Buying better

As those of you who have met me in ACTUAL REAL LIFE (cos hey, us Bloggers also exist in the real world) can no doubt attest, I am not the most fashion conscious person. I’m aware of high street trends but my exposure to that is largely what I see out and about, I don’t read about fashion, I don’t get exposed to many adverts about fashion, I am not fashionable. I’m comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, sometimes a shirt, and whilst I don’t mind dressing for the occasion I tend to view clothes as a necessity rather than a delight.

And no, that doesn’t mean I would rather be naked all the time, no-one needs to see that…

Before I moved to my new flat I went through a de-cluttering process of all my belongings. Part of that included going through all of my clothes to pare down my wardrobe and I ended up donating a few large bin bags worth to charity. It was a very satisfying activity and at the end I felt very pleased as not only did I have less ‘stuff’ (which was the main aim) I was also giving to charity and that’s always a good thing. Right?

Yet there was an undercurrent of unease as those bin bags filled with so many barely, or completely, unworn items. It was far too easy to part with far too many items as clearly they held little to no value to me. If ever there was a literal pile of reasons that I’d succumbed to the lure of blind consumerism there it was, right there at my feet.

Speaking of feet, I also had a few pairs of shoes in the pile but that was largely a fashion choice. I tend to pay more attention to footwear when I’m buying something new than any other article of clothing. Does that maybe hark back to getting my feet measured as a child, in one of this big mechanical things that I was always semi-convinced were gonna crush my toes? Perhaps, but I’m willing to spend money on good footwear so it’s not something I lack.

So where did it all go wrong, how did I end up with bin bags full of clothes that I didn’t need/want? Well it’s not hard to figure it out. For starters when I do buy clothes these days it’s usually online, which means I’m guessing at sizes, and I’ve never been that good at returning things so they just keep adding to the pile. And then even if I do manage to sum up the energy to go clothes shopping in actual shops I rarely stop to try things on, and I’ll shamefully admit there were a few items that went into those charity bags that still had tags on.

Like many people I justified this stockpiling of un-worn and un-loved clothing to myself by reasoning that I was just holding on to them for ‘when I lose weight’ or ‘just in case’ but let’s be honest, that pile of clothes in the wardrobe that you rarely look at are very much out of sight and out of mind, right? And hey it’s fun to buy new things – there is a reason it’s called retail therapy – so what’s the harm? The end result was a wardrobe chock full of clothes of which I was regularly wearing about a quarter of all the items crammed in there.

During the clear out I took the time to try on every single item and it helped me fully understand why I wasn’t wearing each item. It came down to some pretty simple reasoning; they either didn’t fit comfortably, they were never quite right (wrong shade of blue), or I just didn’t feel good when I wore them (I don’t suit many greens). On the days when its hard to ‘people’ who wants to go out already thinking you don’t look good and spend the rest of your day uncomfortably tugging and re-positioning your clothes, wishing you’d just worn that favourite t-shirt and to hell what anyone else thinks? No-one, that’s who, so you turn to the old favourites time and again.

There is also, in the back of my mind somewhere, the example of President Obama who only had two colours of suit to choose from in the morning. The fewer decisions we have to make, over the smallest things if needs be, the more energy we have for all the other ones we have to make each day. I am not the President of anything so this might be stretching things but it’s why those well-worn jeans are reached for when I just can’t be bothered trying anything else. It’s a very easy decision to make.

After that big clear-out I was left with clothes that fitted me and that I felt comfortable wearing (these are not mutually exclusive statements, trust me) and it turned out to be an easier process than I thought, although that is probably more a reflection on how I view clothes in general as I ended up getting rid of a lot of shirts based on style alone. For the items that made the cut I went through a second round of trying everything on and making sure that I felt comfortable wearing them. No matter how much I may have liked the pattern or design of something, if it didn’t feel right when I put it on, out it went.

Throughout this I had a strange mixture of pride and achievement, with a growing under-current of shame as I did slowly tried on and rejected item after item. Watching the pile of clothes grow and grow it felt good to be taking action, to be actively assessing my clothes for a change, but as that pile got larger I started to realise just how much money I had wasted and how little thought I’d given those purchases; the manufacturing of those clothes, the ethical decisions around the company who made them, all of these things I’d completely ignored as I barrelled headlong into the modern consumerist trap of ‘more is good’.

More is not good. This is something I’d figured out a few years ago when I started to reduce the clutter in my life, going through household items like a man possessed. Once you’ve started on that path it’s easy to look at all the things you own and question why you have it at all and once the mindset is in place you do look at all the things you own, and all the things you are about to purchase, in a different light. It also helps you realise how much more important every other aspect of life is, how much you need to be out in the fresh air, how good it feels to spend time with friends, and just how much you love your dearest closest friends and family.

It was around that time, whilst my life was changing around me, that I stepped back and looked at what the future might hold for me. What did I want for my life? What trappings and artefacts would that require? I soon came to the realisation that the bulk of the things I owned were superfluous to how I wanted my life to be and that made me start to question everything, not quite with the Kondo ‘everything should delight’ mindset but certainly something along those lines.

I realised that I’d been starting to change my approach to making purchases, initially to stop myself spending money just for the sake of it but that built in ‘pause’ in the decision made it easy to then look at the items I was purchasing with another lens on. Why own something ugly and unwanted? Why buy something that is cheaply made as you’ll get better value from paying a little more upfront? (mostly, this does not always hold true). I’ve slowly been replacing furniture and household items with replacements that are not only better quality but which I enjoy owning, enjoy looking at, enjoy using no matter how banal the item is (seriously, my can opener is always a delight to use) . So even the simplest of chores brings a little delight, which in turn improves my mood for larger chores, which in turn makes it more enjoyable to keep on top of those little things and keeps my home clean and tidy, which in turn helps my brain stay calm and relaxed. It sounds a bit bonkers I know, but it really does work.

Despite applying these considerations for household items, I hadn’t extended that thinking elsewhere, especially not with clothes because, in case it’s not yet clear, I’m just not that bothered. They are just clothes, I don’t care if what I own is up with the latest fashion trends – skinny jeans are NOT for me and I like wearing socks god-dammit – and after that it’s more about frivolity and function, or at least I think it should be.

But I should be bothered. I know I should.

And then I read this post by Lori on Fashion & Sustainability which outlines much of what I’m now struggling to articulate:

You may think that clothes becoming more available and affordable can only be a good thing, but encouraging us to buy more means that we no longer think about our purchases properly, and we get sucked into a cycle of spending more than we (and the planet) can afford.

These days I care more about the quality of what I’m buying for financial reasons, but I’m now starting to look at how sustainable the manufacturing processes are, what material is being used, how is the item packaged, what are the ethics of the company that made it? Those thoughts also mean I stop and pause and consider what I’m about to buy, which means fewer impulse buys, which in turn means I’m looking through all my clothes more often and wearing that long forgotten shirt at the back of the wardrobe. And this thinking is starting to spread to other purchases, where reducing my plastic footprint and improving my recycling efforts, mean I’m more mindful about the sustainability of all my purchases.

We all have a choice, and whilst finances will obviously be a factor, the more we all think about what we are purchasing, ultimately the better it will be for ourselves and this amazing planet we inhabit. And as we head for the traditional season of massive overspending I think it’s worth while taking stock and seeing what else we can all do. Every little helps, after all.