conflicting values: fast fashion

I have two personal convictions, both virtuous, but often in direct conflict, it seems. This is what is on my mind today. Specifically two personal values that I try to uphold: frugality and avoiding fast fashion. I avoid try not to buy mass-produced (often sweat-shop produced) clothes because of the environmental and social impact this has. I believe that the many of the retailers that sell fast fashion have unethical practices, too. This is a US-centric article, but it does a good job explaining some of the reasons why I try to steer clear.

I’m usually successful in avoiding fast fashion because I’m frugal and try not to buy a lot of clothes. And I kinda suck at fashion. Read on.

My current dilemma I’ve been invited to a work event in a couple of weeks that feels like a big-enough deal that I’m a bit worried about what I’m going to wear. I readily admit that I dress for comfort and warmth in freezing cold offices and so I’m rarely seen in high heels or without a cardigan or scarf.

But for this event, I feel like I really should kick things up at least a tiny bit. The quintessential ugh, I have nothing to wear moment.

Have I mentioned that I hate shopping? I don’t even really like clothes, as I never feel completely comfortable in my skin, and don’t know how to put a great outfit together. My dislike for shopping and my lack of fashion sense has led me to have developed a bit of a work uniform. Pants, simple top, cardigan, and flat. All stretchy and warm.

So, I don’t buy clothes very often. It’s a necessary evil for me, like paying for insurance.

Here’s where the conflicting values come into play. Since I avoid shopping, I tend to do it under duress, like now, when I feel like it’s an emergency. I can either to go to a small boutique, getting the help of a doting salesperson who can invest time and energy into dressing my hopeless self, and likely spend a small fortune. Here’s where my other personal value kicks in and nags at me. My desire to be frugal.

So, to be frugal, I could go to a place like, say, H&M or Zara. A place where I’m left to my own devices, trying to cobble together a good outfit from the racks of limply hanging clothes. These stores are obviously much cheaper than the boutiques, but I’m not a fashionista, and it’s struggle. Not to mention the all the ethical reasons for avoiding fast fashion.

Frugality versus ethical shopping.

OK, I know, I know. I could be frugal and ethical by buying well-made and well-priced clothes at secondhand shops. But remember – I’m terrible at dressing myself and adding the challenge of vintage shopping seems far too daunting to me. And from what I hear, the secret to successful second-hand clothes shopping is to go early and often. Finding just what you need, just when you need it, is probably very, very unlikely.

I might have just talked myself into giving vintage shopping a serious try. Maybe I’ll try an online store? So I can torture myself about the shipping…<sigh>.

on books: always buying, never reading them all

When we moved to our current home three years ago, we moved from a large (ish) house to a much smaller one and it necessitated a lot of purging of our possessions. Before the downsizing project, I knew that I had a – shall we say – book problem, but it really came to light when I faced the possibility of having to move them. The extra bedroom in our old house had really become a library, rather than a guest room, with piles of books everywhere. This is in addition to all the books on the proper bookshelves in my den and the teetering stack on my nightstand that threatened to fall over and kill me in my sleep every night. The guest room / library was overflow.

I had to face the fact that I had no place to store them in my new house and I went through the process of sorting. The categories were:

  1. Books that I had read and wanted to keep because I would probably refer to them or re-read them.
  2. Books that I had read but could bear to give away.
  3. Sentimental books – mostly old relics that belonged to either myself as a child or my parents. I kept these as well. Most of them I had read, though not all.
  4. Books that I had bought and never read.

I was pretty shocked to find that the fourth category was by far the largest. So large that I had to sort that pile again, into a) books that I would defintely make an effort to read one day, and b) books that I knew I would never read. After some ruthless sorting, I realized that category 4(b) now contained the most books. I went about setting up a Facebook list to give them away and donated the rest.

But … how did this happen? I had purchased all of these books throughout the years (brand new, I might add) with the intention of reading them. Was I drawn in by a compelling cover? Did the title sound exactly like something that I needed to read at that time? Was it recommended to me by a friend? Was it a “staff pick” at my local bookstore? Was it retail therapy? Was it an attempt to tip the scales towards life in my quest for “work-life balance” (I kinda sorta hate this term, by the way).

In my new little house, I’ve embraced my minimalism and for the most part and I don’t buy nearly as many (physical) books as I used to. I borrow a lot of books from the library (and oh, by the way, I don’t read most of those either). I buy/borrow a lot of audiobooks and I do read (listen to) those with regularity (yay!). I just can’t seem to stomach ebooks, no matter how logical they seem to be, so don’t even go there. When I do buy a physical book, I try to give it away as soon as I’ve read it, unless it turns out to be a category 1 book, in which case it gets coveted spot on my limited bookshelf space. I’ve been pretty disciplined, I would say.

Until recently, that is.

In recent weeks, I’ve bought a lot of books. By “a lot” I mean about 10, but the quantity isn’t as important as the fact that I suddenly have a backlog of books to read. In other words, I didn’t buy a book, read it, then buy another book. I have a pile on my nightstand again!

And thanks to Facebook memories, I saw that I posted about this exact phenomenon four years ago:

I’m super busy at work right now which often leads to retail therapy. Usually I buy books (cheaper than shoes and electronics and doesn’t involve trying on clothes). But then I don’t have time to read all the books that I’ve bought because I’m working too much. Which bums me out and leads me to buy more books to make myself feel better. It’s a vicious cycle, people.

I’ve decided that maybe it’s an Autumn thing. The back-to-school vibe. The desire to cozy up with a book under a blanket.

No matter what, I’m going to read these books! I’ve already finished the first one: “Money Diaries” by Lindsey Stanberry and I’m about to start “Bleaker House” by Nell Stevens.

I’ll keep you posted!

How Did I Get Here?

How did I get here?

I mean, it’s all good. Life is pretty good. You’d rightfully accuse me of being ungrateful if I said anything different. But I have no idea how I got here. Am I the only forty-something who feels this way? (By the way, describing myself as a forty-something in writing is pretty sobering.)

When I say “here”, I mostly mean my career. I can follow the breadcrumb trail and know how I got to my other “heres”. I can tell you how I came to live in this area in 1998 (funny story). I know the chain of events that led me to meet my husband (fate?). But my profession, my position, and my place of work? That feels much more random. Like I really had nothing to do with it.

After graduating high school, I felt like I was on a path. Then, rather than the proverbial fork in the road, I met a dead-end. Or maybe it was more like a round-about? Regardless, I couldn’t find a map that told me YOU ARE HERE that could show me where to go, because I really didn’t know what the destination was. Sorry for all the bad analogies.

When I started university, I wanted to be a high school teacher. Don’t be led to believe that I had any laser-sharp focus or even a clue, when I say this. I switched from wanting to teach French, to History, to English, flitting around because no subject came easy enough. I even thought maybe I should teach elementary school instead of high school for a moment. All in the space of an academic year. I had the quintessential 18-year-old existential crisis, and it sucked. It didn’t help that I was in a toxic living situation (a topic for another day) and that I wasn’t loving any of my courses. Except linguistics – which I truly loved and exceled at – but what the hell could I do with a linguistics degree?

At the end of that year, when an advisor at my university talked to me about the stark realities of finding a job as a teacher in Canada, the existential crisis became an actual crisis. Would I be willing to come out of university with a big, fat student loan and no job prospects? Would I be willing to live at home or work minimum wage while waiting for a teaching job to materialize, perhaps for many years? The answer as it turns out was no.

Fast forward twenty-four (oh my god) years and I’m a professional accountant. I work in Finance at a major corporation, about to move up the ranks from middle management to senior management. I’m not helping anyone in my work, unless you count making my boss look good, or helping shareholders get richer. There’s lots of stuff I like about my work (the people I work with, mainly), but is it fulfilling and rewarding? Am I doing anything to leave the world a better place? Uh, no.

I’ve come to believe that there are two schools of thought on the topic of fulfillment as it relates to your work. The first is to think of your job as, well, a job. A way to pay the bills, but not something that defines you. The idea is to then find things outside of your job to fulfill you – maybe volunteering, hobbies, or a passion project. This is all well and good if you work 9 to 5. It’s no so easy when your job is demanding and unpredictable. My hours are long and my evenings and weekends are never sacred, plus I travel for business a lot.

The other approach is to find a career or organization to work for that you’re passionate about. This is obviously the harder road to travel. I actually tried this many years ago. I left my current job to work for a nonprofit that I believed in, still working in finance. The organization was very cool and the people who worked there were very passionate about the mission of the organization – so inspiring. The only problem was that my department was a disaster. Disfunctional and toxic to the point of giving me stomach aches on the way to work and putting me in tears on the way home. It made me realize that the only way for work to be tolerable, not to mention enjoyable, is to like and care about the people you work with. The organization itself actually matters less, I believe.

There’s no moral to my story, here. I haven’t figured anything out. I work too much for a company that I really don’t believe in. It isn’t evil, but it isn’t doing anything that aligns with my personal values. Is it okay to have just a job. Especially when it takes so much of your time and energy? Or does this mean that I’m selling my soul a little bit?