The parcel was almost bigger than us. We would dive into it and we would fish out the fabrics and get more and more excited with each item of clothes that we pulled out. We were not poor, we were never destitute but we were, in the early years of our childhood, growing up in Communist Poland, in the country that, although rich in culture, human spirit and intellect, did not offer much or rather nothing to its citizens on the goods front.
We relied on those parcels to be sent to us from our family in Switzerland. They would last us and frequently also our cousins and neighbours for a long long time. We would swap, lend, borrow, alter and exchange clothing with others. Very rarely would my mother get us something new. There was just no option. No clothes available. We were dressed in second-hand garments from top to toes and not for a minute we would feel worse off because of that. We didn’t really notice it. It was just something that we were doing… how we were going about having things to wear. That’s it. No great philosophy behind it. Just the circumstances.
When I was six I travelled with my mum to Switzerland. I remember seeing many things and not really being able to make a lot out of them. I probably admired some of them… I probably tried to play with them… But clearly they didn’t make a very lasting impression on me because I just cannot remember them too vividly. As if I didn’t really have any emotional response to them. My heart back then was stolen by something much simpler and common, by vibrant and juicy mandarins. For me the pleasure of the open market was concentrated in those fruits. I just loved them. Their sweet, invigorating and citrus smell. Their colour. Their shape. Their delicate skin so easy to peel off with my tiny and dexterous fingers. It was a joy to have one of them, happiness to have two, euphoria to have a full netted bag of them. Yes, yes… they were already packed like this in those days. This hasn’t changed much.
So how does a life without a luxury feel so far? It feels like that visit to Switzerland when my mind and heart decided to be oblivious to the goods around.. not to take much notice of them.. to forget them. Instead I think I am able to see mandarins again… I feel that I am fishing out the real goodies out of the life box… the tastes, colours and textures of the Earth. As if my mind was programmed to seek beauty and pleasure and because it is not allowed to do it through shopping it develops its other ways… it seeks and finds those two elsewhere.
It’s so easy to get used to one source of pleasure and to become reliant on it. To play safe. To always go for the familiar. And then to despair when that source is removed.
My resolution of not buying left me a bit uncertain about what I should do with myself after meeting an important deadline. In the past I would have gone shopping in town to treat myself to something nice and new. I really wanted my reward for all the hard work that I did. I needed balance. It’s really interesting to see it in yourself that you were used to rewarding yourself materialistically, with a physical object. When did I learn that? I thought to myself. It wasn’t my default behaviour a few years ago. Or maybe it was?
Now I am beginning to see that my hard work can be rewarded through many other ways. Time for myself, a book, a film, music, a winter walk, crazy dancing with my child, a conversation with a friend, a comedy performance? And you know what? It’s so much nicer to find yourself lost in giggles than lost in a shopping centre!