…It’s cheap, poor quality, and most people eventually regret buying it.
If you found my blog through the recent Huffington post article about our clothes shopping ban, welcome! If you haven’t already, check it out!
Since the ban is still fresh in my mind, I thought I’d expand a little bit on the idea of clothing waste.
When I started my clothes shopping ban in June 2015, I did it to save money, save time, and minimize my closet. I wanted to jump off of the crazy trend merry-go-round. I just wanted to wear simple clothes that I liked, even if it meant repeating the same things again and again. Now that I’ve learned more about how clothing is overproduced and goes to waste, I’m even more excited about not not buying new clothes. “Fast fashion” is produced to keep up with the latest trends and sell quickly. If it doesn’t sell, it often gets shredded and tossed in a dumpster. My ban made me realize how much I already have. It helped me see that I can get by with less than I than I think I can. So even though I’m technically “allowed” to buy new things now, I no longer want to.
Marketing Makes Us Want More
Now that my ban has ended, it’s not like I’m hurting for clothes to wear. I’ve bought two Goodwill dresses, and I’ve been given some things, but I haven’t supported any big retailers in the process. There’s no rule that we need to own lots of pairs of jeans and lots of shoes and a different dress for every occasion. No one says that you need a new dress because you got invited to a wedding, or a new swimsuit every summer. The idea that we need more than we have is simply advertising. Media can be sneaky. Everyone is selling something. Not just stores, but commercials, print ads, online ads, emails, Pinterest and Instagram. Once we’re aware of the advertising all around us, we can start to see through it.
When seasons change, I admit I still get the slight urge to “fill in the holes” in my wardrobe. But now I realize that that’s just a feeling created from years of old habits. It doesn’t actually mean I need anything. I can wait till the cold weather (or warm weather hits) and see how I fare. Logically speaking, if I had what I needed to get through last year at this time, shouldn’t I have everything I need to get through this year too? Hmmm….
Clothing Shouldn’t be Disposable
The recent book Threadbare exposed me to some of the techniques used by stores like H&M and Forever 21 to sell more clothes. One of them is an ever-changing inventory of new items. Trends are followed so closely and abandoned so quickly, that being “current” means shopping every week. Clothes are made so affordable and low quality. They aren’t made to last, they are simply made to sell. I’ve seen a lot of these “fast fashion” styles at my clothing swaps that I host about twice a year. They’re styles that catch our eye long enough to buy them, but they end up in the back of the closet rarely worn because the trend passes and the fit and fabric might not actually feel that nice.
I love the little frugal mantra “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” That’s exactly how I feel about my closet now. It’s okay to buy a replacement when something is actually worn out. Then it’s entirely appropriate to send your worn out garment to be recycled and replace it with a second-hand or ethically-made new item. But how many of us are really wearing out our clothing? My guess is we’re more likely to get tired of the style than we are to really wear it out. The bottom line is, buying well-made, recycled clothing is cool. But we’ll make the biggest impact by simply buying less to begin with.
There is Simply Too Much
At all of my clothing swaps, each of us women bring about 1-3 trash bags full of clothes. 1-3 trash bags full that we aren’t wearing. That should give us an idea of the overconsumption that is taking place here in the US. After the swap, most of us find some nice things to take home. But I’m still left with 8 or 9 bags leftover to donate. I’ve called a couple local charities and many of them have more donations than they know what to do with. Space is an issue, and our clothing moves in and out of our closets so quickly now that even small charities can’t store all their donations and end up bringing their excess to Goodwill. While I’ve never seen Goodwill turn away a clothing donation, much of their extras get sent to either Goodwill Outlet and sold by the pound, or sent to a textile recycling factory. Listen, recycling is better than a landfill. But recycling uses precious resources. What we all need to do is simply buy less to begin with.
When I was in the midst of my clothing ban there were several things I wanted to buy but couldn’t. I wanted another pair of fleece leggings. I wanted another pair of leather boots. I wanted more bras. I wanted a few more sweaters in the winter. But I made it work anyway. Now I no longer care, and I’m glad I saved the money and resources by avoiding those purchases.
Some Practical Tips
When you find yourself wanting a new article of clothing desperately, try these tricks before you buy to differentiate the Needs from the Wants.
- Shop your friends’ cast-offs first. With the endless cycle of new and cast-off clothing coming and going from most people’s closets, there’s no reason for us all to buy new. Host your own swap and see if anything there can meet your needs for free…and be saved from the trash heap.
- Borrow. Another way my friends helped me out during my shopping ban was by lending me things. This can apply to any clothing, but especially maternity and clothes for kids! These items are only needed for a short time, and then they can be washed and returned or lent to the next person to have a kid.
- Shop used. If you can’t find it for free or borrow from your friends, check out your local thrift shop next. While it’s not completely devoid of waste, thrift shopping is cool because it’s not supporting the big fashion retailers. It’s cast-offs longing to be reused rather than recycled. Their footprint is much, much smaller.
- Put it on a list. Give it time. Delay the purchase as long as you can. You might find, like me, that writing it down instead of buying it helps. It gives me a way to act on the item without purchasing it. See if you still want it after a month. Wait to see if a used one shows up at a thrift store or garage sale.
- Say no to trends. As much as you can, stick with pieces that are well made and have a timeless style. My style has changed a bit since my clothing ban started, partly because I’m no longer following ever-changing trends. I have mostly mix-and-match tops and bottoms that go with anything and can be styled different ways to match the changing seasons. Even though I try to have a minimal wardrobe, there are endless ways to wear things in fresh ways.
- Do some research. Everything you buy is supporting something. Do your best to find out what you’re actually supporting with your dollars.
- Avoid the mall. In my experience, this is where most of the fast fashion resides. (But freestanding stores like Target and Old Navy aren’t exempt either.) Malls aren’t made for shopping with a purpose. They are meant for killing time, meeting up with friends, and browsing the racks. Just spare yourself the temptation and avoid this place.
It’s Not Really That Crazy
I realize that my family is extremely privileged to get to do things like shopping bans by choice. Throughout history, families have made sacrifices and given up unnecessary spending out of necessity. Today, many families in the US and around the world struggle just to put dinner on the table. I’m so thankful that I don’t have to worry about where my next meal will come from or whether I’ll have a place to sleep tonight. If the idea of being frugal is nothing new to you, then you know that my family is nothing special. We’re simply trying to be practical with the resources we’ve been given. We’d like to spend as little on ourselves as possible, in order to have more to share with others. We want to tread lightly on this planet so future generations aren’t left cleaning up our mess. We want to give a nod to those who are already living this way, and we want to issue a friendly challenge to those who are caught up in the overconsumption rat-race. It is possible to live on less. Many people are already doing it.
I’m sitting here writing this in some awesome swapped duds – shorts from Elizabeth and a shirt from Christina – and a sweater I bought secondhand about five years ago. I’m very thankful right now. Like any new habit, there might be some withdrawal symptoms at first, but if you stick with it you’ll be amazed at how easy it is! I don’t plan on ever going back to my old way of shopping. I don’t ever plan on spending $200-$500 a year on clothing like I used to. This isn’t a shopping ban anymore. This is just my life. I want to stop the waste of overconsumption. I’ll gladly pick my clothes out of what other people are throwing away if it means not supporting a wasteful and unethical industry. I’ll opt out of the comparison game. I’ll opt out of keeping up with the ever-changing fads. At first I needed rules in order to stick with my decision – it had to be an absolute ban in order for me to overcome the addiction. But there no longer need to be hard rules because my thinking has changed. I’m never going to shop the same way again.