By Karen Schelhaas
I forgot my bras on a weeklong trip to Scottsdale, which constitutes an emergency. If you knew me, you’d know just how much of an emergency it was.
My husband offered to buy me a “gift”, a Hail Mary of an offer, something I refused when I realized it was a test. I’d made a decision 8 months earlier to give up personal spending for a year after reading a book whose author found some real freedom, and so I got the “freeing” opportunity to wear my $5 sports bras as a teaching moment in the land of the naturally (or not so naturally) endowed. Trust me when I say there’s nothing lovelier than a fitted t-shirt and a $5 sports bra when you’ve nursed 3 babies and you’re in the over-40 crowd.
I thought the year would offer some new perspective on contentment, but what really happened was far more thorough, a purge of deeply rooted issues.
On Day 1, I went in to my closet and reintroduced myself to my clothes and shoes and bags and promised to find new attitudes about them. What didn’t fit me went to the homes of others, the first purge.
The change of seasons scripted the most trying moments; I’d trudge back in to my closet, attempting to muster new excitement for what greeted me there. I’m an American girl with a decent supply and I have nothing to complain about on a global scale. But too much stuff made me numb. Granted, I’m pretty sure I’m the only living female under 50 in my suburban radius without a pair of skinny jeans, but it matters less and less to me as time marches on. I’m hoping that it won’t matter one bit at some point.
While the focus on the external was halted in its tracks, God turned on the internal spotlight in corners I wasn’t expecting. I began to see that not only was I hinging my first (and perhaps best) impression on the cute clothes or shoes I wore, but also the body on which they hung. I realized that there was a marked difference between staying strong and healthy and being critical of every curve of my body, hyperaware of how things drape and present to the outside world.
Real freedom came gradually, and I began to get dressed quickly and without obsession, genuinely focused on the people and the tasks in front of me. I found I cared less and less about what other people were wearing (or how their bodies looked) and more about the real offerings in their lives. I don’t greet women with the up-and-down “once over” anymore. Freedom.
The initial buzz of a new shirt or a sparkly pair of shoes is indeed that – a buzz. Like a good cocktail, it makes us feel warm and fuzzy and noticeable. But in the end, it loses its thrill and needs refilling, which can get expensive for the soul as well as the pocketbook.
At the end of the year, everybody wondered what would happen, what I’d purchase when I got out of “buying prison.” I bought what I needed, exactly two tank tops, a pair of black sandals, and a new shirt. When you buy what you need for a body that needs to be clothed and not for a body that needs to be cheered to glory, some real freedom emerges. I’m still surprised by the results of the no-buying year, how I don’t feel the same. Freedom is a buzz unto itself, and I feel lighter than I have in years.
The unexpected highlight of the experiment came when I offered to buy my 12-year-old daughter a black shirt at a store, and she responded with “Mom, I already have a black shirt. I don’t need another one.” That’s right, babe. You don’t.