This may seem odd, but I've always found solace in shopping malls. Whenever I'm upset or stressed, I take myself to the nearest mall as soon as I can for a long walk. Maybe it's because, as a Joburger, its quicker (and safer) to walk inside a mall than in nature, but it goes deeper than that. I like the order of it, the predicability.
My speciality is clothes. I like to see how different stores interpret different trends. Hell, I even worked in fashion PR for a while. I'm so dedicated to the cause that chances are I can tell you exactly which store you got your clothes from. I used to buy loads too, using any occasion as an opportunity to introduce something new into my overflowing cupboard. There was that dress I got from Pringle to soothe the shock from a smash and grab; a polka dot shirt and brogues from Mr Price to look chilled for my first date with Rhys; the dress I buy every year to celebrate spring day (always in florals, groundbreaking). I never questioned my spending habits, as I figured I deserved it. Who doesn't deserve nice things every once in a while?
Early this year, my viewpoint on this changed completely. Now, as you know I supplement my creative writing ambitions with paid corporate writing gigs. Usually my earnings are as regular as anyone employed by a company, but over December and January, things got unstuck. Two massive invoices that I was counting on to keep my cash-flow up got tied up in corporate red tape, and one huge retainer I had been banking on feel through. Suddenly, I didn't have very much at all.
This gave me precious time to focus solely on my book, but it meant that Rhys and I had to buckle down. I had to learn to live with less. Now let me check my privilege here for a second. I am grateful to have a husband and a family I could fall back on if things got really tough. I have no kids or extended family who require my support. A change in my usually unhindered flow of income was what was required to teach me some essential lessons.
We don't need that much to survive. We don't need that new dress, the out-of-season overpriced avos from Woolies or another takeaway coffee. There are so many unnecessary extras if we apply our minds to it.
Creativity needs time. Is the stuff you're spending on worth the time you will need to earn the money to afford it? Hear me out. I'm writing a book that, on some days, seems really great. On other days I hate it (and myself) and wonder why I am wasting all my time on it. I go back, revise, destroy and rebuild on a regular basis. All this takes a lot of time. Now, we all need to work to live, but what if we worked enough just to afford the essentials, while focussing on freeing up precious time for our creative projects to breathe? Whenever I look at a dress from Zara now, I think, that's one hour I would have to put in with a corporate and not work on my book.
We are buying things to show how creative we are, but these things are robbing us of the time to create. Don't say you haven't seen it. All the cool kids lining up in their Stan Smiths and ripped black denims to get a flat white in Braamfontein. Even cooler kids trying to get on the list for a pair of Yeezy Boosts. Instagrammers trawling Superbalist for something street-style worthy to wear to Fashion Week. I love the spirit of expressing yourself through fashion, but if you are a freelancer, I challenge you not to buy into it completely. Buying yourself the time to get really good at what you do is far more important.
It's not about lack, it's about interrogating what you need. I don't subscribe to the starving artist cliche. I don't think anyone has to necessarily suffer for their art. I think it is incredibly freeing to look at material things and see them lose their magical powers. While I still stroll through malls when I am stressed (old habits die hard), I hardly ever buy anything now. In fact, I honestly can't remember what the appeal was, or what I spent my money on.
In a world of 'treat yo'self' it's revolutionary to hold back. Every brand keeps telling us we're worth it. Because it's Women's Day, because it's the weekend, because you work hard. While they seem so engaging and fun and their pink-hued pictures make you want to feel young and hot and millennial they only give a shit about moving their product, not about your hopes and dreams. You're still treating yourself, just to different things: hours of creativity, the ability to travel, the freedom to choose your life path and not stay in a job you hate because of debt.
This may not apply to everyone. I mean, if you've sold your book to some overseas publisher or you've partnered with some massive brand to run their instagram campaigns, by all means go get yourself something nice. I probably will one day too. But I don't want to be fixating on a big break that may never come, so that I can affirm myself with something expensive. I'd rather be content with what I have, and create for creativity's sake, and see what happens in the process.