The beauty of a harebrained scheme

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It took us several tries to find this place without a map.

Travel has become so much easier now that we have all this technology. Everywhere has wifi, you can use your data for free abroad, Google maps will navigate you around any foreign city without you even having to look up from your phone. It’s so simple.

And yes, having that technology is great. But you lose something at the same time. What might once have been an adventure becomes a pre-packaged trip; a pick and mix of interchangeable identikit elements.

I was reminded of this difference the other day. My long time travel buddy and I were in Amsterdam and he’d been told of a great bar in the North of the city. We tapped the address into Google maps and set off on foot. Three miles into the journey we became doubtful. We seemed to be walking through an unfinished housing estate, and I couldn’t envisage that there’d be a cool place to drink at the end of it. Filled with doubt and nerves, we almost turned back several times. When the paved road ran out and we emerged at a junction filled with gravelly holes, I really thought we’d blown it and were going to have to walk three miles home again. But then, between two lines of low concrete sheds, appeared a gate with the cafe’s name painted over the top. We walked through, and suddenly we were in hippy paradise. Tables in boats, floating man made islands, giant rocking chairs and rope swings.

I sipped my elderflower wine and laughed that I’d ever doubted we would find the place. I also felt a tiny bit sad. The harebrained scheme used to be a mainstay of my travelling adventures. A good harebrained scheme should involve the grain of a good idea swallowed up by a morass of questionable decisions. Essential aspects of the trip should be overlooked, and there should be a general air of danger, and a feeling that the whole enterprise is somewhat held together with spit and glue. This is the kind of travel that makes you feel alive.

To wit, my travel buddy and I once drove around the entire country, 1300 miles, without a map. We took off in the car with two dozen carefully curated mix CDs and a set of directions printed from google maps. We discovered at the first roadworks that the map in the back seat was in fact an A to Z of London. In these pre-smartphone, pre 4G days, we just followed signs for the north until we got back on a recognisable road. The same trip also involved an out of date map of Dundee that managed to send us into a questionable housing estate, a flood on the M90, conditions on the snake pass so bad that he had to take off his tshirt to mop the inside of the windscreen so we could see more than 18 inches in front of us, and some hairy moments in the Scottish highlands.

On another occasion we accidentally ended up sleeping rough in Leipzig train station because we failed to realise our overnight train from Frankfurt to Berlin was in fact a one hour train from Frankfurt to Leipzig, a six hour wait at Leipzig and then a one hour train to Berlin. When McDonalds opened at 5am it brought about a feeling of deliverance like the parting of the Red Sea. Astonishingly that wasn’t even the only time we slept rough on that trip.

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Berlin at 7am arriving off the “overnight” train

A couple of years later, we embarked on a journey to canoe coast to coast across Scotland. Again, the trip was a mixture of careful planning and vague assumptions. We camped on beaches under the astonishing Scottish stars, and hitch-hiked with friendly Irish men to get to the fish and chip shop and the pub for a well-earned drink one evening. No one had a torch so we walked back by starlight. It was wonderful, it was haphazard, and it was a world away from the sterilised world of technology-aided travel that we knew. Wild camping meant no electricity (or showers or toilets for that matter) which meant no phones to guide us if we went wrong. None of us actually knew how to canoe, and it took most of a day for me to convince the others that it did in fact help if you rowed in time (“otherwise why would they do it at the Oxford and Cambridge boat race!”).

In a memorable incident, one of the guys accidentally kicked the other in the face, and it was left up to the medicinal whisky and small first aid kit to patch up the wound. It was unexpectedly 27 degrees, and we all burned and melted in various degrees. We had not anticipated that portage (moving the canoes around lock gates on the canals) would be so gruelling, and hadn’t rented a portage trolley. When it rained, it poured, and we were reduced to bailing out the boats with half a milk bottle. It was glorious.

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no biggie, we just woke up to this view in the morning.

That’s what you miss in this new world of sanitised travel. Adventure. It doesn’t matter which part of the world you end up in if you’re sitting on your iPhone posting elegant Instagram photos of your perfectly made up face. There’s no adventure. Adventure requires taking a leap, putting your faith in a slightly harebrained scheme. I’m not going to pretend it always works out; sleeping rough in a train station is awful. But we sat up all night and talked about things we’d never talked about before, stone cold sober, huddled in our sleeping bags. And living life with a few more rough edges helps you to realise that the greatest moments aren’t the glamorous ones, they’re the harebrained ones, the gaps in between.

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A guide to surviving your mid-Twenties

 

A very long time ago (five whole entire years) I graduated from university on my 21st birthday. It was a momentous occasion. I thought I knew everything there was to know because I’d studied philosophy and answered difficult questions about the universe. I thought I knew loss. I thought I knew what life was going to hold. I thought I knew what hard work was. I didn’t know anything. Five years later I’ve learned so much but all I really know for sure is that there’s so much I don’t know. But in honour of my 26th birthday, here are some things I do know.

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Graduating aged 21.

 

Forgive, but don’t forget the lessons you’ve learned.
Forgive your parents for calling you fat as a teenager. Forgive your friend for getting so drunk on your 22nd birthday that you had to take her home and miss your own birthday. Forgive people for big things, forgive them for little things. The space that anger is taking up is all inside you – they probably don’t even know you’re angry. Let go of the anger, but remember the lesson. Be better than others have been.

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Turning 21

You don’t need to be liked by everyone, you don’t need to like everyone, but you should never be a dick.
I used to be so embarrassed about who I was. Then I used to show off about how quirky I was. Both those things are cringeworthy. What do you love? Go with it. I sew my own clothes. I have uttered the phrase “there’s a great song you have to hear by the guy from Deep Purple’s side project band” (it’s seven minutes of glory guys) and I’m not ashamed of that. I cry at adverts, like the Lloyds Bank one where the horse comes home from war. I’m who I am and I’m not ashamed of it. Some people aren’t going to like it and that’s fine, there are some people I just don’t click with either. We’re all adults, we won’t be mean, we won’t be cruel, we’ll just get on with doing us.

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Turning 22


You’re going to make some terrible mistakes
I stayed with a boy who read my diary. I hurt myself because I was afraid to admit that what I wanted wasn’t what everyone else told me I should. I took out an overdraft and a credit card when I really shouldn’t have. These things happen. Take a deep breath, square your shoulders and dig yourself out of the hole.

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Turning 23

Make time for yourself
Stress and burnout are real, and they’re miserable. Real life isn’t like university, you don’t get summers off to recharge. I worked four straight Christmasses after university, and four straight Augusts. I didn’t have two weeks off in a row for four years. That was dumb. I was so burned out I’d lost enthusiasm for everything I liked. I had to relearn how to listen to new music and read novels. Do something just for you at least once a week. Carve out the time. I go to Pilates twice a week, take a bath afterwards, and paint my nails. It’s unashamed me-time and it keeps me sane. Do what works for you, so long as it’s positive. Alcohol does NOT count.

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Turning 24

Stop waiting for the cavalry. You are the cavalry.
My boss said this in a work context the other week and I thought it was amazing and exemplifies so much of what I’ve learned. If you’re waiting to win the lottery, lose 100lbs, for the perfect man or job to fall into your lap, you’re going to be waiting forever. If you want something, go out and try for it. If you don’t know what you want, start by making sure you’re not doing what you don’t want and inch closer to what you do want from there.

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Turning 25

Worse things are going to happen than you can imagine, better things are coming than you can comprehend. 
When I was 22 I was made redundant from a job which although terrible, was the real job I’d ever had. I was single, broke, unemployed, friendless and hopeless. A week later I got the opportunity of a lifetime and got a new job in a field that I’d always wanted to work in. Within a month I had a great job, money in the bank, and had just met the love of my life. Bad things will happen. People you thought you could count on won’t be there for you. Loved ones will die. But new friends will reveal themselves in unexpected places, bad love will give way for good love. Never give up hope, and never judge. Remember the words of Baz Luhrmann: “never congratulate or berate yourself too much. Your choices are half chance”.

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Ready to be 26

And one for the future… Be inspired by people younger than you 
Because you have something to learn from everyone, and something to teach everyone.

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baby Bella one day old.

Keep your body shaming off my commute

A lot of people are going to disagree with Sadiq Khan’s decision to ban body shaming adverts, but I think it’s pretty great. There’s a world of difference between a bikini advert which is effectively saying “look at our bikinis they’re nice you should buy one” and an advert like this which says “you have to look like this to achieve the right to wear a bikini”

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I also think the TfL director’s point that “advertising on our network is unlike TV, online, and print media. Our customers cannot simply switch off or turn a page if an advertisement offends or upsets them and we have a duty to ensure the copy we carry reflects that unique environment.” is a really good one. You can’t choose to avoid an advert like this as a way of showing your disapproval of it; it’s shoved in your face all the time. When these adverts were on, there was one opposite me on the platform of Tooting Broadway every day and to be honest, it did make me feel a bit shit.

We’ve moved on from the simplistic view that thin models cause women to have eating disorders (whoever could have imagined that eating disorders are complex mental illnesses with multiple causes!). But a relentless barrage of adverts, TV programmes, newspapers, people on social media, friends, colleagues, bosses, politicians, famous people and everyone else telling you “you’re not good enough” is real, and has a real psychological impact.

It’s hard to stay feeling confident about yourself, and your choices, when you’re constantly told they’re not good enough. I used to work in a job where everyone was on a diet. My boss was a size six and lived on cottage cheese and tuna from the can because she wanted to be thinner. Everyone was on the Dukan diet. People stared when I had pasta for lunch. I used to eat my lunch in secret so that I could avoid their stares. I felt like a failure because I couldn’t want to be thin as much as they did.

One of the most insidious trends in modern life is the idea that there is a perfect way to be, which you should be achieving, and if you’re not it somehow undervalues your other achievements. You see it with everything, and the pressure is on men and women: successful entrepreneurs have to be good looking, everyone needs a gorgeous partner, beautiful children, a lovely pug, and a perfect home to be photographed in so they can tag themselves on Instagram #blessed. And for women, underneath it all “you must be thin, above all else, in addition to everything else, and no matter what else”.

I don’t need to go in to how stupid this is as an idea – anyone with half a brain can see that being thin is not in itself something of an achievement. It doesn’t make you healthier, or stronger, or better prepared to tackle life’s challenges. It doesn’t improve your relationships with friends and family, and it doesn’t make you better at your job. And yet the pressure’s on, every day, to live up to this ideal. Adverts like this are the thin end of the wedge, but it’s not the thin end of a censorship wedge. It’s a wedge that threatens to split you open, so that you crack under pressure to be perfect. It’s to knock down your self-esteem because they know that it’s easier to sell things to people who are insecure. It’s to create a need for validation where none previously existed.

A fact I love to tell people is that women never used to face pressure to shave their legs – no one thought women’s legs were hairy enough to need shaving. But during the war, the Gilette shaving company worried that not enough men were buying razors. So they came up with the idea of marketing razors to women to shave their legs. And now every western woman feels self-conscious if their unshaven ankle might peek out of their trouser leg.

Banning a couple of adverts won’t change the world, but I like the message it sends. That advertisers will have to try a little harder for their money, that we don’t want to shame people from the walls of their daily commute, that maybe, just maybe, it’s okay to just go to the beach, lie in the sun (with suncream on of course), and just chill the fuck out and be who you are.

 

It’s not about the money, it’s about sending a message

I bought a lovely yellow blouse recently and the first time I wore it several colleagues told me it looked nice.  I told them it was from Zara, and they all remarked how much they loved Zara.  “I never normally go in,” I shrugged, “But yeah it’s great.”  They couldn’t believe it – Zara is the de rigeur choice of the fashion-conscious office worker.  Well, that’s not strictly true.  It’s the choice of the fashion-conscious office worker who is a size 12 or smaller.  Because more than 90% of Zara’s clothes are only available in sizes XS-L, and by their own website’s admission, their large falls somewhere between a 12 and a 14.  A quick scan of their website shows that of the 518 different tops on sale right now, only 19 are available in a size XXL, and only 150 in a size XL.  In store, I’ve often noticed that the coolest, most magazine hyped clothes, are only available in XS, S, and M.

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Here I am being far too fat and uncool for Zara and yet somehow still managing to feel happy.

In previous years, I would have ranted about this “it doesn’t make economic sense!  Where’s the capitalism in choosing to exclude half your target market? The average woman in Britain is a size 16 don’t you know?!”.  But the dark truth is that averages hide a multitude of class issues.  There’s an old adage that says that statistics is the discipline that proves the average person has one breast and one testicle, and never is that truer than when looking at size.

Sure, the average woman in the UK may be a size 16, but that size is not evenly distributed.  When I look around me in upmarket Clapham brunch spots, rooftop bars in Shoreditch, popular instagram feeds, and even at the people around me when I get off the tube in Holborn, no one is a size 16.  A toned slenderness is now the ultimate sign of status and wealth – a sign of leisure time, access to an expensive gym, the opportunity to cook and eat healthy meals.  Fat used to be a feminist issue, now it’s a class issue.  If I go home to my parents’ area, it’s a very different story.  Fresh fruit and vegetables are expensive, gyms are expensive – it’s genuinely difficult to eat healthily on a budget, especially if you’re on a zero hours contract or working two jobs and you never know where and when you’re going to be working so you can’t prepare yourself.

When I lived in Catford, there was a headline in the local paper: “46 chicken shops in Catford and NOT ONE GYM”.  It says it all.

What Zara, and others (I’m looking at you, Urban Outfitters, Mango, & Other Stories and more…), have done may be distasteful but it reflects an economic reality that bleating about statistics hides.  Being fat is associated with being poor, and not with aspiration.  They are selling an aspirational image – they want to be seen on the backs of girls brunching in Clapham and dancing in Peckham.  They don’t want to be associated with mere mortals who might have a spare tyre around their waist and might *gasp* be wearing their clothes in such undesirable areas as Catford – let alone somewhere outside of a chi chi urban destination.  They feel that if they were, their cooler, richer customers might no longer wish to be associated with their brand.  It’s like charities who reject donations from noted racists, knowing the good PR they receive will ultimately be better than the money.  “Fat” women are the noted racists in this miserable equation.

There will be some people who think this is a good thing.  That fat people should feel pressured into losing weight.  That being a size 16 is in some way immoral.  That the best clothes should be reserved for the people who look the “best”.  This is bullshit on a variety of levels.  For a start, for a 5’2″ person to be a size 12 is very different from a 5’10” person.  For another thing, if a person has struggled with eating disorders, or is on certain medications, it could be healthier for them to hover at around a size 14-16 than to risk their mental or physical health trying to become a socially approved 10 or 12.  People also carry weight differently – before I gained weight while working in a desk job, I was tiny on my bottom half and slipped easily into Zara sizing.  But I’ve always had broad shoulders, a long back, and large breasts.  I couldn’t be a size 10 up top without major surgery – far too high a cost for fashion.

Of course, Zara knows all these arguments, and so do all the fashion brands that choose to market exclusively to them.  They’ve just decided not to care.  It’s hard to know if body acceptance movements will bring about a change in their opinions or if they’ll stick to their ways.  Either way, it brings a bitter taste to my mouth to know that it’s more economically profitable to judge half your potential customers as a low class liability than it is to cater to all who might want to buy your products.

 

Divine Decadence, Darling

I’m not sure when my love affair with nail polish began.  Maybe it was watching Sally Bowles’ glittering talons in Cabaret, decadent even in the poverty and deprivation of Berlin in the 30s.  Or maybe it was because painted nails were banned at school, and there’s always frisson in the forbidden.  Regardless, for me nail polish was love at first sight.  And since I left my strict school at 16, I honestly don’t think there’s been a single day when I’ve left the house without nail polish on.  And any time friends visit my house, the box is soon lifted off the shelf and “nail polish night” begins.

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My collection, a couple of years ago.  It’s grown since.

It’s gone from a symbol of teenage rebellion to an elaborate ritual, and I think the ritual is half the fun.  Cleaning off the old polish, trimming and shaping the nail, preparing the surface with a base coat, choosing an appropriately stylish colour, and finally adding a quick dry top coat.  Sometimes I go around the edges with a make up brush dipped in nail polish remover to get the splashes off, or just peel them off in the shower the next morning.  Either way, it takes about 45 minutes, and it’s some of the only time in the week that I sit still and take a moment to reflect.  Sure, I could do that without nail polish – but I don’t think I would.  In our busy modern world it feels unbelievably indulgent to spend 45 minutes doing effectively nothing once every five days.  But that’s part of the joy of it.

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Christmas nails

Nail polish is completely pointless, like make up I suppose.  But while make up tends to be done at the beginning of the day or before the night out, nail polish is best done at the end of the day, before bed.  It can be a time of reflection, a time to look back over the day, a time to be still and quiet.  It’s always the same process, and yet it’s always different.  Every week brings a new colour, a new style.

Unfortunately, having waxed lyrical about how wonderful nail polish is, it’s also become a problem for me. I can’t fail to notice how thin and flaky my nails have become, how easily they split, and how often when the nail polish chips it takes a sliver of nail with it.  They aren’t glamorous talons any more, they’re ever shrinking stubs.  So I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that I need to take some time out from my ritual of glamour and let my naked nails see the sun for a few weeks in the hope that it will tempt them back to strength.  It’s going to be funny going out without my armour.

It’s going to be even stranger living without my ritual.  I shall have to think of some new stress-busting evening activities.  Any recommendations gladly accepted.  In the meantime, RIP nails, and may you grow stronger soon.

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smashed up current nails – to be improved

 

All girls’ school? All girls can.

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the author as a young woman

Every few months some fool (usually male) comes along and claims that women who attend all girls’ schools are disadvantaged because they grow up unable to talk to men.  

Well, I’m here to say that it’s the exact opposite.  Women who go to all girls’ schools are far better placed to take on the sexist bullshit of men than those who attend mixed schools. 

Why?  It’s not rocket science.  We all hear constantly that women are told they “shouldn’t do” science/ maths/ anything else with good earnings potential.  And so they don’t study it and the cycle continues.  But at an all girls’ school, there aren’t any boys to take maths, so there you are, dominating like the boss bitch you are, never hearing the sexist lie that you need to sit down and shut up so men can talk. 

You also get the girl power assemblies, the feminist teachers, and the free space to be your girliest self without having to worry what boys think.  I can’t imagine a situation at a mixed school where a girl walks into maths and announces she’s just started her period and all the other girls clap and crowd round her, as happened in a year nine maths class I attended. 

Because yes, I attended an all girls’ school.  An all girls’ grammar school, in fact.  And I was a weird kid who didn’t fit in and got bullied at times and I still think it was the making of me (and not in an upper class suffering-builds-character kind of way).  My all girls’ school taught me that all girls can. 

And so when I left at the age of 16 to attend the local mixed grammar school for sixth form (for non boy-related reasons – my A level combinations wouldn’t work at the first school) it was a hell of a shock to the system.  Not because there were boys, oh no, shocking as it may seem to some headteachers, girls at all girls’ schools can actually meet boys outside of school.  I had plenty of male friends, a brother, a boyfriend, a father… the difference was that for the first time, I had to contend with a male dominated environment and the classic stereotype that women’s voices aren’t worth listening to.  In my economics class there were 31 pupils, five of whom were girls.  You can be sure the other 26 boys hadn’t been listening to feminist assemblies for the last five years.

For the first time in my life I had to fight to have my voice listened to, and my core belief – that I was worth being listened to, and that no man deserved more airtime than me just because he had a Y chromosome, helped me overcome my nerves and speak up. 

It also carried me through my university tutorials, which were filled with posh boys, a double whammy of class and gender for little impoverished intellectual me.  

But most of all, it helped me at work.  I work in PR, and it’s fast paced and challenging.  It’s important to hear a variety of opinions so that you don’t end up pushing a story with a fatal flaw in it.  Sometimes you’ll be the only person who’s thought of that particular angle and you need to voice it, because your mistake could end up on the front page of the Evening Standard and wreck your company’s reputation. 

In my old PR job, I worked in financial services in a male dominated environment, and as both the youngest and the least experienced member of the team it was tough learning to speak up, but remembering that old lesson from school always helped.  And having had five years of feminist assemblies about women who could had got deep into my bones and toughened me up.  Another aspect of working in PR is that 90% of everything you do will fail, and most of your days will contain rejection.  Remembering that your voice is valuable and that you have something to say is crucial when all day journalists are hanging up the phone and telling you that you don’t. 

Now I work in the charity sector, and I can’t believe how different it is from the alpha male finance sector.  I’m so used to having to slap people down to be heard at all amid all the alpha male posturing that it’s strange realising that I could be the one talking too much and sharing opinions too strongly.  It’s an exciting new feminist challenge – trying to create a space for other women to speak.  Not everyone is a natural motormouth like me, and not everyone had five years of feminist cheering to back them up.  I carved out a space for my own voice – now how do I help others find their own? 

How much have I no need of?

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Stuff, about to be carted to a new house

I have a complicated relationship with stuff. Like the child of alcoholics, who feels isolated from her family when sober and terrified by the future when drinking, I proclaim constantly that I have too much stuff – and then I buy more.

Owning too much is a condition of western society in the twenty first century. The proliferation of big yellow self-storage units in every town and city in the country isn’t just because people are living in rabbit hutch little new build houses. It’s also because we have too much stuff. Almost everybody does, rich or poor or anywhere in between. But my family has more stuff than most people with too much stuff.

I would say that around half my family members could legitimately be considered hoarders. The other half are borderline cases. We aren’t rich, we just can’t get rid of things. When I was at my parents’ house recently, we were trying to do a little bit of a clear out. I found a shoe box on a shelf. It was filled with empty guitar string packets. I suggested that it could be thrown out. “No!” My mum said, “Those belong to Ben and he wanted to keep them.” Ben has emigrated to Canada and its unlikely to come back in the next few years. I don’t know whether this story reflects worse on him or my mother but the truth is that if those string packets didn’t go to Canada, they are unlikely to be needed on his return. A slightly odd neighbour of ours once left the core of her apple in my sister’s room. It wasn’t found for months. My aunt and uncle keep back editions of the Guardian weekend magazine, despite the fact that it is available in full for free on the Guardian website. I could list a hundred other examples, all of them worse.

Against this backdrop, I have become a slightly manic advocate of throwing things away. When I moved out of my shared flat and into my parents’ house for three months last summer, my return triggered a manic drive to get rid of as much stuff as I could. I piled up books I didn’t like, clothes I didn’t fit, and things I didn’t want. It was like getting blood from a stone just getting my parents to take them to the charity shop. (for those who want to know why I didn’t just do it myself – I don’t own a car. A mile and a half is a long way to walk with a sack of books…) I didn’t need “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying” when it swept the nation last year, that’s been my rallying cry for years.

Following my de-cluttering binge in the summer, I have felt better about the amount of stuff I own. It helps that I now have a nice big bedroom in my new house – realistically the most space I will probably have to myself for a couple of decades, as my next move will likely be with my boyfriend, and we will have to learn to share our space and combine our stuff. I haven’t missed anything I’ve got rid of, and I don’t feel like I’ve been heartless and given away everything of meaning, as I am so often told. I have a box under my bed full of personal things from little trolls with neon hair that my aunt gave me as a child, love notes written by an older man when I worked at a garden centre in my teens (don’t worry mum – it extended to one hand holding session before I was distracted by a boy my own age), photographs of college balls, wristbands from teenage gigs, and the other pieces of junk that hold meaning for individuals. I have a box of letters and cards, some of which I will treasure for ever, and I have a box of Important Documents, because I am a real adult now, which means I am at least 10% sensible.

De-cluttering, therefore, has worked. Only, why did I need to de-clutter so much in the first place? It wasn’t by magic, or osmosis, or voodoo that I ended up with so much stuff. I bought it. Almost all of it, bar a few presents. I bought it, and then I felt bad that I had bought it, and gave it away, and then after a while I felt better, and then I bought some more. It was an unending circle. When I was a child, I bought a lot of tat – china dolphins from seaside shops, little mood rings from Camden market, tie-dyed rugs from choir tours (it was a dark time in my life), and all sorts of other rubbish. But buying tat is an obvious waste of money. It makes you feel the amount of junk you are accumulating and feel bad about it. So after a while, it slowly shifted and I started buying the one thing that you definitely do need and can’t deny: clothes.

I buy clothes like other people buy drugs: guiltily, and often in the middle of the night. I log onto ASOS after a long day, and end up buying five or six different “wardrobe essentials” which in the cold light of day I’m not sure about and which I end up only wearing once. I have two jumpsuits, despite the fact that I have a long back and a high waist so jumpsuits give me dreadful camel toe. I have umpteen pairs of vintage shoes which fall apart after two wears. I had at my worst peak six different but almost identical grey sweaters. I have two sequinned t-shirts, a sequinned skirt, and I almost bought myself a sequin blazer in the sales before I woke up and gave myself a talking to. I work for a local authority; I don’t live a sequin blazer life.

Some people reading this will think “who cares, it’s your money, do what you like”. The problem is it’s not my money. It’s the bank’s money. I have a decently paid job, relatively low expenses and few responsibilities. This is the time of my life in which I should be saving. Instead, I’m guiltily paying back my credit card, month by painful month. And I didn’t spend that money on fabulous trips to the other side of the world, or a car, or a masters. I spent it in Topshop, H&M, ASOS, & Other Stories, Zara, Office, Schuh, Primark, Marks & Spencers, Dune, Banana Republic, Gap, and Urban Outfitters. Endless forgettable outfits. I see a sale and feel a compulsive need to pick up a bargain, even if actually that bargain is extremely tight and without a serious Regime, I’ve got no hope of fitting into it. (and I never go on serious Regimes).

It’s a psychological crutch, I guess. Just like drugs. Some people face down the fear of a party where they won’t know anyone by doing a few lines in the bathroom of the club. I face it down with one-day ASOS Premier delivery, knowing that I will have something new, something exciting to wear every time I go out. I’ve got into the habit of buying something new for every party, every big night out, every job interview, every foreign holiday (“I’ll re-wear it with a fine sweater underneath” – only I never do). And there is no reason. My favourite dresses are without a doubt the ones I’ve saved up for, agonised over, bought rationally, and worn again and again. My favourite shoes are a pair of black Nike trainers – not the metallic green heels I’ve worn a total of five times but which are already flaking because hey, metallic green leather is not hard wearing! But having something new, something the papers, instagram, celebrities, the internet, and my cooler friends have told me is good, is cool, and has cachet, that saves me from having to worry about whether I have any value. Whether I am cool. Whether I am worth it, outside of the things I own.

And it’s ridiculous. When I was a student, I bought a strapless black dress for £30 in H&M. I wore it on every single night out for over a year (so that’s twice a week, ten weeks a term, three terms a year… 60 times. Minimum). I looked amazing in it, and I felt amazing in it, and I don’t think I ever paid for a single drink while wearing it. When along the road did I lose the ability to stop caring about whether or not I’ve worn something before? I don’t know, and I miss it.

So I’ve made a decision. I’m not buying any clothes for four months. From now until the first of May, I will not buy any clothes at all. (Disclaimer: underwear doesn’t count, a lady needs ladder-free tights if she is to be taken seriously in a professional environment!). I have enough clothes that I don’t need to buy anything new. I have ballgowns, and summer dresses, and coats, and jeans, and suits, and blouses, and everything else that I might need for any situation I might find myself in. I even have clothes for yoga – and I don’t even go to yoga!

The aim of this exercise is to break the cycle. To stop feeling like I need something new all the time. To get out of this meaningless consumption, and to start over. At the end, hopefully I will be less broke, but hopefully I will also be free of this need to buy something new. I had a badge at university which said “How much have I no need of?” (I was given it at a philosophy event, obviously). I lost it at some point and I won’t be buying myself another one, but that will be my mantra. How much have I no need of? How much do I already have?