At some point last year, I got really grossed out by my spending practices. Maybe it was something I read, or looking at my Mint trends, or just the fact that I would stand in front of my stuffed-to-the-gills closet every morning feeling like there was nothing I wanted to wear. I have been the kind of person, for a long time, who treats shopping as a rewarding experience (whether that reward is for something big or small: a graduation, break up, bad day, good day, start of something, etc.), which unsurprisingly results in a grand accumulation of things. Whatever the reason, I felt like I had reached the apex of my things accumulation and wanted out.
Throughout 2016 I began an aggressive closet campaign of weeding out the things that I no longer like, that are no longer my style, no longer fit, and the things that I could genuinely not remember why I bought in the first place. Sometimes I sold pieces at Buffalo Exchange but mostly I donated clothing (I like Philly AIDS Thrift and Prevention Point). While my goal is mostly to “curate” a closet of things that I love and that are useful, and if I buy more things I want to do so thoughtfully and responsibly, getting rid of clothing needs to be a thoughtful and responsible practice as well. Since the advent of fast-fashion and not needing to care so much for the clothing we have since it can be so easily be replaced, 80% of clothing waste ends up in landfills or incinerators. Much clothing, especially from fast-fashion retailers, cannot be recycled because of the chemicals involved in their creation, and when burned, release toxins into the air. While some retailers are starting to make clothing from recycled fibers or other recycled materials, it’s not happening at a fast enough rate to make a difference.
So, what to do about this? I still like clothing a lot and I love to be creative in the way I dress. I also don’t have a huge budget to spend on clothing since I work at a non-profit organization and have just started graduate school, so that leaves those ethical retailers with $400 boxy t-shirts out of reach.
I started by reframing the way I thought about clothing. I used to view expensive, designer clothing as “investment pieces” simply because of the price tag, thinking that its status as “designer” meant that I would continue to love it and wear it for years to come. This has not held up over the last ~12 years, and in fact, I have sold off a lot of those pieces because they were things that were no longer my style or just weren’t things that I was comfortable wearing or functional for my life. While I didn’t go as far as capsuling, I read up on Un-Fancy and Style Bee took a critical look at the things I really do wear a lot and love to wear. As I divested the unnecessary pieces from my wardrobe, I thought a lot about what useful and functional replacements would be (like a pair of black pants that actually fit me) and when I went forward in purchasing these new pieces, did research into companies I bought from as well as what other customers thought of those items. Instead of buying 3 cheap shirts that I like enough (but then would never wear), I thought about what 1 shirt would fit the bill of what I wanted for a reasonable price and found something that would make sense to wear over and over. You know, a real investment piece. When I was going through the initial stages of my wardrobe evaluation, I realized that the things I liked the most I wore weekly or nearly weekly anyway. I have no qualms about frequently repeating outfits, so having endless options packed into my closet only gave me anxiety in the morning and increased the amount of time I spent trying things on and then taking them off and trying something else on.
Ultimately, in the last year I haven’t totally given up my bad shopping habits and I am still figuring out what it means to be an ethical shopper, but it feels particularly important now to make a commitment to being a more ethically and environmentally-minded consumer in 2017. I’m not sure how involved I’ll be in blogging, but I do think that being more public about my commitment is a way to keep myself honest. I’m also trying to be more mindful about where and how I shop for home goods, cleaning products, beauty products and food, since I can’t just pretend that my environmental and ethical impact begins and ends with my clothing. So, we’ll se where this goes and I will share what I learn along the way!
Where Does Discarded Clothing Go? The Atlantic, July 2014.
You Won’t Believe How Much Clothing the U.S. Throws Away in a Year. Take Part, May 2015.
Fast Fashion is Creating an Environmental Crisis. Newsweek, September 2016.