A big part of sustainability is the clothes you buy. There is actually a fantastic documentary on Netflix called The True Cost, based on a book called Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. I read part of the book years ago and its been on my agenda to finish for years, but the documentary serves just as well.
That $5 shirt at H&M or Forever 21? Awesome for your wallet, but someone paid for it. Likely someone in a sweatshop in a developing country who is earning USD$2 a day and bearing the brunt of pollution and health effects. And the environmental impacts of water and pesticide intensive cotton and textiles are quite high. That $5 shirt will probably last only a few washes before it’s ripped or pilling (those annoying little clumps of fabric that ruin clothes). However, just because a sweater is $85 doesn’t mean it’s good quality (ahem, Urban Outfitters with their ridiculously profit-steep Chinese made clothing). The amount of clothing bought in the U.S. has increased 400% over the past 20 years because of this shift in globalization, and much of this clothing ends up in landfills (according to The True Cost documentary) because the items we buy en masse are cheaply made.
One of my goals for the rest of 2015 is not to buy any new clothing– I can thrift, which is kind of a cop out that allows me to keep buying clothes that I don’t need under the guise of being sustainable. But if I do buy new clothing, it will be nicer items that I invest in and will get a lot of use out.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have a ridiculous amount of clothing, which I am ashamed of after seeing The True Cost film. Seriously problematic. I watched some YouTube videos on paring down and found a wonderful Reddit feed that posed some good questions to ask yourself and pare down without regrets. A few days later, I was in a store and saw a book that’s apparently been on the New York Times Bestseller list called The Life changing Magic of Tidying Up. I was flipping through it and the woman working said it had some useful info in it, so what the heck, I bought it spur of the moment. And I don’t regret it because I was in the process of moving and it was a perfect opportunity to just do it and get rid of some clothes. I think I about halved my wardrobe using this method (and I still have a full walk in closet of clothes, BUT I can hang all of my summer and winter clothes at the same time, so I’ll say it’s a good success for the time being).
It feels great to look in my closet and not be overwhelmed by so many things that I just don’t like anymore or don’t properly fit me. I want to wear everything that is in there and it makes choosing at outfit much easier.
So, if you’re wanting to do a big cleanse, I would say the book mentioned above my Marie Kondo is a good read. Some of it is common sense, some of her language and tone is a bit arrogant, some of it I just found odd (like celebrating all of your items and thanking them every day for their hard work), but it has helped me a good deal.
My distilled tips from the book:
– Gather ALL of your clothes in a pile. Don’t leave anything out. Once you see them all together, the magnitude really makes you understand how much you can get rid of and still have things to wear. And you already know what you wear and what you just don’t.
– First and foremost with every item, ask yourself “does it bring me joy?” If it’s something old that you’re holding on to because it might fit again one day and every time it just stresses you out about your body in its current form, get rid of it.
– Is it comfortable? There’s a reason you don’t wear it. I had to get rid of a few dresses that I LOVE, but they just don’t fit me properly in the chest area and there’s no way around those near wardrobe malfunctions. RIP. Thanks for the memories. And just remind yourself that someone else will find this item in a thrift store and feel it was meant to be for them.
– Does it go with multiple things? I used to own almost exclusively patterns and florals (still lots of florals), but these can be difficult to work into matching with multiple things and it, therefore, being a useful item that will get a lot of wear. Not saying you should own all basics/solids and get rid of all patterns, but assess which patterns you do wear a lot.
– Shoes: are they comfortable? Why don’t you wear them? I know I have only 2-3 pairs of shoes per season that I actually wear (until the soles fall off).
Heels- keep one black pair and maybe 2 others that can match with many things you own– how often do you wear them anyway?
– In terms of off season clothes, ask yourself “do I want to see this next season?”
Alternatively, ask “would I wear this right now if the season suddenly changed?”
– Remember that the space in which you live is for the person you are becoming, not who you were in the past. If you’ve got old relics that you’re holding onto, really assess why. Our physical environment is so important to our well being, so make it a space that you want to be in.
– Designate a spot for everything. And put things back in their spot– that’s the crucial piece.
– Empty your bag/pockets every day. I’m still bad at this because I alternate between 2 different purses and my backpack, but your life will be much easier if you can just reach for your keys and wallet in a little decorative bowl or something, rather than rooting through 3 different bags. Plus, this way you won’t get a build up in your bags of random papers and receipts and trash.
These are tips from the book, which is typically referred to as the KonMari method. Check out the book if you’re interested, or just poke around online.
Remember to try to donate the items that you no longer want or need (although apparently it will still probably end up in Haiti, according to The True Cost documentary). Since I did a major cleanse, I’ve been selling my clothes to secondhand stores like Buffalo Exchange, Plato’s Closet, and other local stores that give you cash or store credit for your clothes (I’ve been being good, too, and have been taking the cash instead of substantially more store credit so I don’t end up with more stuff)! Check around your area for places like these. Even if some of the items are no longer wearable, there may be a textile recycling place in your area. You can also use old t-shirts and other clothes items as reusable/washable cleaning cloths.