I had ninety dollars burning a hole in my pocket. It was the last cheque from my short-lived writing contract with Words of Life magazine. (Just after they accepted me as a monthly writer, they shut down the magazine. Bummer.) Since I usually consider the small amounts of money I receive for freelance writing as my “fun/personal development money”, I felt justified in spending it on myself.
I headed to Winners to see if I could find a new coat. I don’t really NEED a new coat. I have a perfectly good parka that’s still fairly new, plus I have a long coat that’s good enough even though I don’t particularly like it. But what I wanted was somewhere between the two – a shorter coat that was a little more dressy than a parka.
At Winners I found a coat that I instantly fell in love with. Perhaps it was the feel of it that I just couldn’t get enough of. It’s black faux fur with a black and brown stand-up collar and large cuffs at the arms. It is so soft you just can’t resist touching it over and over again. I tried it on and glanced at myself in the mirror. Wow. I’d never looked so glamorous and put together! This coat was smokin’! And it was $89 dollars! Perfect.
I bought it, and as I drove home with it, I kept reaching into the bag to touch its luxurious softness.
When I got home, I put it on in the garage before walking into the house to model it for my family. When I opened the door, I was greated with dumbfounded stares. And not in a good way. The stares quickly turned into frowns and even sneers. They were NOT impressed. Clearly, my family had not fallen in love in the same way I had. Nikki promised me she’d walk five feet away from me if I EVER wore that coat in public. Marcel tried to redeem himself after his first stuttered response, but he only sank himself further into the hole. It just wasn’t working for him.
Undeterred, I swore that I didn’t care whether or not they liked the coat, I LIKED IT and that was what counted. Part of me was more convinced than ever that I would flaunt this coat in front of them every chance I got because I HAVE A RIGHT TO LIKE WHAT I WANT even if they don’t agree.
But… a few days passed, and I didn’t wear the coat. My excuse was that the temperature had warmed and it just wasn’t cold enough to warrant a faux fur coat. That wasn’t the whole truth though. I began to suspect that perhaps my family was at least partly right – the coat just didn’t suit me.
Last night, when I drove the girls to piano lessons, I wore the coat for the first time. During their lesson, I went to my favourite bookstore and wandered around wearing the coat. I realized as I wore it that it didn’t quite have the effect I’d hoped for. It didn’t make me feel special and elegant and interesting. It made me feel self-conscious. It’s a coat made for someone who carries glamour gracefully, not someone like me who wears scuffed shoes and torn gloves, never has the latest hairstyle, doesn’t push back the cuticles on her nails let alone paint them, doesn’t pluck her eyebrows, and wears little if any make-up. I realized as I walked around the mall that if I kept the coat, I would also need to buy new accessories to go with my “new look”. I’d need new gloves, a new pair of boots (instead of my clunky boots that are warm but scream “non-glamorous”), a new headband, and a new scarf. And my bag made from African fabric just wouldn’t suit, so I’d need a new bag too. This coat could end up costing me alot more than $90.
Another thing happened while I was in the mall. I spotted some people who are associated with the non-profit organization I work with. When I found myself avoiding them, I realized that I would feel horribly self-conscious wearing my new coat to work (or to the circles closely associated with my work) where I’m surrounded by a lot of committed idealists who believe in simplicity and non-consumerism. The coat screams the opposite of those ideals. And then, as I analyzed my reaction, I realized that those ideals are not only important to the people I work with, they’re important to me too.
So then I began to think about what I base my decisions on. Can I buy a coat that I like just because I happen to like it and overlook the fact that others think differently? Can I buy a coat that might make me look like the person I try hard not to be – a materialistic consumer – even though it wasn’t ghastly expensive? Can I buy a coat and be satisfied that I don’t have the necessary accessories to match? Or will the coat make me feel pressured to buy more stuff? Am I too concerned about what other people think of me and the way they might judge me? Is it okay to be a little extravagant now and then and still be committed to simplicity and non-consumerism? Would I feel comfortable wearing the coat in front of some of the people whose hunger we are trying to end – like Paulina? Am I taking this stupid coat WAY too seriously?
Before I went to bed last night, I knew I’d be returning the coat. Perhaps it won’t be for the “right” reasons. But then I’m not entirely sure we EVER make decisions with entirely pure motives. Aren’t we always at least a little influenced by peer pressure, self-consciousness, and what other people think? Sometimes there are conflicts even in our non-pure motives (for example, I know that SOME of my friends and associates would love the coat even though others don’t) and that muddies the water even more. Sometimes even the decisions that seem morally pure and altruistic are made mostly for the purpose of APPEARING morally pure and altruistic.
I know it’s just a coat, but it represents something much bigger than that. It represents the choices I make in my life, the image I portray to the world, the importance I place on “things”, the example I set for my children and the way I try to find a balance in an imbalanced world. I may not make the “perfect” choice with the $90 (for example, I’m not sure I’ll altruistically give it to charity instead of spending it on myself), but I want my choice to at least reflect the person I am, not the person I’ll never be.
And now it’s back to the thrift store – imagine what $90 can buy me there!