Life

Nuala McCann: I'd like to follow in Ann Patchett's footsteps and quit consumerism

The reality never quite matches up to the promise. One dress in soft blue with ancient Greek symbols looked stunning in the catalogue. Imagine posing in that as you lean against a marble pillar on the Acropolis, languidly shading your eyes from the sun. When I slipped it on and looked in the mirror, the mirror whispered: 'A funny thing happened on the way to the forum'

The summer sales are my downfall – I have cupboards full of bargains

I CATCH it as easily as a cold... the shopping bug. Come June and July, the postman sighs heavily and rubs his back as he delivers yet another parcel to the door.

“It’s for you,” sigh father and son.

The summer sales are my downfall.

“A bargain, even if you never wear it,” my aunt used to say.

I have cupboards full of them and I don’t wear them.

My other aunt would take us to Woolworths when we were little and get us each to choose a toy. There were six of us. When my sister went for the doll on the top shelf, she directed us to bring our eyes down to the lower shelves where the smaller toys sat... “Lower your gaze, children” she’d say.

Having worked as a shop assistant, she had a healthy disrespect for even the poshest assistant who looked down her nose. She’d inquire the price of a silk dress, laugh raucously at the huge price tag and say to the snooty assistant: “Wrap up two!” Then walk off.

The bargain hunter in me loves a bargain. Eight biscuits at £1 a packet, Happy Type 2 Diabetes to me!

Summer sales are my downfall. This is the first summer it has been warm enough to get more than a few days out of a linen top.

I waft into the living room in a loose white shift.

“What time are you saying Mass?” somebody quips.

I try shorts... looking down, my knees look back up: “We’re cauliflowers and you know it,” they shriek.

All those catalogues where size eight models look slim and tanned in floaty dresses and long linen shirts. I can’t resist them.

The reality never quite matches up to the promise. One dress in soft blue with ancient Greek symbols looked stunning in the catalogue. Imagine posing in that as you lean against a marble pillar on the Acropolis, languidly shading your eyes from the sun.

When I slipped it on and looked in the mirror, the mirror whispered: “A funny thing happened on the way to the forum.”

Imagine a frumpy Demi Roussos, my bulges bulged. I sashayed into the living room where father and son each raised a quizzical Paxman eyebrow and hmmed. But their eyes screamed that they wouldn’t be seen dead walking around with me in that.

“It’s kind of toga like, not very you,” said my other half gently.

It went back, as did the Japanese silk shirt and the big bubbly silver beaded necklace that was definitely just for the Pride parade.

Then, I came upon Ann Patchett’s essay in The New Yorker. She’s one of my favourite writers. She was writing about the year when she gave up shopping. Inspired by a friend, she decided she just would not buy any stuff.

The Catholic upbringing helped. Us Catholics are always looking for something to give up at Lent, so she and her sister started giving up shopping for six weeks. She always felt better for not buying things, she said. Then, one New Year, she decided to go the whole hog and give it up for the year.

Of course, she could buy the washing necessities, if she had run out of them; she could buy books because she runs a bookshop; but not all of the clothes and shoes.

The eye opener was when she needed lip balm. Rather than buying one, she hoked in drawers and found five of the blighters. Her cupboards were full of shampoos and shower gel she hadn’t used so she used them.

Clothes? She had plenty. Once she might have lost two days of her life hunting for the perfect dress in which to interview Tom Hanks, she wrote. But because she was not shopping, she simply went into her wardrobe and chose a dress... after all, Tom and the audience hadn’t seen it before.

“It doesn’t take long for a craving to subside, be it for Winstons or gin or cupcakes. Once I got the hang of giving shopping up, it wasn’t much of a trick,” she wrote.

I’d like to follow in her footsteps. Taking time off consumerism sounds like just the ticket. Cherish what you have, wear what you have, save all that precious time spent surfing the internet for bargains.

I aim to make a start. It will be my year of living not-so-dangerously, just economically. It will be my Little Women year.

Yes, the new me will shun the shops... come September, when the sales are over.

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