Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Strange aversion to "les soldes"

Okay, I'm up again in the wee hours. Can't seem to get out of the habit of waking up at 2:30 am to get stuff done. (Got a lot done already.) Is this twisted or what?

The big sales ("les soldes") in Paris have begun! These happen twice a year -- once in the winter, once in the summer. Yesterday, the first day, and probably biggest day, of the sales, I actually happened to be in the Opera area where some of the grands magasins (department stores) can be found. I didn't have the intention to shop (more about that weirdness later) but was just taking Maylin with me (no school Wednesdays) to the bank to pick up my new checkbook. [Note: In French, "sales" means "dirty." Add an accent to the "e" and you've got "salty"!]

We had to wait a very long time at the bank and afterwards, I just knew Maylin would have no inclination to go shopping. She wanted to go straight home -- no need to argue with my little Scorpio, unless I want a temper tantrum on my hands. Maylin was just set on having a croissant. I forgot I could have gotten one at Galleries Lafayette (one huge department store) because they have a gourmet food section. I was just thinking that there couldn't be any neighborhood bakeries around this very commercial area. So we headed home. Though we never stepped inside any of the stores, it was apparent from the street that there were mobs of crazed shoppers everywhere. At 11 am, I thought that SOME of these people must have taken the day off for the sales. A couple of Eastern European expats at the bank took out about 2500 euros (I couldn't help watching the cash being counted), and I knew they were on a shopping spree, and already ran out of cash after one trip to Printemps (another department store) -- I saw their bags.

That was especially frightening to me because for some strange reason, I don't feel like shopping anymore. Oh, that's a good thing for sure, but think about it. I'm a young woman living in Paris. And everything is up to 50% off (later, it'll be 70%)! What's wrong with me? This is the time to step into the stores I would never dream of entering outside of les soldes. A couple of months ago, I was already looking forward to this! I even held back my consumption in anticipation of the sales.

After the Christmas shopping, which was primarily for Maylin (don't tell her -- she thinks Santa brought everything), I did kind of make a deal to myself that I wouldn't spend money on anything that I didn't absolutely need. Which means, no browsing. And actually, I haven't browsed in ages -- I don't feel like I have the time for it. I'll only shop when I know exactly what I'm looking for. I'm consciously taking a step back from our consumptive culture (French and American). I feel happier giving away my old stuff, or lending it.

A good friend and I made a big exchange of stuff the other day and I realized -- wouldn't it be cool if everyone did this? I let you borrow some baby toys and CDs, and you let me borrow your videos and books. If there was some organized exchange like this among a large group of people, there would be little need to buy anything. Why do we need so much stuff anyway?

It used to make me feel good if I bought myself something. I couldn't end a shopping trip empty-handed. I accumulated lots of stuff -- mostly books and CDs. Many books I didn't read, many CDs I ended up giving away.

Now, I only feel good about shopping if I've made an excellent deal or if I found exactly what I needed. Otherwise, I think I do feel a little guilt about spending the money.

John and I have definitely made a conscious effort to streamline our lives. Simplify, as they say. We go through a regular purge of our belongings. There's always something that you don't need anymore. In the States, we'd call Salvation Army once a month to come pick up our donations. Door-to-door pick-up makes it really easy. I haven't found a place to dump stuff, but there are organizations that do drop by the building every three months or so to rescue discarded clothing.

I read in the latest New York Times magazine (I wish I had a subscription) about Freecycle, a Web-based movement that enables people to unload their unwanted items or acquire someone else's. This is perfect. It's just what I've been looking for. But does it exist in Paris? If not, I hope someone will organize a group. I hope I don't have to be that someone.

It's almost 4:30 am, and the birds are just starting their morning singing. It's so beautiful and calming. I might actually be able to fall back asleep now.

*Addendum added 6:55 pm:
Just noticed in our lobby that there is a collection (next Wednesday in our building) of used goods, including clothing, toys, shoes, bags, and linens, by Recyclaid which distributes reusable items and turns items that are too damaged into rags, etc., or donates them to artists use in their projects. More info in English at this link:

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