Spring Cleaning

c8fd5d83c896ac1471913d02e3887feaAs the weather outside lightens, many of us feel the need to lighten our indoor weather as well. We all know this as ‘Spring Cleaning’. While it is supposed to be a rejuvenating ritual of lifting the load of our material burdens by de-cluttering our closets, it often has the opposite affect.

Every year I hit The Container Store with the glowing internal mission of finally getting organized. Each closet cubby, file folder, and organizational item I discover on the store shelves renews in me a sense of determination that this year will be the year that finally I get organized. Yet, somehow, at the end of the day, I am always unable to lift that materialistic load. I find myself sitting on the floor surrounded my piles of my hoards, wondering, “Why do I have so much crap?” What is causing me to buy, and what is causing me to keep, all of this stuff?

Why do women buy? The answer to this question has multiple complicated layers, so in the interest of time I will attempt to compress these reasons into a simplified answer; women are the shoppers of the world. Not because they enjoy shopping any more or less then men, and not because they are any less frugal with their money than men, but because women are shopping for everyone else too.

“In virtually every society in the world, women have primary care-giving responsibilities for both children and the elderly (and often, just about everybody else in-between). In this primary care-giving role, women find themselves buying on behalf of everyone else in their lives.” –Bridget Brennon, Forbes Magazine.

When we shop, we are not only running through our personal mental shopping list, but the shopping lists of everyone else. Is your husband running low on shaving cream? Is a plant a good promotion gift for your co-worker? What does your mother want for her birthday? How often should you be replacing the shower curtain? The list goes on and on, and for the most part it’s us women who maintain this ever growing, every changing, shopping list. So, where as we may be frugal with our money, we are much less frugal with our time.

We spend so much time focusing on the people in our lives, that we seldom catch a chance to focus the attention on ourselves; making the process of wading through our own clutter all the more difficult. With the constant up-keep of making sure everyone else is taken care of, it’s easy to let the things in our personal lives fall by the wayside, or in my case, the bottom of my closet. So now, come this sunny day in Spring, I am facing a barrage of unfinished projects, half-asses hobbies, and a pair of roller skates that a year ago I swore I would learn to skate in, and I’m finding it hard to be objective on what I should abandon. What do I really need? Why do I have so much?

Why do women have more in their closets? Put simply, the social standards put on the female wardrobe are five-fold compared to the standards of the male wardrobe. For every item of the male wardrobe, five items are required in the female wardrobe to perform the same function. An individual sporting the quintessential male wardrobe can be prepared for any occasion with only a handful of clothing essentials that will last them through years of fashion trends.

The feminine wardrobe wearer on the other hand will have to consider that the simple black, past the knee, a-line skirt she wore to work will not translate into her after-work life, therefore, she must own a second simple black, above the knee, a-line skirt for going out, while also considering that neither said skirts would be appropriate to wear to an outdoor event, such as a picnic or going to the beach, so, she must also consider a simple, floor length, a-line skirt. Also, the woman who wishes to stay in style, in no less than six months time, will find herself replacing all of her black a-line skirts with floral straight-cut contouring skirts, depending on the mercies of current fashion. Thus, it is very easy to see where a man can be fashionable in all situations with a pair of jeans and a pair of slacks until they literally disintegrate off his body, a women is stuck with a half dozen skirts inside a single season.

So, considering this, let’s take a step back and evaluate the situation. One one hand we are accepting the unevenly weighted roll of ‘shopper’ for everyone in our lives, and on the other hand we held to much higher shopping standards. It’s starting to make to sense to me why I have several versions of the same pair of pants in varies lengths, yet, I never wear any of them. Why 150 pairs of shoes later, I still cannot find the right pair for my Friday night. All of this adds up, not just in our closets, but in our hearts. This ever-multiplying mountain of crap builds up and builds up until the Spring Cleaning avalanche comes crashing down on our heads.While our lives will always have aspects of chaos, there are things we can do to clear out the clutter at the bottom of our closets.

Stop wasting your time. I’m not implying that being the ‘care-giver’ of your family is a waste of time; on the contrary , it is time very wisely spent. Every relationship in your life is like a bank account. Both people in the relationship, be it significant other, relative, or friend, must make ‘deposits’ into this bank account. These deposits are in the currency of time and effort. If you invest a lot of time and effort in to the people in your life, you should expect a return on that investment. After all you would not continue to invest your hard-earned money in a falling stock. Moreover, you should be more frugal with your time than your money, because where as you can always earn more money, you can never earn more time. Your time is finite, and therefore you should treat it more preciously than any earthly gem. If you find that there are a lot of people making ‘withdrawals’ on your time without making ‘deposits’ you should reconsider how that time is being spent. If that relationship’s bank account is over-drafted, perhaps you should considering closing the account … at least until it is out of collections.

Find your own style. When we are young there is an exuberating thrill in keeping up with current trends. We walk down the street adorned in our finest, truly believing that all the world’s a stage and that we are its best-dressed players. We find a happy ritual in dressing in these fashions as we prepare for the day, and there is kind of confidence that comes along with putting that costume. But, somewhere along the way the new season’s line looses its shine. Where as we used to watch and wait for the trendsetters and throw-backers, we now only look on in dread at the new shoes we must fill; literally. And it rarely ever occurs to us to ask ourselves, “what do I like?” I warn you now that finding the answer to that question will be a long, adventurous journey, but it’s well worth the travel, for when you reach the end of that road you will never have to walk it again. You will find a different kind of confidence in your clothes as they will be a trend all your own, and being yourself will never go out of style.

As I carted off the innumerable bags of closet clutter to Value Village, I resolved to care less about what clothes I am spending my time in, but rather, who I am spending my time on. After all, when I am old and gray, what I will remember most are not the dozens of event-appropriate skirts, but the experiences I had and the people I had them with.

consumerism · feminism · self-worth · Uncategorized

My Life for Shoes

cropped-shopping.jpgMuch like many American women today, I have a healthy (or not so healthy) affinity for shoes. A few years ago I had upwards of 150 pairs of shoes, and believe me when I say, I loved every pair. De-cluttering my closet one day I looked at each pair and asked myself, “Does this bring me joy?” And you know what, 150+ times I was filled with joy.

So, let me explain. I am picky about my shoes (as many of us are) and I have to be in absolute love before I purchase. However, I am not just picky about buying, I’m picky about keeping them too. Growing up in the lower-class Idaho farm country, I learned at a young age the importance of taking care of my things. How to hem, patch, and repair all of your wares was a must-have skill, and one I still use to this day. Yet, I fear that this frugal habit was my downfall in the end.

It began simply enough. Only the basics for me; only one pair of sneakers, boots, flats, and heels each. But one pair turned to two and then to three, and then, well, we all know where this rabbit hole goes. So on the front end I was falling in love with shoes like a crazed cupid cobbler, and on the back end I was caring and repairing my shoes to have a shelf life akin to the family pet. I even stored them in hard plastic shoe boxes to protect them from dust and deformation.

Now you may be thinking that it sounds as if I was going about this the smart way. I wasn’t being wasteful, and I wasn’t making big ticket purchases for designer brands. At least, that’s what I told myself over the years as my shoe hoard grew, until the day I realized the price I had really paid for my shoes.

The day in question was a payday. I was working in retail, as many of us do in our early twenties. I had spotted a new pair of shoes during my shift, and I had fallen in love. I told myself the lie that we all tell ourselves; I have enough shoes already. Yet, as the day progressed the power of those words lost their muster and I had resolved by the end of my shift that they would be mine. After all, it was payday.

And that’s when it happened. A co-worker dropped these words on me, “just work an extra hour and the shoes will be paid for.” An hour, my brain latched onto that word. She was right, based on my pay at the time, that pair of shoes would have cost me what I make in one hour. Suddenly, the price tag on those shoes did not have a dollar sign on them, but an hour hand. The true cost of those shoes was one hour of my life.

One hour of my time that I would not spend studying for finals, walking my dog, or laughing with my friends. It was one hour that I would not longer spend living, but that I would spend on those shoes. Now, you may be thinking that this is just the way that the world works, but in reality this is one of the tricky ways this world has skewed our perception. Instead of asking myself if those shoes were worth the dollar amount listed on the price tag, I should have been asking if those shoes were worth an hour of my time.

Now on some level we are all aware of this concept; time is money. But what are we, as women, really spending our time on, and why?

The US spend upwards of $180 billion on advertising annually, and as we all know, a majority of that advertising is geared towards women. The average woman will be exposed to between 400 and 600 advertisements within a single day. This must be effective, as women account for $20 trillion of consumer spending per year. That is more than 80% of overall consumer spending! So, what does that mean to you?

Well, let me ask you this… what was the last advertisement you saw today? How did it make you feel? Now, if you are like me, it didn’t make you feel all that great. Maybe it made you feel ugly or bad about your body. Maybe it was trying to sell you something ridiculous, like a scented credit card or lipstick for your vagina. Whatever it was, chances are you didn’t need it, but maybe you wanted it. So, why? Why did I want 150+ pair of shoes?

I told myself I wanted them because they were cute, because they practical, because shoes always fit. But at the end of the day, I had to take a more analytical look into my reasoning. I had to admit that I had bought these shoes for other reasons. I had been sold the idea of the shoes; convinced by the banners, commercials, and billboards that there was such a thing as ‘fashion’, and that I needed to be ‘fashionable’. I had been persuaded that these shoes were worth my money, worth my time.

So, as I stood in front of my closet and looked over my 150+ pairs of shoes, I started to do the math. My high-heeled hoard was worth a year and a half. That was their real price. A year and a half of my life, my time. And even though I loved my shoes and each and every pair brought me joy, their worth suddenly became very minuscule compared to what a year and half of my time was worth.

While every individual defines their worth differently, we all know how a majority of media and advertising defines a woman’s worth, and something tells me they don’t seem to think we are worth our weight in gold. It may seem as though all they are selling us is spandex, anti-wrinkle cream, and full coverage foundation, but what they are really selling are ideas. The idea that we are too fat, too old, and too ugly. They are banking on their ability to make us feel worthless.

If every woman in America woke up tomorrow and loved the way she looked, just imagine how many companies would go out of business the next day. Imagine if every woman in America added up all the hours in her closet, in her make-up vanity, and on her bathroom shelf, weighed them against her time, and decided she was worth more than that.