2017, the year without shopping

‘I own so many things, I probably don’t need to buy anything for the rest of my life’.

This thought hit me while looking into my wardrobe yesterday. Unable to shake off this thought, I made up my mind. I will only use what’s in my wardrobe for a year. Then I will see if it is true. If I really don’t have any need for ‘new’ items. If it is only desire, identity and social impulses that make me buy new things (which this podcast discusses so well).

I used to be a passionate shopper, although somewhere in the back of my head aware about the issues in the fashion industry. I guess I thought buying more expensive items meant less environmental and social issues. I’ve since learnt that it isn’t necessarily so. Price isn’t a good indicator of quality production.

I finally decided to do something with the knowledge I had. I took on a sustainable fashion challenge during Autumn 2015, and since then I only buy sustainably produced garments. You can find how I defined ‘sustainably produced’ here. Acting in new ways during six month efficiently changed my habits. Of course, I’ve had at least one relapse (staying away from the sales still requires self-discipline!). But otherwise, how I acted during the sustainable fashion challenge describes well my current purchasing behaviour. As a result, I buy much less clothing (maybe five in a year) and I’ve saved money, a bonus.

Since Autumn 2015, I’ve learnt a lot more about the textile trash issue in society. From what I’ve read, throwing or giving away what you’ve once bought is not sustainable. So personally, I want to limit my contribution to the textile trash problem. This means taking responsibility for what I own by using it, mending it or refashioning if it doesn’t fit anymore.

How will I practically manage a year without clothes shopping? I will use what I have and if there is a clear need for something, I am allowed to make it myself. Making it myself means knitting or sewing or some other technique I haven’t learnt yet.

But as visualised in my homemade ‘Sewarchy’, focus should really be on the lower parts of the pyramid: on mending what I have. Making new items from scratch should be rare events. Luckily I am a very slow maker. I am not able to sew or knit so many things in a year.

 

The only exception to the no-buying rule is gifts to others. And then I will aim for sustainably produced items.

Has anyone similar experiences? Please share your thoughts!

Is owning less more sustainable?

A popular reaction to our overconsumption and environmental  challenges is  to own fewer things. For example the 100 thing challenge says that we should only own 100 personal items. There are  many similar initiatives telling us to declutter and streamline our homes and wardrobes. It is a way to opt out of consumerism they say. Some even claim owning less is good for society and the environment.

Is it true though? Is owning less more sustainable?

Let’s look at the sustainability side of it i.e. the impact on people, environment and future generations.

Items going into your home. From a sustainability aspect, you want to keep new items going into your home to a minimum. Producing new items is resource intensive. The majority of items sold in stores are not produced in an environmentally friendly way. On the people side, a lot of manufacturing exploits workers by not paying a living wage.

When you reduce the number of items you own, many throw out two items and then buy a new one to replace these two. In addition, when you own fewer things (because you threw out a lot) the items get worn a lot more and need to be replaced more frequently. As a result, more new things go into your homes than if you had simply kept what you had before the challenge.

Items you get rid of. Most of these initiatives start by getting rid of a lot of stuff. Now what happens to the things you throw out? A lot of the products we buy today cannot be recycled. In large parts of Europe, they end up in a landfill where they release CO2 and other substances trying to decompose. In Sweden, textile waste is burnt . Clearly, this is a waste of resources.

What about giving it to second hand so someone else can use it? The majority of items donated to second hand are shipped abroad, often to countries with worse waste handling than Scandinavia. So unless you give it to a friend that will cherish it for life, giving things away is not a solution.

To summarise, in terms of sustainability, we should acquire as few things a possible and use the items for as long as possible.  Patagonia estimates that keeping an item for nine more months in your wardrobe reduces related carbon, waste and water footprint an estimated 20 to 30 per cent. Keep it for 15 years and it is a lot more.

So if the 100 items challenge means mostly keeping what you’ve got and giving a few items to friends so they don’t have to buy new, then go ahead. On the other hand, if you, like most of us, own a lot more than 100 items that you would have to get rid of then, no, it is not very sustainable.