Does anyone else remember the “Just Say No” song from Grange Hill? I hear that a lot from people. “Just walk away, just say no, don’t buy it, put it back.” Or, my personal favourite: “oh, is that new?” with the coy smugness of someone not compelled to buy things and almost certainly judging me (or almost certainly that I’m assuming is judging me). My jaw always drops as I marvel at their restraint, their ability to walk away from something without “needing” to incorporate it into their library of stuff. You know that feeling, right? The little fluttery twitch right in the guts when you spot something so beautiful you just know it’s going to make you exactly the person you want to be, that you know you really are but haven’t found a way to express yet? I know I can’t be the only one who gets that feeling. Can I? I can’t be the only one to spot that look from others, that says “get a hold of yourself, be more like me” and at once be shrivelled to a tiny speck of myself over and over again, making myself a bit smaller each time …
This weekend was meant to be an exercise in restraint but as I type the rest of this post I realise actually it turned out not really to be at all. My wardrobe decluttering – four years in – is on my mind a lot, but with it all the other stuff that I also seem to have accrued a lot of. I decided to take the whole weekend off work, decluttering, everything. I indulged in two days of reading. I read three books, two Shirley Jackson novels (only during daylight hours, especially The Haunting of Hill House, less so We Have Always Lived in the Castle) and Clare Pooley’s The Sober Diaries (no time limits on that one, no chills or spooks as I read it, but lots of chuckling out loud and eerily resonant things that came up).
Now I’ve written down about the three books, actually, it seems to be pretty clear that moderation is not something that comes easily to me in anything. Fair enough, reading is edifying. It’s socially acceptable. I’m hardly chuffing methylated spirits straight from the bottle or passed out under the coffee table spooning a crack pipe. But actually, that obsessive drive to consume seems to be a bit of a theme, which I sort of know but also sort of don’t know (I might look like everyone else but I spend a lot of time with my fingers in my ears, eyes squeezed shut, humming “lalalalalala” very loudly). I hadn’t put it together beyond buying, for example, but surely mainlining books or TV or anything at all really is all a continuum. Is there really any good excess?
Weekends are tough at the moment. In the middle of an acrimonious divorce from a high-conflict, narcissist (undiagnosed, they don’t go to therapy usually to find out the truth!) with whom I am compelled to live until the situation is resolved, means that weekends are really stressful. This weekend I found him rooting though my things and struggled with feeling a total lack of control. Or actually maybe instead, being totally controlled by someone who very clearly does not have my interests at heart. Having my things casually inspected for their usefulness in someone’s drive to “crush” me, to make my “life as miserable as possible” (these are not my words by the way, nor are they paraphrases) felt like such a violation. I raged about it, livid at my lack of autonomy and scared by my own vulnerability. So I self-medicated by digging into a world of words, reading book after book after book. This was interspersed with logging on and surfing through a world of clothes, clothes that looked like a lifestyle not involving being tied to a man I now loathe (rather than fear, bright side) and trapped in a home that holds nothing but the saddest of reflections of a life that will never be. Also RightMove, that harbinger of dreams, dangling images of a simple, uncluttered life complete with empty rooms and a fresh start. Oh RightMove, how do I love thee.
A week or so ago I started wondering whether shopping was a kind of bulimia. Hold on a second, that’s expulsion surely? I hear the sceptics at the back there, just give me a minute. But bulimia is a kind of drawing in of nutrition, then rejecting it. A declaration that the body doesn’t deserve to be fed, to be nourished. I wonder whether spending is along similar lines, a feeling that the spendy amongst us don’t deserve security or safety. I don’t know, this is just a pondering. Certainly a lot of what Pooley said in The Sober Diaries rang uncomfortably true. Feelings are painful, best to anaesthetise them. What better way to do that then to tamp them down with a new coat, or new shoes. Something that will be a better version of me, and then I can relax because they can do the work of being better; like revising by sleeping with a book under the pillow, the clothes will send the message and my soul can catch up later when it’s figured out how to walk in these damn (new, very stylish) clogs.
So I started the week thinking I’d actually had quite a good, restrained weekend but am now, all of six hours into Monday, starting to see that my tendency to indulge is perhaps a little (erhum) more pervasive than I thought. In the spirit of changing one thing at a time, I’ve decided to go booze free through the rest of November and December until the 24th (and possibly beyond but let’s start with that). I drink about 1-2 bottles of wine a week, a figure that I know isn’t completely alarming but has increased from half to one bottle a week. I’m definitely noticing that a small glass or two of wine a couple of nights a week has crept up to a glass or two a few nights a week, until I was only having one or two nights off. It’s wily, the “wine witch”, a SoberMummy moniker that really resonated from the book. My thinking is that I tend to get more gloomy after my glass of wine, more discontented, less able to tolerate the awkward feelings, and then I start to prowl online, and before I know it Paypal is pinging away with receipts and notifications and my wardrobe/bookshelves etc are bowing under the weight of new things again. I’ve done so much work to declutter over the last few years, and I have so far I still want to go, that if foregoing my glass of wine might help, I’m happy to do it. If it means I’m also happier, able to sleep better, less beset by night terrors and the 3am worries, then it feels like it’s all to the good. It certainly can’t hurt to try.
My New Year plans will include a spending ban but I haven’t figured out the parameters of that yet, and I still want to lighten the burden of stuff before then, so rather than wing it, white knuckle it and probably wobble off it, I’m starting here. Goodbye vino my old friend, I’m hoping that not having you there will help me find another little bit of me that does know how to say no. Easing myself in…