Undressing Myself (but not in the way you’re thinking): A Personal Essay

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I own over 100 dresses.

That is—objectively, I think—too many dresses. Even though I wear a dress almost every day. Even though they constitute my work wardrobe. Even though I buy a lot of them used. Even though I routinely donate or consign the dresses I no longer wear.

Still. It’s a problem. And I’m trying to stop.

In July, I wrote a post in defence of things, of having things, collecting things, and buying things. Mostly, I stand by that. I love my things. They mean a lot to me. I chose each item with care, they make my house feel home-y and warm, and I’m not about to part with my knickknacks and collectibles any time soon. However, clothes are a different story.

Let’s go back.

In 2014, I moved from Calgary, Alberta, where I had been living for four years (after relocating from Windsor, Ontario), to Red Deer, Alberta. During the four years that I lived in Calgary, I had grown to love the city. It felt like home. I have many friends there, my partner was living there,  and I had developed a real sense of community. Then I left.

Red Deer is only an hour and a half drive away from Calgary, which meant that I would return to Calgary almost every weekend. I moved to Red Deer for work—to teach English at the college—and I loved my job, but the city itself, well… let’s just say two drunk girls in a bar bathroom we were not.

Because my partner and I were keeping our place in Calgary (and splitting the rent), I needed to find a relatively cheap place to live in Red Deer. Getting my own apartment seemed out of the question, so I searched Kijiji for a roommate. I thought I’d find someone close in age, who was also starting their career, and had friends in Red Deer who would eventually become my friends in Red Deer—and preferably would not kill me in my sleep.

And then I found her, the perfect roommate. She was a year older than me, worked shift-work at the hospital, and was looking to share a new and spacious condo with two bathrooms (re: my own ensuite!) near the college. Jackpot. And she really did turn out to be the perfect roommate: quiet, respectful, clean.

Except she also did not have any friends in Red Deer. She had also recently moved from Calgary. She also drove back whenever she had time off work.

You would think this story ends with my new roommate and I becoming best friends, each other’s one and only Red Deer BFF. But it didn’t work out that way.

We got along really well, would make small talk in the kitchen before work, respected each other’s space, but we stayed roommates, didn’t become friends. I blame our work schedules. She often worked afternoons, leaving for work when I was coming home from work. Sometimes, she would have a few days off during the middle of the week and would leave for Calgary. And then I’d be gone on the weekend. We also didn’t seem to have that much in common (case in point: there were no decorations in her condo, not one piece of art on the walls). But as far as the roommate relationship goes, it was perfect. She never once drank my almond milk, I never once used her dish soap. She never once left dirty dishes in the sink, I never once forgot to take my laundry out the dryer. I truly believe it was the least awkward and least stressful occurrence of two complete strangers living together in the history of the universe.

But despite the harmonious living arrangement, I was lonely. The evening void from 3pm onward could only be filled by so much marking and lesson planning, so much making dinner, and so much calling my mom. I wanted to get out, to see other human beings. But what to do by myself?

Answer: shop.

I love shopping alone. I would much rather go to the mall myself than with a shopping buddy. I like to be on my own schedule, not feel rushed, but also not take any extra time in a place I don’t want to be. So that’s what I did. Shopping. All the time. It got so that I had a schedule.

Monday: go grocery shopping, which in practice meant perusing the Joe Fresh section of Superstore—in case you aren’t familiar with this concept, let me say it plainly: our number one chain of grocery stores in Canada sells clothing. Relatively fashionable clothing (I mean, as far as grocery stores go). Also, relatively cheap clothing. Buy a new dress for teaching on Tuesday.

Tuesday: wander around Chapters (the Canadian version of a Barns & Noble). Buy a new novel, cute notebooks, cards to send friends, home goods.

Wednesday: take a trip to Winner’s and Homesense (the Canadian version of a TJMaxx and a Homegoods, respectively). Buy a new dress for teaching on Thursday. Maybe a cute candle or a throw pillow, who knows?

Thursday: take a stroll through the mall. Visit the local Gap and H&M (and Target when we still had Targets in Canada—RIP, Target). Buy a new dress for teaching on Friday.

Friday: drive back home to Calgary. Stop on the way at the giant outlet mall along the highway. Buy a new dress for teaching on Monday.

Okay. I’m exaggerating. It wasn’t this bad. Some evenings I did nothing but marathon Netflix. Sometimes I had too much marking to do to leave the house. And I didn’t really buy four new dresses a week. But still.

Obviously, I was shopping out of boredom and sadness. Not good reasons to be shopping. And I’ll let you guess how much money I saved after that first year.

Plus, I wasn’t buying things I really loved. Most of the things I was buying came from big-box stores (sadly there aren’t a lot of independently-owned clothing boutiques in Red Deer). The clothing was fast-fashion: cheap and un-ethically produced. I was just buying it because it was there and I tended to get tired of it quickly (that year I probably donated or consigned as much as I was buying).

So I am trying to do better and have set some goals for myself:

  1. Do things in Red Deer that aren’t shopping. Lately I’ve been enjoying walking my dog, riding my bike, visiting the local brewery (though, just to be clear, I’m not advising you to swap out shopping with drinking). In the winter, I’m excited to skate outdoors on the frozen pond and visit the local ski hill.
  2. If I must shop, I’m trying to do it at Value Village or the Salvation Army where I can buy used clothing.
  3. Try to build more of a community in Red Deer (I am still working on this one, but I now have a friend here, and we’re having tea next week, so that’s a start).
  4. When I do buy new clothes (because, let’s face it, this is going to happen), focus on quality over quantity. Try to buy ethically-made items. Invest in timeless pieces I’ll have for years. Avoid the siren-song of fast-fashion (the siren-song that sounds a lot like $29.99).

It’s been two months since the semester started and I’ve only purchased one dress so far. Was it ethically made? No, it was from the Gap. But I do love it and have already gotten a lot of use out of it. Baby steps, right?

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6 thoughts on “Undressing Myself (but not in the way you’re thinking): A Personal Essay

  1. Can we just have a moment of silence for the fallen Target?

    I really loved reading your essay, Hollie! I too did my fair share of online shopping during those dark immigration days. I’m happy to hear you’re taking those baby steps, and selfishly glad you’re living in the city!! It’s better with people like you in it! But seriously, can we get Target back?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I miss target dearly. It opened the September I started university, and there was a target right beside the train stop where my parents would pick me up for the weekend- a lot of money was spent at target.

    I feel so similarly about things and shopping and thrifting and collecting. The goodwill by my house is INCREDIBLE. It’s in Varsity- next time you’re in Calgary I recommend it.

    I also STRONGLY recommend a trip out to the foothills salvage centre and recycling society by Okotoks (http://fsrsonline.com) I buy hundreds of books and antiques here at dirt cheap prices- I spend hours there whenever possible! I got a beautiful pair of kitten heel oxfords for a dollar a few months ago!

    Collector in solidarity, E xx

    Liked by 1 person

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