I’m approaching the end of the July with mixed feelings. It marks the end of my 12 months of not spending money on clothes, and – perhaps no less of a milestone – my 32nd birthday. That’s right, I’m as old as Prozac, Photoshop, Rain Man, and George Michael’s Faith. It’s also been the year I stopped feeling invincible and instead discovered the importance of daily flossing, sunscreen and Kegel exercises.
32 has held a special power in my mind. For years I’ve grappled with unmerging my own identity from my Mum’s, and am making good progress. But 32 was the age she had my sister, and in my head it’s the age she had her shit together – good job, married, house, baby. So in my head it was always the age I should have all that too.
Not that I didn’t want all that earlier. I’ve spent years now yearning for a baby. Years plastering a smile on my face when I heard someone else was pregnant, while my ovaries physically ached with the pain of longing.
Over lockdown, on a quiet walk over an empty motorway, I asked myself a question. Which was worse, the pain of wanting a child, or the pain I had through my period of disordered eating and body image? It forced me to get some perspective. Because it didn’t take a second to reach my answer.
Hating myself – which is what my disorder was really about – was infinitely worse. Feeling sad about something I don’t have doesn’t compare to feeling pain about something I did. Strange, I realised. I’d thought the pain of wanting a baby was awful. But suddenly realising I’d been through (and survived) something much worse instantly made me feel brighter.
If approaching 32 is about coming to terms with pain, it’s also about opening myself up to pleasure – at least temporarily. That of the endorphin and dopamine rush that accompanies a shiny new purchase. Because after 12 months I’ll be able to purchase clothes with money.
The last month of my no-shopping challenge has mostly been spent browsing shops – online and in person – to line up my first post-challenge purchases. So you can see it’s been a challenge for me, as I’ve also documented throughout the year.
And while I haven’t quite decided how I’ll approach clothes shopping once this challenge is over, I know I still need rules in place to keep me on the straight and narrow. I can’t trust myself to exercise moderation; I need those strict boundaries.
Over the last 12 months I’ve been noting something down when I want to buy it. I just leave it there. And the next time I add to the list I review what else is on there. Most of the time, just as I add something, I delete something else. At the time of writing I’ve deleted 13 items and kept just six. This delaying tactic is likely to become part of my new approach, I reckon.
What I’ve loved most about the last 12 months is how I’ve learned so much. About myself, others, about life. I love that there is still so much more to learn. So I think it’s time to forget all my expectations for 32, and just keep growing.