. Read the few posts I’ve made. Poke around and see what’s behind this idea. Come back again and again and watch as I sew clothes from curtains and patch jeans and who knows what else throughout the year. Just please don’t tell me this is impossible. That’s not a word I like to hear.
Back in New York City, walking around, I’m more aware than ever of the amount of stuff in my face. Ads for handbags, for clothes, for lipsticks. Windows of stores filled with every kind of possible thing, every where I look. It’s easier to not want things when you’re not exposed to them daily, as I wasn’t in Vermont or Idaho. But I’m realizing this pernicious advertising that permeates my environment will make this project all the more challenging. That which I don’t buy makes me stronger, right?
As mentioned, I spent the last couple of weeks on the west slope of the Teton Range, backcountry skiing and camping. I had an amazing time but…it turns out that my theory of having everything I need, or being able to make do, doesn’t account for any future backcountry expeditions. I kind of hate to break my rules so soon into this project, but the fact is: I love being in the backcountry and I want to do everything in my power to get back out there, as soon as possible.
So I bought a few things already (that I’ve put on my spreadsheet that I created to track everything bought in 2012) to keep my backcountry dream alive. I didn’t buy a -30°F rated sleeping bag, or an avalanche probe or shovel or transceiver, or a stove (yet!) but if I get the chance to go back out into the woods for a few days, I’m reserving the right to buy some things to do so.
On one hand I’m kind of bummed I’ve “failed” already. On the other it’s hard to give up the ability to do something I love simply because I didn’t already own the stuff to do it. I consider this my “NOLS Backcountry Exception Rule”. I’m pretty sure I won’t have to come up with any more exceptions. I guess we’ll see.
Time is running out for buying things in 2011. On Tuesday evening I head to Idaho for nearly two weeks in the woods, backcountry skiing and camping. I don’t anticipate much shopping during that time. None actually. Four days to go. I haven’t been thinking about it too much, and nothing I really need has come to mind, so I’m foolishly going to say I’m all set and ready for 2012. The real question is: how long before I realize what I should have bought when I had the chance!
I always thought this was an old Yankee saying, but I found this World War II propaganda poster. Seems to have been a common Depression-era philosophy all over the United States. That said, I doubt I’ll patch my trousers while mowing the lawn, since I’m the mower and the mender in the family! And isn’t that a bit awkward?!
When you make your own clothes, including socks, it’s much easier to mend something rather than make a new one. When you own cheap H&M socks like I do, I’m not so sure. But I’ll find out, because inevitably this year my socks will wear out and I’ll need some new ones. Or I’ll have to fix the ones I have. Sure I could call “wear it out” and buy some more, but I like the idea of learning how to darn a sock. I doubt my darning will be this lovely, but it’s nice to keep in mind.