Minimalism: Curating closets

The true cost of fast fashion has been exposed multiple times throughout many media forms, my blog included (here), and the change is slowly starting to happen (yes!). There is a growing awareness that fast fashion allows for underpaid workers, unsafe working environments, unfair labor laws, and unethical trade, in exchange for the consumption of “low-cost” seasonal goods that flow and ebb faster than a rising tide. Thankfully, there are ways to slow it down, or get rid of this trend all-together. We can start by curating our closets in order to have a clear vision as to what stands in between us and them. I can tell you right now, the answer is simple and lies within our clothes. But how do we get started?

  1. Although it may seem as if getting rid of all your clothes is what you want to do, the opposite is actually true. You want to use as much clothes as you already own instead, and prevent yourself from accumulating new ones. Lightly broken down articles of clothing could be patched or saved. When things break down, try to salvage them instead of replacing them with something new.
  2. Now, if there are clothes that you know you do not wear anymore (or never have worn because you are waiting for the day when it will finally fit right), then donate them, with the lesson learned that compulsory buys are not the answer. Another human being was part of the process of making those clothes for you, and while we donate our clothes, it is important to understand that so many clothes are being donated that a majority of them end up at the landfill because there is just not enough space to house them all.
  3. Which brings me to my next point. Buy used. If you have to buy, buy from my favorite, a vintage store. Help remove some of the waste we create. I personally love to go to the following sources to buy used clothing:
  4. Consider borrowing instead of buying. Especially in the case of one-time special events and occasions, such as a wedding or a performance, consider borrowing a dress from a friend or family member. To be worn one time, and then returned. A much better alternative than shopping for a specific dress that you know will be out of season before your next wedding.
  5. Practice mindfulness when selecting your apparel. Now that you’ve gone through steps 1-4, you know exactly which items speak to your heart. Everyone has that favorite shirt that they wear once a week even those it’s got tattered sleeves and holey arm pits. If you are acquiring a new piece, not only evaluate how much that sparks joy for you, but also how often you will wear it and how long it will stay in style. Try to avoid trendy pieces and go for timeless and versatile additions. Instead of cheap materials, go for ones that are durable, but also soft on the environment. It isn’t so much what we subtract as it is what we add back in.
  6. And if you must buy new, please support ethical companies who either promote fair trade, fair wages, environmentally friendly materials, and/or most importantly, transparency. You can find a small list of my favorites here. The costs of these goods are high, yes, but just think of the true cost of cheaper goods. I like to look at it a different way, and use the high price as a constant reminder to evaluate whether I really need to be shopping right now or not. Really love a piece before committing to buy it (this also applies to used clothes!). If you have any doubts, it can wait. Mull it over in your sleep, and honestly, if any doubts arise, it likely isn’t something you are pining for anyway. If you find yourself constantly obsessing about it after a few days, then yes, listen to your heart and go ahead and buy it. At least you went through the process of thinking about the real reason why you felt like you needed said item. Try to consider these questions.
    • Is it to impress others?
    • Is it to be a part of a trend in the hopes of being one with the cool crowd?
    • Is it to fill a void?
    • Is it to achieve a certain social status?
    • Does it spark joy?
    • Is it practical?
    • Is it ethical?
    • What is the true cost? Is it worth that?

 

A call for materialism

As a society that is described as being too materialistic, I want to pose the question that maybe we are not being materialistic enough.

It’s true, in one sense of the word I suppose. We are too materialistic in that we are ingrained to habits of compulsive consumption. Too many people are trying to keep up with the Joneses, trying to buy the next “IT” thing, lining up on Black Fridays and at Apple stores. Admittedly, it was not too long ago that I did these exact same things. I remember it was a “family tradition” to go out every Black Friday with all my aunts and uncles and cousins to go on a crazy shopping spree. We would spend the entire Friday shopping until we dropped. Nightmarish at best, it was a “tradition” that we looked forward to every year. As consumers, we are caught in an absurd circle of micro trends, which are not really trends at all. These material goods are, simply put, status symbols. People line up at the Apple store with every new release of the iPhone because once a newer, “better” one is created, they no longer care about the one they have. In fact, the one they have suddenly emits a sense of dissatisfaction, a sense of unhappiness. We are confused about what will make us happy. As if the consumption of products will somehow magically add up to a satisfying life.

The definition of materialistic is as follows:

  1. Excessively concerned with physical comfort or the acquisition of wealth or material possessions rather than the spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values
  2. adhering to the philosophy of materialism, a theory that regards matter as constituting the universe and all its phenomena
Synonyms include: consumerist, acquisitive, greedy, capitalistic, bourgeois
Not exactly words I want to be associated with in general. But if you think about the philosophy of materialism, it is defined as a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental things and consciousness, are results of material interactions.
If matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and if we are truly materialistic, shouldn’t we be more concerned with the quality of our products? I’d like to ask if, maybe, the problem is that we are not being materialistic enough? We need to be true materialists, as in we need to really care about the materiality of goods. I call for an increase in materialism, which requires an invested interest in the true value of the products and materials that we purchase. It seems as if the stars aligned when “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” fell into my lap at about the same time I first saw the trailer for “The True Cost”. I suggest to anybody who wonders just how materialistic our society is to watch this trailer. Or better yet, the entire movie.
Something clicked and I realized, how was it ever possible to be able to buy an article of clothing for the price of $5. Companies must make a profit, materials must be paid for, so where do they cut the cost? The answer is simple and uncomplicated, albeit unfair and inhumane. Production is outsourced to poor countries with the enticing idea of enrichment. Large corporations addict these countries to the idea of uplifting their people out of poverty, which makes them stay, even when the production costs are reduced over time, enslaving their citizens into a dependency in the fashion industry. At the other end of the spectrum, distributors addict consumers such as ourselves to the idea of always faster, cheaper fashion. According to Liva Firth, “Each year across the world, 1.5 billion garments are sewn by an estimated 40 million people, working in 250,000 factories. These are predominantly made in countries described by the UN as the world’s least developed. All in all, the garment and textile industry is estimated to be worth some $3 trillion. And the bulk of that goes into the pockets of the owners of those fast fashion brands.”

 

It didn’t take much to convince me that a change has to be made. And it had to start with myself. If we are to be materialistic, then so be it. But I believe we can be materialistic while also being spiritualistic, being an intellectual and having solid cultural values. If I am to embrace the concept that matter is the fundamental substance in nature and that material interactions drive our consciousness, then those materials better be the best materials I can lay my hands on. And by best, I don’t mean coolest or most popular. I want to reach for materials that are sustainable, reusable, ethically made, and produced with care and love, not only for the consumer, but for the planet and the producers as well. I admit, it is a work in progress. It’s complicated, and also foggy at times, and it’s difficult to ask the hard questions. I have found a list of brands and companies that I support, but I am still a work in progress. At least I am progressing. And the hope is that society as a whole is also progressing towards the freedom from this cycle of need, want, now, now, now.

 

I’d like to end this post with a scenario posed by Liva Firth. If you see a car crash happen in front of you, would you stop what you’re doing to help the people involved? My answer is yes. The question is this. How far away from you does that car crash have to be for you not to help. My answer is that it has to be far enough that I cannot get there in time to be of help. Additionally, how far away from you does that car crash have to be for you not to care?

 

We are not far enough away that we are unable to help. Some may be far enough away that they simply do not care.