When I became a “work-from-home Mom” last summer I donated my blazers, dresses and the rest of my “business casual” clothing to local thrift shops. It was as if I was saying “never again” to the idea of a typical 9-5.
As a writer and health advocate, my uniform these days consists of two items in particular: plain v-neck tees and, you guessed it: yoga pants. On the days when I carry my “office” to the local coffee shop, I do my best to pull on a pair of jeans (Ya know, to help please those who still think leggings aren’t pants). What I love most about winter in Maine is the fact that I never have to style my hair. I simply pull on a hat, brush the ends that are visible to the public and I’m dressed and ready for the day in a matter of minutes.
Generally I blame working from home for the reason I spend so little time on my appearance but it goes beyond the fact that it’s “easy.”
Ever since I traveled to Haiti in 2012, I’ve been conflicted about clothes and fashion. During my five days there, I was volunteering with a group and our focus was distributing shoes to children and families living in poverty. To wash the feet of these beautiful Haitians and outfit them with what was, for some, their first pair of shoes made me take a step back from the material world that we sometimes get caught up in. For those who had shoes, most did not fit properly or were held together with tape.
The images of Haiti have stuck with me since my return, helping not only with becoming aware the abundance of “stuff” I had accumulated over the years, but also of my carbon footprint. After using a basin to bathe in during my time in Haiti and following the bathroom instructions of: “If it’s yellow let it mellow. If it’s brown flush it down,” I came back to my rural Maine life ready to make changes in the way my 6-year-old daughter and I consumed as well as what we possessed. As a single parent, I’ve always been conscious of where my money is spent each week, but still, it was on a “first world” basis. For example, my daughter may not have needed another tutu, but it was “only a few dollars on the sale rack.”
I remember how my grandmother, now 89-years-old, responded to my mother’s end of season clearances purchases with this perspective: “Would you buy an elephant if it were only a dollar?” I’ve loved that line since the moment I heard it and it echoed even louder after my mission trip.
But what’s funny is, it wasn’t that I valued the dollar any more when I returned back to the states. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The dollar essentially became worthless to me.
Each time our cargo van left an orphanage, school or village, I felt like a kid who asks to read just one more bedtime story or to stay at the park ten minutes longer. I did not want to leave. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why. Deep down I think I knew hundreds of “strangers” were on the verge of teaching me one of life’s greatest lessons and I didn’t want to miss the ending.
What I learned was the real currency in Haiti was joy and the locals give it away. Free for the taking. Tattered clothes, mended shoes and broken English did not hold the Haitians back from opening their arms to “strangers.” What I didn’t know before traveling to Haiti, was that it’s not a person’s name who grabs your heart and certainly not their appearance, but the exchange between human beings.
After all, isn’t that the privilege of interacting others? We teach the best lessons without knowing and we learn the most with no intention of doing so.
So today as I dress to research my next article or children’s book at the library, I may robotically pick out the same out as the day before, but when I peruse the department store or even the local grocer, I think of those little Haitian faces and make sure to ask myself: do we really need this or is it just another “elephant” to occupy an empty space.