On Choosing

On Choosing

Selecting, editing, curating, buying. Whatever we call the act of bringing something into our lives, one thing is clear to me: choosing is an art form. 

I was faced head on with this realization last week, shopping at the souk in Marrakech, where an MRI of the area in my brain that gets activated by shopping would have revealed highly abnormal activity levels, complete with distinct images of neurons wearing kaftans and dancing in sheer pleasure. Bazaars, in general, pose a problem for the usually measured consumer in me. Drop me in a bazaar anywhere and I will lose complete track of time, deplete all of my resources and still end up feeling I could have bought more. There's a magic at bazaars, a sense of things being handed down and traded over years, a feeling of history and connection, that I find exhilarating and compelling and inspiring. Maybe what I'm trying to do by buying things is just to capture that feeling; to try and take it home with me. Because most items at a bazaar are imbued with a certain magic or evocative of a special memory, I'm often left with the problem: how to choose. Out of a sea of kaftans or piles of necklaces or a wall of leather slippers: how can I pick exactly the one that's for me? Beyond the bazaar, in our everyday lives, in all of the decisions we make to consume: how can we hone our ability to choose well?

A few things strike me. First, buying quantity is not a substitute for the act of choosing well. We'll just end up with a lot of things that probably don't mean that much to us. Fast fashion proposes not having to choose as a kind of modern luxury—things that are priced so low, we don't even have to ask ourselves whether we really want them. Of course, if we take a step back, not thinking critically about what we want isn't a luxury, but a dilution of the integrity of our relationship with what we own. Second, style is found in deliberateness. Not a kaftan, but this kaftan. Not any necklace, but that one. We can't shortcut this act of deliberately choosing and think we'll end up closer to our own unique sense of style. Being stylish requires constantly whittling down a set of universal options to arrive at the few personal decisions that are right for each of us alone. Third, like any art form, choosing takes practice. Practicing can be tricky when it comes to buying fashion because along the way we'll inevitably buy things we don't love, we'll feel like we wasted money, or regretted a purchase. But that's an important part of learning the art of choosing well. 

I'm not sure if there is a single set of universally applicable principles we can use to practice the art of choosing. A lot of it has to do with knowing ourselves, trusting our intuition, being comfortable with the psychology of desire, and ultimately knowing how to determine if something is really right for us. All of that takes time and effort. I've found a few things to be helpful: slowing down my timetable (walking away from a potential purchase and seeing if I still think about it), shopping online (which gives me the time, space, and distance I need to make more deliberate choices), and buying only what I love have gone a long way in helping me learn how to choose well. 

Etel Adnan on Women & Freedom

Etel Adnan on Women & Freedom

Balenciaga, L'oeuvre au Noir at the Musée Bourdelle

Balenciaga, L'oeuvre au Noir at the Musée Bourdelle