“One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.”
– Iris Murdoch
I’m a busy mother of four who works from home. I often go three or four days without “getting dressed,” spending my time in sweats with a baseball cap on my head. After four days of this routine, I feel desperate for a shower, a stylish outfit, a bit of make up and a real hairstyle.
I know I’m not alone in feeling dowdy. As a friend and fellow mom said to me once, “No one ever sees me, so I don’t bother.”
Women’s lives have many seasons, and the time of child raising brings adjustments and sacrifices. One of the first things to go, after free time and sleep, is your wardrobe. It’s hard to justify the expense of beautiful clothing when there’s no workplace that requires looking nice, and you have new priorities for your money: college tuition, doctor bills and piano lessons.
It’s not only that you have fewer opportunities for dressing up. Taking care of small children also means your clothing will take a beating – stains are part of the territory.
Yet can I be honest and expose my frivolity? I adore beautiful clothes. And I haven’t stopped adoring them just because I’ve become a mom. Admitting this makes me think of a quote from author Victoria Moran: “I think most of us look at personal delights as somewhere between minimally important and borderline immoral. We like them, but we’re not sure we ought to.”
In the past, I’ve felt guilty for wanting nice things: a cashmere sweater, a massage, or natural beauty products that cost twice as much as the generic Target brands. How do these things compete with “real” priorities like groceries and the mortgage? Or I compare myself to mothers in third world countries, where food and clean water are luxuries, and shame myself for wanting a $100 blouse. I attempt to persuade myself that I don’t need beautiful things. But desire doesn’t evaporate; it moves underground to fester into dissatisfaction.
Women are nurturers and caregivers. We are enthusiastic givers, but lousy receivers. We can be stingy with our self love, so that even when we have money for a treat, we opt for practicality (How far can I make this money stretch? Can I find a cheap Target version?) rather than indulgence, where we buy one thing that makes our heart sing.
For years I denied myself my love of beautiful clothes, often out of necessity as our budget didn’t allow it. But continual sacrifice didn’t make me happy, only cranky and deprived. I think of times when my husband and I were invited to fancy parties, and we stayed home because I didn’t have anything to wear.
I recognize, that on the grand scale of things, a new dress doesn’t rank up there with fighting world hunger, or even teaching kindness to my children. But as a wise woman told me, “True generosity begins with yourself.”
This past winter I broke my pattern of self-denial. I had $200 set aside for a winter coat. I searched for weeks: I didn’t want to settle for something ordinary. Then I found a floor length, plum colored wool and cashmere coat, trimmed in real fur, at 75% off. When it came in the mail, I sat in my living room and cried it was so elegant. I tried it on and felt like a Russian princess.
I’ve gotten more compliments on my coat than on any piece of clothing I’ve ever owned. Every time I wear it I feel fabulous. Therein lies the power of generosity, of giving to oneself: I spent money – a lot of money, for me – on my coat. I could’ve scrimped and saved and made it stretch as far as possible. I could’ve put the money towards something more practical. But, with each wearing, my coat’s value doesn’t diminish. It expands, to fill my life with beauty and appreciation until my cup overflows.