I’m a very good shopper. Not only can I shop and spend money for no reason at all, but I can also connect shopping to my emotions, using shopping as a means to overcome grief, anger, exhaustion, and self-consciousness. I have walked into stores equipped with the excuses “I deserve this,” “I need this,” and “I don’t have enough,” with each excuse allowing me to justify purchase after purchase.
But the shopping skills I have developed have been ruined. Yes, ruined!
Over the years, my interest in the issues that sit behind the availability of cheap clothing has fluctuated. One month, I could buy a pair of Toms shoes, and feel good that some extra pair had been sent somewhere in the world on my behalf. The next, I could enter Old Navy, equipped with eagle-eyes that are going to find some deals, and not question why anyone can buy a t-shirt for $2.00. My commitment to using my purchasing power to influence justice in the world has been wishy-washy at best.
I didn’t mind the wishy-washy, it went well with the emotional justifications for shopping that I had spent years perfecting.
Frankly, it came as a shock to me that over about a years time, my wishy-washy attitude towards the justice (or lack thereof) surrounding the manufacturing of clothing became anything but wishy-washy.
I didn’t notice that one of the reasons I volunteered at a friend’s new business, a used clothing store for teens, might have been to witness just how many bags of clothes a young person can find in their closet to sell (far too many!) I ignored that when I entered a store with a friend, I felt uncomfortable and didn’t want to touch anything, thinking about every hand that participated in the creation of a way-too-cheap funky outfit. It took me a while to notice that I started to buy only clothing that was previously-loved, locally manufactured, or had a tag that described some form of consciousness on the part of the company selling it. I thought it might just be another phase that would fade away when the next Lululemon factory sale came to Ottawa.
But then I had to take my shorts off. And I realized a bigger change had occurred.
I had to take off my brand new, could-not-fit-me-any-better, lovely shorts that I had just bought. The shorts that I had just put on had to be removed when I realized that they were not the brand that I thought they were, and instead, were from a company whose manufacturing policies I knew nothing about.
I tried to keep them on. I sat there with these new shorts and told myself to get over it. They fit so well. They were so cute. I needed them. I deserved them. It didn’t matter.
But it did matter.
And so I took the shorts off, emailed the company and waited for a reply (and put on another pair of shorts that day) that would indicate whether I could keep them.
Shopping had indeed been ruined. At least the shopping of my past had.
Now, I’m not trying to declare some self-righteous adoption of social consciousness. I did not sit there with my shorts off saying, “yay! I’m transformed!” Instead, I sat there frustrated and angry that I couldn’t just get on with my day and ignore the issue. To be honest, I muttered under my breath: “Jesus, once again, you have asked me to change, and frankly, it frustrates me. If you could just stop, I’d appreciate it.”
I am also not declaring that I have become some perfect social-justice shopper. I let my 15 year-old shop wear what she wants and only sometimes remind her to consider who made the item she is buying (to which she rolls her eyes). I don’t know how to find some items that I think I’ll need to buy in the future, but I’m trying to figure it out. And I do admit that there was this one awesome sweater at a large brand store that was on sale for 80% off, and boy, did I want it. I actually considered calling a friend to ask her to buy it in hopes that she would be sick of it by next season and give it to me. I left the store without it, but I huffed and puffed as I walked away.
My new shopping approach is a work in progress.
And like many of the other transformations that Jesus has forced upon my life (I mean gracefully offered), it comes with joy and frustration. And I don’t know about you, but it does seem to me that change always comes with some things being ruined, in order for new ways to settle in.