When you’re a shopaholic and a traveller, Spring cleaning is not an option. It needs to be seasonal yes, but all-seasonal. The sheer number of items that have to be D-ed- dug-up, dumped, donated or domiciled elsewhere and the stories they have to tell slow the process down considerably.
I start with the summer clothes that I had housed in a couple of drawers in the autumn. I move them from their temporary home to a suitcase. It fills up faster than I expect. Soon I find items that still have labels on them- not unusual- and drop one into a bag designated for girl cousins my size and half my age. What was I thinking buying that? I remember posing in front of a mirror once home from that impromptu shopping spree 18 months ago. Never having the patience to queue, disrobe and try on clothes in shops it is often only when I get home that I decide whether a buy is a keeper or not. That one time I looked and saw to my horror what some women don’t want to see- looking good in an inappropriate way. I was NOT going to go out in that! Still I looked and tried the item on with other clothes to try and inject some modesty into it but it was ruined like that. Really it looked best inappropriate. I threw it into the back of the wardrobe, saved from a return by looking so damned good on me.
I reach the underwear drawer and smile at something old and tattered. Ah, Vietnam. It needs to go. Underwear from Vietnam I think, I can’t throw it away! It’s made in China you oaf, like everything else, bin it. But, but, remember that magical, painful day spent getting lost in Hanoi and finally finding a department store where you found cold air and a whole section of underwear where you spent many…Bin it! Alright, alright. I sneak a look at the label as if looking for ancient Asian wisdom and find squiggles. I drop my arm to let go of it and am momentarily stumped, just what pile should it go into? Dump or donate?
Once upon a time I would never have paused for thought but experience has widened my considerations. I remember the time I crawled around in piles of donated clothes being sold on a street pavement. Like in any decent store, the wares were sectioned off- men’s, women’s, children’s. I was looking for shoes for the boy who seemed to work day and night and whom a friend and I had spotted walking in a pair of over-sized flip-flops. My friend who somehow always saw an opportunity to give suggested we get shoes for the boy. We pointed to the heaps nearby(we happened to be walking by) and then pointed at him; it didn’t take him long to work out he was in for a treat and he leaped into the pile of shoes with gusto. I dug into the shoe-pile for a pair that would fit and again and again located shoes too big for the boy. Now and then I stopped to consider a shoe for myself, such was the quality and brand of the shoes. Or so my excuse.
When we gave up on finding him a shoe we pointed to the trouser section and on our way to it discovered there was a roaring trade in donated underwear. I blinked at the pile of underwear and watched the people sift through it. Were they new or worn? I tore myself away from gawping at them.
The boy seemed to know what he wanted. He pulled out his first too-big colourful creation from the trouser-pile and held it up for us to see. We shook our heads, I said Nooooo in Khmer, then ‘big’ in Khmer but he hugged it to himself and made a face. OK, OK, try it. His face lights up and he drops the old trousers he’s wearing. We are faced with boyish nudity and open our mouths and look away in semi-mock surprise. He giggles and tries on the new trousers. They slide off his hips and even he can’t persuade himself that they’re the ones for him. Over and over he tries on trousers.
I crouch on the pavement and think what a luxury my life back home is. I don’t need to wear donated underwear or go without underwear at all. The boy finally settles on a pair of trousers that look like they are made of plastic that will melt in the sun he spends so much time under but he loves them. We relent. He walks away in his new trousers and too-big flip-flops, turns around to wave one last time. I leave with a green T-shirt.
I can’t not shop. I told you, I am a shopaholic.
The made-in-China Vietnamese underwear end up in the dump pile of my bedroom floor. I don’t imagine anyone would accept worn underwear and I couldn’t imagine my asking being received in any other way than disgust.
I move on to the hijab drawer which at some point became the hijab drawers. I grab a few hijabs and throw them into the summer suitcase. I couldn’t remember when I had last worn those. Snuggled amongst the colourful mass I rediscover the Malaysian hijabs. Jet black and detailed with colourful, sparkly patterns they have had pride of place in my various hijab drawers for years now. Next to them I place the Cambodian kramas lovingly over the Indian shawls. Each item screams its story for my attention and I spend many pleasurable minutes reminiscing. I buy head-covers from every country I visit, the latest from Dubai and Morocco; the ones from Dubai my daily work-wear, the Moroccan ones too beautiful to wear. I also find the headscarves I had made for me by a tailor in Vietnam from a material that was so puffy they made me look like a thick-necked beefcake last I tried them. I try them on one last time but they still make me look like I am on steroids and I leave them in a new D pile- decorate home.
I find paintings from Vietnam and Cambodia and drop them into the decorate pile; a theme was developing, who said recycling was boring?
I come across a white vest from Turkey and bin it with enthusiasm. The place was clearing up and I could actually see at a quicker glance just what I owned. I estimate there’s enough in my wardrobe to cater for two of me quite easily and I am relieved. I had promised myself to cut down on shopping recently. I have since managed to go shopping for hours during the Sales and not buy a thing!
If you’re looking for a festive miracle, there it be.
I ended the clear-up with a desire to burn some bukhuur. A new habit, I am normally an aromatherapy woman. Still it is not an easy decision as I look at the choices available and am flummoxed: what did I feel like tonight? Khaleeji? Morroccan? Somali? or Parts Unknown?