Till I was nine years old, it was generally my grandmother who brought us new clothes if she’d come to visit. Every time that big pile of pinkness arrived I gasped in wonder at the sudden quantity of newness. Shopping remained a very abstract concept my little mind couldn’t get the hang of.
Then my mom took my sister and I for sales for the first time. A glorious day, full of colors, bags and arguments with Olivia. I became convinced that it was the duty of all girls with self-respect and a light purse to join that bi-annual urge to spend out your two fifty-euro bills and maximize the number of items you could get your claws on. By doing the girl stuff, I could expose my stinginess shamelessly, try out multiple combinations to become more noticeable to prepubescent boys -in vain- and seemingly fit my awkward self in a group of girlfriends.
Years went by as I stuck to H&M, Zara, Mango then “upgraded” to Kookai and Naf Naf, buying up to 30 new items every year. Not great, not a disaster either. My items piled up in the wardrobe, lasting three years at best, eventually surviving as rags.
I never questioned the legitimacy of the “buy as much as you can” dogma.
It only occurred to me recently that the satisfaction I felt each time I found a “bargain” lasted no more than a day. I would wear half of these garments four times in a year and they riddled me with guilt as time went by and they remained abandoned in the closet (honestly, when was I going to wear that fluorescent pink jacket and the furry black and white vest?).
China was the first part of my salvation: most of the clothes don’t fit or suit me here.
Secondly, backpacking forces you to stick to what is strictly necessary to prevent spine collapse. You end up donating clothes to hostels on the way.
Reusing stuff left by former expats who’d gone back home was the third part. They now make up more than half of my wardrobe, a lot I gave to friends.
Finally, I realized I didn’t miss shopping and didn’t feel less dignified by wearing the same seven garments this whole summer. I also looked into the secondary costs of fast fashion:
- The back and forth trips each item takes around the globe.
- The fact that lower cost means further delocalization to countries with mild regulation for working conditions or environmental safety (see Xintang, their rivers run blue, literally).
- Stocks that are renewed monthly, if not weekly. Unsold items are in best of cases sent to other retailers, but sometimes they are simply destroyed. This is a common practice with the most expensive brands to preserve their prestige.
- Objectively unnecessary use of resources and land which could be put to other uses (food, anyone?).
Beyond the environmental points, I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that pleasures such as binge shopping are extremely short-lived. Although I like feeling attractive and pampering myself once in a while, it has been a huge step for me to realize that consuming as a distraction wasn’t empowering me. At all.
So, what can you do?
Look at your wardrobe. Pick out the ten items you never wear. Got them? All right. Now fetch the ten others you wear once a year. Put them aside. If you don’t wear any of these within six months, donate them (aside from that one special dress).
Keep the seven or so homely items. They get dirty but they’re sturdy and you’ll stay faithful to them till they’re naught but bare string.
For “public life”, stick to a dozen of pieces that you can combine together and that you really can’t live without. Try going on with those, and only with those, for one month. I promise, it won’t be hard.
For shopping, those of you lucky enough to be in the West, you can rely on decent second hand stores and once in a while treat yourselves to something that will last you for a decade, not six months.
When do you buy? If and only if you need it.
Now, what do you do with that time on your hands? It depends. I was used to do many things at the same time but finishing them with difficulty because I had too many “distractions”, a.k.a. excuses not to finish what I had started.
It sounds a broken record, but less really does become more.