The Tiger Print

In my last post I told you about this amazing tiger print dress that would be perfect to wear to my 10th college reunion but that I wasn’t going to buy ….

Well, I didn’t “buy” it, but I did end up getting it. My mother saw the post and insisted on buying it while she was visiting me in London. I objected that it would be cheating, and she countered that I couldn’t stop her from buying it for me as a belated Christmas/birthday present since she hadn’t seen me at the holidays to give me a present. I gave in. I also let my parents buy me a pair of tiger print shoes from Topshop that were on sale for £20. They both looked absolutely fabulous and earned me lots of compliments at reunions from a crowd of people who really appreciate their tiger print.

At first, I felt guilty, even with the “Christmas/birthday present” excuse. I was still getting something new. And really my mom was only buying that particular dress and shoes as presents because I hadn’t been able to buy them for myself. Even if it didn’t violate the letter of the rule, didn’t it violate the spirit of no new nothing?

I suppose the answer lies in the reasons why I am trying to go this year without new stuff. Yes, on the one hand, part of it is that I have so much stuff already I want to avoid bringing new stuff into my life, and in that regard, the new dress and shoes do cross the line. But, on the other hand, perhaps a more important driver of my decision to do this year is that I want to be more conscious about my interactions with things. The point is less about the having of the things than about the process by which I obtain them and my use of them. I shouldn’t buy things without purpose or that don’t, to use the Kondo-ism, bring me joy. (Full disclosure: I have never read anything by Kondo or watched her show. I suspect I might disagree with her on a lot of things because I don’t think it makes sense to get rid of stuff just for the sake of it.)

In this case, the joy that the tiger print was going to bring was so obvious that someone else had to buy it for me. It wasn’t a spur of the moment buying decision, but a deliberate choice by my mother to get me something that would be thoroughly enjoyed by me and others at my reunion. Sure, I would have lots of fun at the reunion without it, but wearing it made me excited about reunions, made me feel good about how I looked, and showed my school spirit and love of Princeton. It also sparked numerous conversations, including with someone who was wearing the skirt in the same pattern! Thanks to my dress, I met a new friend. So, even if getting the dress fell in a gray area, I don’t regret it.

But, even if I am going to let myself off the hook with respect to the dress and shoes, I still cheated on one other item I bought for reunions. On the morning I planned to wear the tiger print dress, I went to the Starbucks in a mall near our hotel on Route 1 in Princeton. While on my way into the Starbucks, I saw a headband in the window of Anthropologie, and the next thing I knew I found myself inside buying it to wear with the tiger print dress. I had been coveting one of the big cloth headbands I saw on lots of people this season, and I used the fact that this one would match the tiger dress as an excuse to justify it to myself. I think part of the cause for my lapse in self-restraint was the excitement of having new stuff (the dress and the shoes) made me eager for more. There is a lesson in that: I need to avoid buying stuff just to prolong the excitement of newness. I easily can get caught up in the cycle of buying because of it.

So, where does all that leave me? I am now halfway through my year of no new nothing, and the headband is really my first big cheat. It would be better if it had never happened at all, but at least it is something I now have already enjoyed wearing and am sure I will continue to enjoy wearing. (It was also pretty cheap so I don’t have to feel guilty about a big spend.) I suppose that the half-way mark is a good time to make a mistake that reminds me how easy it is to just get caught up in the cycle of buying that I am trying to break. Hopefully it won’t happen again this year!

I took this photo from my Instagram stories, so you get to see the tiger print shoes with a weird dancing tiger, yay

A Roaring Dilemma

My tenth college reunion is later this month, and Princeton reunions is a riotous affair. I am excited and terrified. I look forward to seeing old friends and running around the Princeton campus again for a weekend, but it frightens me that I am now a decade older than the students who normally do the running around campus. Equally terrifying, the 10th is the first major reunion where there is a whole area and set of activities for classmates’ babies and children. ***small heart attack*** The 10th is, from my observation, also the reunion at which attendees’ enthusiasm for wearing orange, black and tiger print starts to outstrip their enthusiasm for beer pong and dancing until 5am. From my perspective, that is an excellent development, except that I am running low on the orange/black/tiger print and unable to buy any more until my shopping hiatus ends in November. (Full disclosure – By “running low”, I mean I have only one tiger print skirt in my closet right now.)

I was pondering my lack of rah-rah orange and black and tiger print clothing a week ago when, in its ever creepy fashion, Google advertised to me the most perfect tiger print dress on sale for £29.99 from Mango UK. I took the bate and clicked. It was still available in my size, and there was even a matching tiger print shirt that would look great with black shorts that I already own. It seemed too perfect. It was like fate, or at least the omnipotent tech giant creepers, wanted me to have the perfect outfit for reunions.

The perfect dress for Reunions
This shirt would work too

In any other year I would have bought both the dress and the shirt in a heart beat with no regrets. Even now, I doubt whether I would regret breaking my year of nothing rule to buy them. I have come close many, many times in the past week. They are so totally and completely and wonderfully perfect for Princeton reunions. And they are available in my size. And they are on sale at a price so reasonable I couldn’t feel like I was wasting money. At least twice in the past week, this train of thought has led me to click the “Add to shopping bag” button.

But both times I started to buy the dress, something happened that called me away from the computer before I could checkout – my mom asking where something was in the kitchen, or the doorbell ringing. That felt like fate too, like the universe was saying, sorry all-knowing Google Ads algorithms, but I still hold the trump card and I don’t want her to get that dress.

The longer the universe drags it out, the less likely I think I am to buy the dress. Reunions is still two weeks away and the dress is still available on sale in my size, so it isn’t over yet. But I think no new nothing is increasingly likely to prevail, particularly when I think about how the dress would get worn once and then sit in my closet for another five years. Even without abundant tiger print, I expect I will manage to enjoy reunions somehow.

Not much of nothing: the surprising uneventfulness of going without new stuff

Constant temptation from every direction. Perpetual pin pricks of self-denial. Those were what I was expecting from my year of no new nothing. Now, I am almost half way through the year, and the reality of going without shopping has been surprisingly uneventful.

At first, it was harder. I had to learn to control my instinct to go into stores when items in the window caught my fancy (which would near certainly result in my buying said items). I had to train myself not to flick my browser window over to shopping websites when I wanted to procrastinate. That took a few weeks, but not as long as I might have expected given how ingrained my shopping habits felt at the time. Once those behaviors were no longer routine, shopping fell gently out of my life with little notice (except, of course, grocery shopping, which I have come to approach with new zeal). There have been times of stress, frustration or celebration when I have wanted to be able to go out and treat myself to something, but the inclination has quickly passed.

I expected that I would be haunted by the specter of items seen in advertisements or shop windows that I felt I “needed” and on which I was missing out – perfect dresses for my shape, say, or ideal comfy but stylish shoes. Not so, as it turns out. Stuff I see quickly leaves my mind and doesn’t come back, and in any event, I don’t have to go very far down the road to see some new thing that seems equally fabulous. The truth is that there are just so many things in the world – too many really – that one or another is not going to make much difference in my life. Evidently, I could have done without all the stuff I have bought over the years that I thought I could not live without.

I feel a little sad that a lovely French brand’s new store recently opened just a couple blocks from my flat with the most gorgeous dresses in the window and I haven’t been able to go in even once. I mean, I could technically go in and just look around, but what would be the point? If I were in buying mode, I would be pretty tempted by the dress below I saw in the window the other day. Indeed, my pre-no new nothing self might have felt compelled. But I doubt that in a few weeks when it is finally proper spring/summer weather (is that too optimistic?), I will miss having it much, or perhaps even remember its existence at all.

Minor infractions

Last week I noticed myself hunched and squinting trying to read the notes on a sheet of piano music. No, my eyesight wasn’t going. It was just that, thanks to weird wall flush lights and no overhead lighting, the room in our house was too dim for me to read music after dark, which seems to be the only time I manage to practice piano. After two years of this problem, I decided it was finally time to get a piano lamp.

But if I had managed for two years without one, did I really need one now, just when I am supposed to be buying no new nothing? No, I didn’t really need one in the sense that, without one, I could continue living and breathing and even playing the piano, albeit from an awkward leaning position. But it was ridiculous for me to continue straining my eyesight and ruining my posture. So I bought one.

My commitment to no new nothing did, however, very much inform my choice of piano lamp. I failed to buy one for two years because I wanted an elegant and stylish one, the one I really wanted was outrageously over-priced, and I could not make up my mind which of the second-best and slightly-less-elegant-but-still-pricey options to get. But, buying one now, it had to be about function rather than style, so I settled for the cheapest option on Amazon – a little £15 battery powered LED thing that serves excellently. My piano practice posture is much improved, and I am probably happier with this one than I would have been than some fancy thing I might have bought otherwise.

A very useful little piano lamp . . . I just now noticed the irony of the lantern painting above the piano.

While I was on my Amazon splurge, I also got a little £15 folding TV table for our living room that had been on my mind as a not-strictly-necessary-but-sure-would-make-my-daily-life-better treat. I work from home, mainly at my desk in our second bedroom/office/piano room (yes, I do have a desk lamp), but sometimes I like to mix it up a bit and get a change of scene. I don’t love working in coffee shops because I feel obliged to keep buying over-priced and often-mediocre coffee (and I have to leave the poor spoiled dog at home alone), so I find myself working in our living room and trying to balance laptop and notebook in my lap on the sofa or in an armchair. The solution came to me on a recent morning walk with the dog when I noticed an older couple siting in armchairs by the front window of their living room with their laptops on small folding TV tables. After thinking about it for a couple of weeks, I went for it when I bought the piano lamp – et voila, my daily life is doubly improved. (Full disclosure – I ended up getting two tables as a result of a delivery debacle. Amazon, why is your delivery of larger items the worst??!!)

These two infractions of my no new nothing rule were minor. I do not regret them. But here is hoping there are no more anytime soon …

A very useful little table

It’s flowers not florals for me this spring.

I am still wearing my coat. It is still pretty cold, at least in London. But there is something new in the air, a faint hint of early spring blown in by the blustery March winds we have been experiencing here. Or perhaps it is not really something in the air, but just the effect the shop windows have with their not-so-faint pastel messaging about their “new season” arrivals. Evidently the shop windows have the same effect on the camellias and Japanese magnolia trees as they do on me since the trees have begun to bloom despite no discernible improvement in the weather.

This is the first time I am going into a new season unable to buy anything, and early spring is the most dangerous time for me. I love buying spring dresses before it is warm enough to wear them. It is like a promise of the good things to come – a promise of sunshine to get me through the last slog of dreary days. It is so reassuring to look at a floral print dress and tell myself, ‘there will be a day when I can wear this, and it is coming soon.’

But this year, instead of floral print dresses, I am having to settle for the appearance of actual flowers to get me through to sunnier skies. One great thing about having a dog is that it forces me to get outside more often, even when it is freezing, and appreciate the early spring blooms.

Here are a few from the garden behind our flat that are attempting to cheer me up despite the persistent grey gloom.

The best things in life are indeed free

I suppose my year of no new nothing is partly about appreciating the figurative truth of that old adage that the best things in life are free. By deemphasizing material things for a year, I am (hopefully) giving myself the mind space to appreciate all the non-material things that “really matter,” as they say. But also, not buying anything new for a year has made me more aware that some of the best material things in life come, literally, free of charge.

Although I am not allowing myself to buy new stuff this year, I can accept free stuff. That means the only new things in my life these days are gifts and giveaways, and therefore I am paying more attention to gifts and giveaways than I have before. I never noticed how many things I am given gratis.

For instance, in a prior post I wrote that I had mixed feelings about not buying souvenirs on my travels this year, but no souvenir I could have bought on my recent driving trip from Florida to New Orleans could have been better than those I got for free. (You can read about my trip through Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Lousiana here.) I received so many free things on that trip, but they were all things that a me who could buy souvenirs would have thrown away. I kept them only because I could not buy anything else to remember my trip, and yet thinking about them now, they tell the story of my trip far better than anything I could have bought in a shop.

Take, for example, a pair of paper coasters we received at the Florida Historic Capitol Museum:

I would totally have thrown these in the trash before, but now that I have brought them home with me, they make lovely and useful coasters in my living room. And they remind me about how my husband and I visited the Florida Capitol Complex between my friend’s wedding and her reception, and how I was a little tipsy from the frozen margaritas I had enjoyed at post-wedding lunch with some friends, and how it was shocking to learn that the old capitol building had nearly been torn down in the 1970s, and how I also learned that Tallahassee became the capital of Florida only after legislators tired of traveling back and forth between St. Augustine and Pensacola (which had been the respective capitals of East and West Florida) after the two Florida territories were united. Who knew that Pensacola had been an early capital??!!

Or take these tacky plastic cups from the Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans:

Again, I would have thrown these out, but really they are kind of great. They are fun and useful. Even if the images on the cups don’t last long being washed in the dishwasher, while they do last I can remember the fun we had standing on the side of the road catching cups thrown from the parade floats by the Krewes of Cleopatra, Choctaw and Oshun. I can recall my father’s childlike glee as he lunged for cups, and my mother wearing a blinking neon headband that said “CLEO” (which was her mother’s name), and Gaurav’s face lit up by the blinking strand of lighted fleur-de-lis beads around his neck.

And sometimes I even get things that I might have bought for myself, such as this painted Mardi Gras mask that says “New Orleans,” which got thrown from one of the floats. I probably would not have bought the rainbow unicorn goblet shown with it, but it is nonetheless my prized catch of the trip. Each New Orleans Mardi Gras krewe has a signature throw. For Zulu, it is painted coconuts. For Muses, it is hand-decorated shoes. For Cleopatra, it is hand-painted goblets, like mine shown here. You just never know what you might get for free.

Help! I need retail therapy!

It has been a rough day. A rough week, really.

Always a finicky lady, Hettie the dog has decided that she now wants to go berserk without warning at random people and dogs. Despite my reading every dog behavior blog on the Internet (and trying all the strategies we have learned from trainers), she grows worse by the day, and I am at my wit’s end.

This morning’s walk started out okay. Finally, some improvement, I thought, prematurely. Then some strange dude started making unsolicited clucking noises at Hettie, and after she went off lunging and barking at him, he yelled at me (as I was trying to get her under control) about how she was “violent.” Yes, Hettie probably could have handled it better, but like seriously man? I wouldn’t go around making random noises at other people and not expect them to react as if I were a total weirdo. So, yes, annoying behavior, but I cut Hettie some slack. At least it wasn’t a totally unsolicited act of aggression on her part (if you can’t tell I am at the point I am grasping at straws here).

Then we went to the park. And it was one disastrous trip to the park. Like many dogs, Hettie is better off-lead than on-lead, so I look forward to the park as a place where I can let her off the lead and walk without perpetual fear of what she is going to do and who is going to yell at me next. Or so I thought until today when, while off-lead, she went after some guy and tried to grab at his sweat pants. She zeroed in on him from a distance, and in a split second went after him as if he were a squirrel. I tried the whole litany of things one is supposed to do to handle a dog in that situation, all to no avail. So she promptly went back on the lead, and we stomped home from the park in the rain with me fuming.

I have been patient. I have been gentle. I have been observant. I have been and done all the things that dog training advice tells you to be. And now I am just one mess of frustrated nerves whose anxiety is probably making Hettie act even worse.

Of course, ask any of the million dog advice sites out there, and they will tell you this is all my fault. If my dog doesn’t behave like a robot, it must be because I am doing something wrong. If I listened to the prevailing dog world wisdom (which I do), I would beat myself up (which I also do) for being the single direct cause of my dog’s unhealthy mental state driving her to act out. So thanks to Hettie, I not only have the whole world yelling at me but I also spend the day yelling at myself for clearly being a failure of a dog owner.

But can I really be that much worse than the other dog owners out there? I just cannnot figure out what other people do that their dogs don’t act like whackadoodles. Combine Hettie’s behavior and my self-blaming frustration with the never-ending rain happening outside this week, and my sanity is just about drained.

For my sanity, I need some retail therapy. What I really want more than anything in the world this afternoon is to leave Hettie at home and go shopping. The best way to distract myself and make myself feel better would be to go to my favorite store and find some lovely pre-spring item that would make me happy and give me just enough of a little, brightly colored attitude boost to face another walk with the Hettie monster this evening. Some new thing would not have solved my Hettie problem, but it probably would have helped perk me enough to at least look at the Hettie problem as a solvable one.

But I can’t go shopping. So instead I went to the closest patisserie and had an almond croissant. This was, of course, a terrible idea because, once I had eaten it, I was left with nothing to bring home but guilt and shame for not being able to control my diet as well as my dog. The almond croissant was a most unsatisfactory substitute for whatever thing I would have bought during some retail therapy shopping and that I would still be feeling good about now.

My takeaway is that maybe some days I really just do need a bit of retail therapy, even if I don’t actually need the thing I end up buying on those days. So after this year of no new nothing ends, perhaps I will allow myself a few retail therapy shopping days in addition to days of shopping for what I actually need.

This dog is making me nuts … and almond croissants are all I have left to console me.

The Joy of Shopping (for Groceries)

Dopamine. It’s the neurotransmitter responsible for my dog’s happiness when she knows she is going to get a treat as a reward for good behavior. It also causes the “high” induced by drugs and the rush of euphoria some people get from exercise. And it probably bears much of the blame for the thousands of hours of my life spent trawling sale websites for great finds (of which there are now hundreds in my closet). I wouldn’t say I am an addict, but I am guilty of most often shopping for the thrill of it rather than because I need any particular thing.

The release of dopamine produces the feelings of pleasure and satisfaction that we experience from something new, exciting or challenging. Shopping, particularly sale shopping, is the perfect storm of those things: it is the challenge of shopping for the perfect “new” thing at the right price. As explained well in this BBC article from 2016, it is the “thrill of the hunt” that gets us. Just entering a store or logging into a shopping website turns up our dopamine production levels, and in that heightened emotional state we “impulse buy”. And if we feel that we must compete to grab the perfect thing on sale at an amazing price before someone else does, our “fight or flight” competitive modes takes over. Retailers, of course, take advantage of this with their barrages of daily bulk emails telling us about sales that won’t last long and the race-like conditions some brands implement in their stores (hence H&M’s in-store music that makes you feel like you are competing in the Grand Prix).

I fell hard into shopping’s dopamine trap. It was too difficult to resist the Instagram ads and daily emails from the likes of Rue La La and Net-a-Porter, and once I was on the website, I was stuck – locked in for hours of scrolling. I didn’t buy something every time I went to a website, but I was always on the lookout for good bargains I did not need.

It is the sales that really get me. My favorite stores – Sandro and Maje – clearly use regular sales, notified by email and shop window signs, to ensnare suckers like me. And then there is TK Maxx (the UK version of TJ Maxx) … I mean, I didn’t even spend money if I bought something at that kind of discount, right? It’s more like I saved money, right? “Yes, I win!,” my brain says every time I go to checkout and pay for the last available 40%-off pretty floral dress in my size.

The temptation of January sales

With my year of No New Nothing, I am trying to break the dopamine-fueled shopping cycle and make myself a conscious shopper. It is really hard to switch from shopping with my dopamine-fueled impulse mode switched on to buying with intention only those things I need, so I am hoping that a year of going cold turkey will help to shift my shopping paradigm to need-based buying by forcing me to strengthen my impulse control. I am also breaking the sale website habit because there is literally no reason for me to be on those websites this year. I’ve unsubscribed from all the mailing lists whose emails used to greet me when I woke up in the morning.

However, something unexpected has happened in the month since my No New Nothing began. I find myself going to the grocery store more often. I normally have my groceries delivered from a website called Ocado, but in the past few weeks, I have found myself only ordering the heavy items, like milk and detergent, online and then going to the store in person for everything else. Why? I seem to be finding a new pleasure in grocery shopping. Instead of trawling through pages of discounted shoes, I now find myself eagerly rummaging through bins of courgettes for the best one or thrilling as I grab the last bag of my favorite granola on sale.

Is it a good thing or a bad thing that I now get my dopamine fix from shopping for dinner ingredients? I think it is okay for now. In fact, it might be helping me to learn impulse control. Unlike how I can always tell myself that I will wear a sundress or pair of flats “sometime or another,” unused food will literally go bad in my fridge within a short time. I therefore must control my impulses to buy more because, unlike with dresses and shoes, the waste becomes obvious quickly (often foul-smelling-ly so). As a result, I buy at the grocery store only what I need or can readily use but have learned that there can still be the joy of shopping in shopping for things you need.

So, for example, yesterday, I reveled in the joy of finding the new (persimmons), the exciting (smaller than usual bananas), and the challenge (a still-fresh-looking bunch among the half-priced selection of flowers).

Did a trip even happen if you come back with no souvenirs?

I haven’t posted in three weeks, so you might be wondering if I gave up already. Don’t worry, I didn’t. I spent the holidays in Mexico and decided to take a proper break, including from blogging. However, while on vacation, I did NOT take a break from my year of nothing. In fact, avoiding buying anything in Mexico presented my first real challenge. I had to go nearly three weeks in Mexico without buying a single souvenir!

Everywhere I went on my trip, handmade crafts and small artworks beckoned to me. In San Miguel de Allende, there were painted sacred heart ornaments that just NEEDED to be on my Christmas tree. In Mexico City, it was the artisan homewares and Frida Kahlo-style earrings at the Saturday bazaar in San Angel that had my heart aflutter. In the Yucatan, Mayan-style wood carvings and clay wares called to me – sometimes literally since hawkers followed us around everywhere with these super-annoying-but-sort-of-grow-on-you-over-time(?) Jaguar whistles. (You can see/hear a silly video of someone with a Jaguar whistle here.)

Resisting my urge for at least some small handcrafted trinket or artisan nicknack was difficult because I am a true souvenir person. I love having some small thing from everywhere I travel: an elephant tea set from Thailand, nesting dolls from Russia, painted mirrors from Peru, a figurine hórreo-style granary from Galicia in Spain, a miniature house ornament from Colombia, an incense burner from Oman, a wooden giraffe from Tanzania, painted plates from Jerusalem and Morocco (not to mention the full set of dishes I managed to bring back from Morocco in my backpack) and bud vases from China – to name just a few, and I really mean just a few because I would be embarrassed to catalogue the full set of souvenir nicknacks in my home. I have something (really multiple things) from everywhere I have been.

So not buying anything in Mexico was a big deal. It was such a big deal that I thought about relaxing my no-new-nothing rule to allow myself, say, one souvenir per trip. It felt like I needed at least that one souvenir, like if I didn’t get some token from my trip I might somehow not continue being me.

As I considered implementing a new one-souvenir-per-trip exception to my no-new-nothing rule, I thought about how I would explain the exception on the blog and asked myself why it was that I felt I ‘needed’ a souvenir from my travels. My first answer was that I liked being surrounded by mementos that reminded me of my experiences in the places from which the souvenirs came. That seemed a true but only partial answer. Photos equally could memorialize my trip, without costing money or luggage space. Perhaps it is partly that I scatter the trinkets around my house and then, happening upon them as I go about my days, happy memories are brought to mind unexpectedly. But, again, while true, that seemed only part of the answer because it did not explain this sense I had that, without souvenirs, I would not be me.

I think that, if I am honest with myself, I like having a home full of souvenirs because I feel that they somehow signal to everyone that I am an interesting person. I imagine (or at least my secret inner self likes to imagine) it is one of the first things people notice about me when they walk into my home: oh, look at all these souvenirs from far-flung places, somebody here must be well-traveled, how fascinating of her.

It reminds me of an indie film from 2009. Does anyone else remember that scene in “500 Days of Summer” when Tom goes to Summer’s apartment for the first time and sees all these quirky little nicknacks that signal to us how quirky and well-traveled and interesting Summer is? Except that her apartment and its nicknacks mostly annoyed me because, I thought, they screamed “look at me! I am trying oh so very hard to be interesting! Can you tell that I am interesting?! You must see how I am interesting! Look at all these little things that make me so complicated and quirky and interesting! If I weren’t so interesting, I wouldn’t have all these origami birds now would I??!!” I wonder if that is how all my travel nicknacks actually speak to people who visit my apartment ….

Many of us (myself included) use travel photos in the same way as I use souvenirs. Travel photos started out as a memento to help us remember, relive and share our experiences. While we do still use them for that, their other purpose nowadays is to signal via Facebook and Instagram posts that we are well-traveled and interesting. But while photos do that job only as long as they continue to appear on our friends’ feeds, my souvenirs keep on working every time anyone comes to my home. They serve as a more permanent Instagram feed advertising my well-traveled interesting-ness.

Just like my Instagram photos, my house full of nicknacks probably does not make me a more interesting person. I suppose they accurately signal that I am well-traveled, but being well-traveled does not necessarily make me interesting. Really, traveling should not be about making myself interesting; it should not be about affecting the way other people perceive me at all. It should just be an experience that I have for myself, at the time, with the other people who are there. I can remember the things that I saw, learned and experienced and share them with other people after the fact. The things I saw, learned or experienced may or may not have made me a better or more interesting person, but I do not need to prove that to anyone else through photos, nicknacks or otherwise.

I have been making a conscious effort to take less photos on vacations for the past few years in order to force myself to make photos secondary to my experiences and not the other way around. Although souvenirs do not have the same power as photos to take over our experiences, I now see that a bit of souvenir-free travel might be good for me as well. And that’s why, at the airport waiting for our flight home, when my husband handed me 500 pesos that he had left in his wallet and asked if I wanted spend it on something to get rid of it, I took it straight to the currency exchange to be turned into GBP before any last-minute temptation set in.

To indulge myself, I did think about what, if I allowed myself one single souvenir, it would be. Undoubtedly, it would have been an icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe that called to me as I waited by a shop where my friend was buying rosary beads at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The Virgin of Guadalupe is a fervently venerated symbol of Mexico and her basilica is the most visited Catholic holy site in the world (the latter, according to Wikipedia). I am not Catholic and do not pray to the Virgin, but I love the thought that people looking for a force to help them with the real things of their daily life turn to a woman and a mother. I liked the idea of having in my home an icon of a face to which so many people look and rely every day. This particular icon of the Virgin appealed to me because of something about the scalloped edge. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the Virgin won’t be around my house anytime soon to tell you how interesting I am.

The Virgin of Guadalupe

If you would like to read about my full trip to Mexico, posts will soon be up here on my travel blog, Vertigo Travels.

The First Temptation: Warhol Socks

I had everything else I needed to make cranberry sauce. I just needed one single orange.

The fruit and vegetable stalls on Portobello Road are a few blocks from home, so it was meant to be a quick trip. I went to the first stall and bought my one clementine for 90p from a reluctant seller who doubted whether it was worth the energy to bother paying attention to me and making pleasant talk for the price of a single fruit. Now, back home I went …

But the next thing I knew, I was in a Happy Socks store on the corner of Portobello Road and holding a pair of socks printed with Andy Warhol’s neon “Flowers.” I do not remember making a conscious decision to go into the sock store. It just happened somehow. I was at the fruit market, and then I was in the Swedish socks store.

That is one of the beauties/curses of living in a city. You do not have to set out with the intention to drive to a particular store; you just end up strolling by shop windows and stopping inside on your way home. The problem is that you see, and then decide you need, things that would never otherwise cross your mind, like socks printed with Warhol’s “Flowers.”

I have mixed feelings about Warhol, but I like his ‘Flowers.’ More accurately, I think his “Flowers” look great printed on socks and swimsuits and the like. I think Warhol would approve of those feelings.

I saw those socks and wanted them. Just imagine, on a grumpy rainy day, getting onto the train, sitting, looking down, and, what a surprise!, you’re wearing Warhol flower socks! Really, I thought, I needed the socks as a precaution against future grumpy days.

Andy Warhol. Flowers. 1964.

“NOOOOOOO! DON’T DO IT!” I hear you say.

But here’s the tricky thing. Socks are not technically off limits under my rules for myself. This year of nothing is an exercise in figuring out what I actually need in life, not an arbitrary exercise in self-denial and embarrassment. Under the rules for my year of nothing, I am allowing myself to replace things like socks and undergarments. Because, well … I think you get it.

“Ok, but do you really really need Warhol “Flowers” socks right now?” I hear you ask.

And there is the rub. I may allow myself to buy new socks when I need them, but that means when I need them because I am running out of socks without holes, and not I need them because I might like having this particular sock pattern in addition to all the ones I already have. Right now, I am not running out of socks without holes. So no ‘Flowers’ socks for me, for now, although I will keep them in mind in case holey sock situation grows more desperate in future. Sigh.

I resisted the temptation of the “Flowers” socks, but on the way home, I did indulge in some actual flowers, which are definitely not off limits. The beauty of flowers is that the knowledge of their approaching wilt forces us to enjoy them while they last in a way we seldom appreciate our things that are here to stay.

(In case anyone else really wants the socks, they are available here.)

Some flowers for me