I remember when I was pregnant with our oldest, Wyatt, and I expressed my desire to have a ‘natural’ birth experience to others in my life. The range of reactions I was met with was surreal. People would say everything from: “Why would you ever want to do that to yourself?!” to ” I actually quite liked having an un-medicated birth. I had never, and still have never experienced such an adrenaline rush/high/[insert euphoric descriptor here] in my entire life.” And, of course, everything in between.
I remember being frustrated when the time came that my doctor recommended he induce labor (7 days past my due date) and even more frustrated when the pictocin-induced contractions proved relentless and I was no longer able to manage my pain and opted for an epidural.
It wasn’t a part of my plan — however well intention-ed and devised. My circumstances had changed, and although my goal remained the same (give birth to a healthy, happy little boy with as little intervention as possible) my path to getting there needed to change too.
I afforded great wisdom from my first encounter with birth, but only because I was willing to let go of my (arguably) ‘arbitrary plan’…
When things aren’t working, change them. Meaningful experiences that afford wisdom are greater than the completion of arbitrary plans.
Or in other words: don’t keep doing something that isn’t working simply because it was a part of “the plan”. When new information becomes available and your circumstances change, so should your plan.
Seek a meaningful goal as opposed to an artificial plan.
Walk away with more than merely being able to say, “Yeah that’s right, I haven’t eaten sugar/shopped for clothes/missed a work out/used social media/checked the scale/washed my hair/worn make up, etc. for “X” days now! Bam!” All of those things could potentially unlock great learning opportunities and meaning.
BUT ARE THEY? ARE YOU LEARNING? ARE THEY PROVING MEANINGFUL? WHAT’S YOUR ACTUAL GOAL?
WHY I ENDED MY RETAIL RECESS EARLY
Fifty-eight days into my retail recess I concluded that I wasn’t learning anymore from this exercise. I had earned my meaningful takeaway(s) already and was just trying to ride out the arbitrary time period I’d set of 6 months — largely because I had openly committed myself to it. I sat on that thought for a bit more and then decided to call it quits 60 days into my previously declared 6 month shopping break.
Yep. I said it — I quit. No use in trying to dress it up, frame it in a more flattering light or even remove attribution of the negative connotation that always seems to follow that word. I have no shame because I didn’t run away from the actual challenge (nor my goal). In fact quite the opposite; I ran toward it, gained wisdom and then hung around long enough to know that I wasn’t amassing anymore of it from this particular experience. I simply quit something that wasn’t working for me and began something that is.
WHAT WAS THE CHALLENGE?
After having made a couple (impulsive) fall additions to my wardrobe late last year, I felt like something was just off. I had this overwhelming feeling of needing to add pieces to my closet, but I wasn’t feeling very strategic about it. I had slipped back into my old habits of perusing clothing sites and I couldn’t distinguish whether or not the feeling of needing to add was coming from an internal assessment of my own wardrobe or external pressures to buy the “latest and greatest”. I used this sense of un-clarity as feedback for myself and determined that I simply needed to take a break from bombarding and cluttering my mind with any of it.
I decided to frame an otherwise known shopping break instead as a: retail recess. For me, it made it feel more fun and inviting. More like an enjoyable break that reinvigorates and recharges as opposed to focusing on the elimination or withholding aspect of it. My goal?
Discover why I felt the overwhelming need to acquire and alter some of my day-to-day habits — that ultimately affect attitude, energy and long-term goals.
Framing it this way simply allowed me to remove some of the negative feelings I had surrounding the idea of a shopping break and embrace the heart of the challenge all the more.
In hindsight, I should not have arbitrarily chosen a time period of 6 months (you know, because it sounded good and it’s something I’d done before) as the time period to complete my retail recess. Instead I should have initially chosen a shorter time period (perhaps 10, 14 or 30 days to provide the proper opportunity to survey my current state and begin the reflection process) and then add to the ‘recess’ period from there as need be.
WHAT I LEARNED
What was so great about what I learned from my abbreviated retail recess experience that I am able to confidently walk away from it? Let me share with you some of my reflections and conclusions upon the end of my retail recess:
WHAT’S NOT WORKING
1 | I’M NOT DRESSING FOR MY CURRENT BODY
I am the heaviest (+20lbs pre-pregnancy weight), the most out of shape, the softest, most stretched and most scarred I have ever been, but at the end of the day I feel content — proud even — of the body staring back at me in the mirror. I have never been so confident about my body and felt more beautiful than I have since I’ve had our second son, Thurser. So why do I continue to not fully embrace my current body by not dressing for it? Because I’ve become so accustomed to it constantly changing! (And money doesn’t grow on trees! Right?!)
I am a planner by nature and, even though we are not sure whether or not we will have any more babies, my little-planner-self wants to be prepared for it. I’ve found myself only buying things that are highly versatile (for now/pregnancy/postpartum AND nursing friendly) which often means sacrificing those pieces that aren’t as versatile but you just kinda feel like a million bucks in, ya know? This has been so incredibly hard for me to identify, and is proving even harder to address, but this was definitely my biggest takeaway from this retail recess — and the number one reason I walked away from it.
ACTION PLAN: GIVE MYSELF PERMISSION TO (RESPONSIBLY) PURCHASE CLOTHING ITEMS THAT ADDRESS MY CURRENT BODY. WHEN MY BODY CHANGES, SO DO MY CLOTHING NEEDS — I WILL STOP TRYING TO OVER COMPLICATE THAT SIMPLE FACT.
2 | I HAVE TOO MANY PIECES THAT LOOKED GOOD ON SOMEONE ELSE
I know I’m not the only one guilty of this: mistaking appreciation for great execution of style with identifying it as my own style. Some of the best pieces I have in my closet were found by introduction of another person. But this method has also produced some of its lowest performers. Observation of style has proven a valuable skill for streamlining my closet. But every now and then I still fall victim to mistakenly appreciating someone else’s great sense of their own style for my own and end up buying something that I later regret. (And damnit if that isn’t hard to admit!)
ACTION PLAN: WHEN I ENCOUNTER GREAT STYLE THAT I THINK REFLECTS MY OWN, I WILL REMAIN DISCERNING AND DIG DEEPER. IS IT APPRECIATION? OR GENUINELY SHARED STYLE?
3 | JUST BECAUSE SOMETHING WORKED GREAT BEFORE DOESN’T MEAN IT WORKS GREAT NOW
Out of the last five years I have been pregnant, postpartum and/or nursing for over four of them. My body has changed SO much, and yet I continue to try and fit it into clothes that worked for, well, a body of the past and/or future. Whether that’s trying to squeeze into jeans with a too tight waist or swimming in a shirt dress that needs taken in all over STAT — I’m trying to ‘make things work’ with too many things. My desire to constantly reassess my closet at this point has proved to be in fact a need. I’m hopeful that once my child bearing years are over these changes won’t be so rapid and successive..?
ACTION PLAN: STOW AWAY PIECES THAT ARE “OFF SEASON” (I.E. DO NOT WORK FOR THIS SEASON OF LIFE) OR FIND A TAILOR AND ALTER ITEMS THAT CAN BE ALTERED TO MY CURRENT SIZE. LET GO OF THE MISTAKES (TRENDY OR LOW QUALITY PIECES). ACQUIRE NEW PIECES SLOWLY.
1 | I AM A MORE DISCRIMINANT SHOPPER THAN I GIVE MYSELF CREDIT FOR
Shortly after I ended my retail recess I had the opportunity to purchase a few items from some historically fast fashion brands, only… I didn’t want to. No — I mean, I actually didn’t want to. Not like a, ” I know I shouldn’t, but I really do want to” a concrete “I just don’t want to.”
Again I was reminded of my similar (yep, I’m gonna say it) journey with food. (I’ve written about their similarities before here). First there was the catalyst, then came the enabling excuses, then the emerging paradoxes, the shaky commitments and then: the resolute desire.
These days I’m finding myself shying away from fast fashion brands not just because “they’re bad for me (and others)” but because my interest has genuinely dissipated. I suppose I’ve just had one too many run-ins with shotty quality: a pair of boots with the toe permanently marred days after purchase, a sweater that pilled and fell a part before the season was even over. Paired with my knowledge of questionable ethics in these industries, I feel as though I’ve finally tipped the scale. (Yay!)
ACTION PLAN: CONTINUE TO EDUCATE MYSELF ON WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A RESPONSIBLE CONSUMER AND LEARN TO TRUST IN MY PROCESS.
2 | WARM NEUTRALS, DEFINED TEXTURES + VARIED SILHOUETTES
I like warm neutrals. Black, white and grey are my friends but; cream, beige and camel are my besties. Observing a distinct color palette within my wardrobe (and home) has taken quite awhile but I’ve definitely zeroed in on this one. In addition, I’ve always been intrigued with the role texture can play in adding dimension to a look or wardrobe, but I’d like to step up my texture game moving forward and experiment even more with unique textures and textile materials (in my same favorite tones). Same goes with silhouettes — I’ve yet to zero in on this one yet.
ACTION PLAN: REMAIN DISCERNING ABOUT ADDING COOL NEUTRALS TO MY CLOSET AND OPT FOR WARMER TONES. BEGIN RESEARCH ON INTRODUCING NEW TEXTILE MATERIALS TO MY WARDROBE, I.E. CASHMERE, ETC. TO VARY TEXTURE + SILHOUETTES.
3 | BUYING SECONDHAND
I’ve already expressed my frustration concerning the feeling of needing to endlessly re-assess and acquire pieces to address the ever-changing shape and size of my body throughout my childbearing years. Through this exercise I’ve even managed to validate those feelings I’d previously written off as desires, as actual needs. But it still hasn’t removed the burden that this reality presents. How can I accomplish all of this (dressing for my body now) while still consuming less and not burdening my wallet more…?
For me? The answer has been buying secondhand. I’ve experienced great success with purchases made from Ebay, Poshmark and thredUP and will absolutely continue to buy secondhand to address my current fluctuating needs, achieve my desire to experiment with texture and materials and honor my modest budget — all while minimizing my role in the traditional fashion scene. That’s what they call a win-win-win my friends. :) (P.S. you can get $5 of credit through Poshmark if you use my referral code when you sign up, it’s: GWZHF)
ACTION PLAN: BUY SLOWER. BUY BETTER. BUY SECONDHAND FIRST.
I had every intention of sharing a great deal more detail of my reflections and process here on the blog throughout my actual retail recess. However, as I began decluttering (my head) and reflecting I realized that, for me, this time would be best spent by instead quieting myself and conserving energy to allow myself to become more in tune with my needs.
At the close of my retail recess I immediately felt challenged to create a resource and tool that I could use to aid myself and others in this same type of reflection process. The knowledge I’ve gained from this challenge has been great, and I anticipate that I will likely conduct a ‘recess’ each season for a short period of time.
Soooo… I have created something I’m calling the Retail Recess Workbook! This free downloadable workbook is simply meant to aide in the reflection process throughout a ‘shopping break’ of any length and to help create a meaningful experience that affords wisdom. :)
Not feeling this workbook? No hard feelings. You might want to check out Lee’s Shopping Fast Workbook instead — this girl is on fire when it comes to wardrobe resources and daily outfit inspiration! Or you may even try filling out just the first couple pages of Caroline’s seasonal wardrobe planner as she suggested in a recent blog post. (I’ll be completing the whole thing again here soon in preparation for spring.)