Have you heard the story of Saint Ignatius? Being a Cradle Catholic, I had heard of him and knew some general things about some exercises having to do with him, but that was it. Recently, however, I read an article about his conversion, and it piqued my interest.
Saint Ignatius was born near the end of the 15th Century in Spain. He had grown up with the ideals of the honor of knighthood and wanted to do great deeds. As a young man, however, he was gravely wounded in a battle with the French and was bedridden for a time while he was recuperating. The only entertainment available to him at that time were some books on the lives of the saints and on the life of Christ. He spent time reading these books and also in his imagination. At times, he imagined doing knightly pursuits and gaining fame and “worldly” honor. Other times, he imagined himself doing great things for God and gaining a high degree of holiness like the saints he had been reading about. After a time, he realized that in both instances, the time he spent in his imagination was time that was enjoyable to him. He also realized, however, that only when he was imagining sainthood and performing great deeds in love for Christ did the peace he felt last after he had stopped imagining, whereas when he thought about gaining courtly fame, he had some degree of satisfaction while he was imagining, but once he stopped, he was left feeling dissatisfied. He realized that it was in these subtle movements within him, that God was guiding him in the way he should go and toward that path that could give him lasting satisfaction.
In some ways, I think I might be like Saint Ignatius. I have a vivid imagination and I like to imagine possibilities. It is definitely a spiritual discipline for me to be in the present moment instead of lost in the realm of ‘what if’. If you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs type indicator, I’m an Intuitor. Not that using one’s imagination is bad of course, but as Saint Ignatius discovered, there are some uses for it that are better than others.
In my case, I was often spending all the time nursing my toddler on my phone and all my “imagination” apps: shopping apps for clothes, home decor, and house design. I rarely actually bought anything, but I still spent a lot of time imagining what my house could look like arranged and decorated in various ways, what I would look like in various styles of clothing, what it might be like to live in a particular house, rather than the one I was in, and so forth.
After reading about St Ignatius, I thought about my own time in my imagination. Was I left with lasting peace and satisfaction? I had to admit the answer was no. In fact, all these apps filled me with stress as I thought about the time and money needed to acquire all these things. Also, feelings of gratitude for all I had were slowly being replaced by a dissatisfaction with the more-than-enough that I already had.
I think it might be different if I had a passion for fashion or interior design, and the time spent thinking about these things was part of me using my “blue flame” — that thing that gives me energy, that feels natural to me, and is a way to give to others, but fashion and interior design isn’t.
But sometimes I need new clothes; so at times I have to spend time thinking about these things. Also, fashion isn’t completely frivolous. Like it or not, what we wear communicates a lot about us to others. Fashion can help people see and get to know who we really are and it can also hide who we are and be a barrier to connection. I don’t want my clothing to be the most memorable thing about me. I want people to be able to get to know the real me, and if I’m dressed super dumpy, over-the-top extravagantly, too richly, or too exposed, people can focus on those things instead of just getting to know me as a person. Furthermore, depending on our roles, what we wear can help people trust in our abilities or encourage them to assume we are ill-prepared to handle the job. For many of us, simply wearing a potato sack every day might actually work against us achieving our God-given tasks in life.
I thought again about Stitch Fix, that clothing subscription that people can sign up for to have a personal stylist pick out five items and ship it to them on a predetermined schedule. I had ordered a Stitch Fix box right after the birth of my son over two years ago and loved it, but at that time, my husband and I decided it was just too expensive, so I didn’t keep up the subscription.
Now, I considered the time spent perusing clothing sites trying to figure out which styles might look good on me, and the money I had wasted buying clothes online that I thought would look good on me, only to get them home and realize they didn’t. I thought about the time and effort it took to get away to the clothing store by myself and the hours spent trying things on and figuring out what I liked, while also trying to imagine if the current purchase might go with other things I already had at home. There was some degree of pleasure in it, but also some degree of tediousness, and I often felt drained afterwards rather than satisfaction. Clothing shopping just took up too much time, and I’d rather spend that time pursuing my blue flame or doing the myriad other tasks involved in running a household than in trying to clothe myself appropriately.
So I subscribed to Stitch Fix again.
I signed up to receive a fix every three months. This allows me to get some clothes or accessories each season to replace those items in my closet that have worn out or become stained. In exchange, I deleted and unsubscribed to apps and emails that sent me clothing deals. Stitch Fix is, for me, at the same time both a splurge and a fast. It is a type of fast because I try not to think about clothing, and I don’t shop or look for clothing anymore. I don’t go on endless internet searches looking for that elusive outfit that I feel is perfectly representative of me. I don’t scroll Pinterest fashion pins trying to figure out what I like and then go on a hunt for items of that type. I don’t allow myself to buy any clothes or accessories other than what I am sent every three months by my clothing subscription unless it is clearly and undeniably a necessity. It’s a splurge because the clothing I get from Stitch Fix does cost more than I would typically spend.
I have overall been happy with the quality of the items from Stitch Fix, however. I remember the jeans I received in my first fix when I was four days postpartum. The jeans somehow fit like a glove and were the softest jeans I had ever felt. Apparently, my whole life I had been used to wearing cardboard that someone had marketed as jeans, and this was my first time trying on actual jeans. I also couldn’t figure out how my stylist, who probably lived in the San Francisco Bay area, managed to send Wisconsin-me a better-fitting pair of jeans than I myself could by going into stores and trying things on. Two years later, they are still holding up well, and yay for the elastic waist, because they still fit me, though slightly looser, even though I am two sizes smaller than I was then.
A clothing subscription has also allowed me to have a certain detachment from my clothes, perhaps not as much detachment as a potato sack would give, but a degree of detachment nonetheless. A box with five items gets sent to me without me spending any mental energy on what is in it, save for the initial questionnaire I filled out when I signed up for the service. If the items fit well and I like them enough, I buy them. For me, even if I don’t love them and even if I don’t receive the most awesome outfit I could have ever hoped for, I’ll usually buy it. I won’t purchase it if I hate it or if I just don’t know where I would wear it, or if buying the piece means I have to buy something else to go with it, but overall, if it looks fine and fits well, I usually purchase it. So in this way, I can have quality clothes that will hopefully last, but without me having to be overly solicitous about what I wear.
In the end, if I can spend more time and energy pursuing my blue flame and attending to the many other tasks I already have on my plate, while handing over my clothing conundrums to someone else whose blue flame is hopefully fashion, it’s worth the extra cash for me. Also, now that I’m not scrolling fashion and home decor apps during my son’s nursing/nap time in the afternoon, I decided to follow the example of St Ignatius, and do spiritual reading during that time instead. Like St Ignatius, I’ve discovered that when I spend that time in the afternoon attending to the state of my soul — praying the rosary or doing spiritual reading — I have a peace that stays with me throughout the rest of my day, and not looking at everything I can’t have has restored the gratitude I feel for the many blessings that I do have that are too numerous to count.
If you’d like to give Stitch Fix a try, you can use this link and you’ll receive $25 off your first order.