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As a self-identified environmentalist, I pretty much fit the mould: I gain sustenance from being outdoors; shopping malls make me claustrophobic; I am in love with badgers; I hate driving.
I have never been much of a consumer in the mainstream marketplace, and certainly always a far cry from a clothes horse. I remember how, when I was a kid, getting clothes for presents always disappointed me. I pined for books and detective kits.
At McMaster University (dubbed “track suit U”), I recall a season in fourth year when my friends and I looked around and were bewildered to see that Beverly Hills, 90210 had somehow seeped into campus culture, evidenced by the abandonment by most women of the traditional jeans-and-a-T-shirt dress code for tight tops and heavy eyeliner.
As I aged into adulthood, I realized that clothes could express individuality. I delighted in wearing funky hats to the pub (a ritual led by my friend T, who built up a hat trunk over the years), and adorning myself with sequins and feather boas for weddings. But I also nurtured as a part of my individuality a critical relationship with consumerism and a pride in, to some extent, stepping off the consumer conveyor belt.
This pride is shared by my partner, though he doesn’t admit it. We frequently have the following conversation:
Him: “I can’t believe it! I’ve had this fleece for 25 years.”
Me: “I know. I was thinking of buying a new coat – my mom’s old ski jacket is so faded that you can’t even tell it’s green any more!”
I do often teeter on the cusp of not enough, due to my somewhat silly pride/frugality/laziness/mall-aversion. For example, I regret that I have not to date owned a decent pair of black heels, and have had to borrow on occasion or wear my old Spice Girls ones (I do have a killer pair of cream pumps, though).
Every fall and spring, I pull out my winter/summer clothes from a duffel bag tucked in a storage corner and think: “How can I get through summer/winter on this? There is only one pair of pants!”
Then I dutifully wear that pair of pants for approximately five days a week until I reach the embarrassing rip moment, upon which point I buy another pair.
At the start of this last winter, after unpacking my cold-weather clothes, I stared at my sock drawer in dismay. Where had all my socks gone? There were perhaps three serviceable pairs – the rest were ski socks or unmatchables.
After several weeks of trying to make do with the shortage, I traipsed to the mall, where I discovered that the exact same cozy soft-wool socks of which my brother had bought me two pairs last Hanukkah (how come there was only one pair in my drawer?), were on sale in packs of two.
I deliberated. One pack would get me through my four-day work week. Two packs would see me through a whole week. I splurged, deciding on two packs.
The next weekend, my family went to my partner’s sister’s house in Mont Tremblant, Que., for the holidays, as we’d done the year before. Up in our guestroom, when I opened the top drawer to unpack my clothes, voila! I discovered three pairs of socks that I’d left behind the previous holiday (including one of the pairs that my brother had given me.) Also two undershirts, which had gone unmissed.
The result of this was that when I got back home, what with the four new pairs, the rediscovered pairs and the old ones, I was rolling in socks like never before. Six pairs were exactly the same, which would make choosing which socks to wear each day a dream, and folding laundry easier. Now I am never driven to put in a laundry load just to have clean socks to wear.
I have to say that my surplus of socks has brought me some surprising moments of contentment. Every time I open my sock drawer, a wave of happiness washes over me.
The other night, I dreamed that I opened a box and there were eight sweaters inside, all of which I liked and which fit and were not stained, pilled, nibbled by moths or missing a button. The same feeling of contentment flooded through me. I woke up feeling wistful.
Sure, I would be the first to argue that buying quantities of things does not deliver happiness. But here I am, faced with one of the (many, I’m sure) exceptions.
Part of me recognizes my sock-happiness as the satisfied feeling that comes from unpacking groceries – your needs are met, for a moment at least.
Part of me thinks it’s similar to the happiness I used to feel when I finished biking up the third, and steepest, hill on my way home from work when I lived in Ottawa: the pleasing sense of a task well addressed. Hilltop reached equals challenge overcome, when so many of the challenges I face at work and in life can never be checked off quite so neatly.
It’s unlikely that I will reach this level of contentment in the near future in the pants, dress, sweater or shoes department.
But I am brimming with socks, and this gladdens my heart.
Rachel Plotkin lives in Toronto.