CONSUMERISM: Global Impact and the Power of Personal Style Choices

We’re all in this together! Thanks for your interest in understanding how you can participate more effectively as a global consumer and citizen through your fashion and clothing choices.

We recommend you take a few minutes to become familiar with the context and framework through which we can create sweeping change through individual actions.

  1. Spend 10 minutes becoming familiar with the Global Principles for Zero Waste Communities, as brilliantly outlined by the Zero Waste International Alliance.
  2. Understand the difference between Recycling and Reuse. The nutshell: Recycling is an industrial process that uses energy to break down existing products into raw materials, and then uses more energy to create new materials (usually of lower quality) out of said raw materials. Reuse involves taking something that already exists and using it again. It may also involve repurposing, upcycling, or refashioning. Need more info? Here’s a great article.
  3. Understand the powerful potential of participating in a practice of simplicity that brings us to a tipping point for widespread cultural change. Think about it: we get to choose ourselves as thought leaders. We get to set the example of good…and the better we understand why this matters, the faster we can get on with this critical work!
  4. Clutter in our closets and our homes is hazardous to our health and our quality of life. Ergo, by taking deliberate actions to address the clutter, we can reduce stress and improve the quality of our health and our lives.  The French concept of a Capsule Wardrobe is a strategy both fashionable and streamlined. This is a great way to bring one’s fashion sense in alignment with one’s world-view and ethics.
  5. The stuff that is not helpful to us can, however, be helpful to others. As we streamline our lives and our closets to improve our individual sense of well-being, we have a critical opportunity – obligation, even – to be good stewards of the accumulated possessions we no longer wish to have in our lives – and to help them do good in the world (rather than heading into a landfill).

Ready to figure out how to go about this (first with fashion, and then with the rest of life)? Let’s go!

First, pare down to the essentials:

To get started, we highly recommend the KonMari method:  Marie Kondo has rocketed to fame with her recent book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her philosophy is to keep only those things that spark joy. Think about it: do you love it? Does it make you feel good? If not, why have it in your life?

While we admittedly grimaced during our read (as she repeatedly told readers to bag things up and throw them away), we absolutely LOVED her category-by-category strategy, which makes it possible – and even easy – to maintain order/organization of your castoffs as you’re also creating order for the things that will remain in your life.

And, with a few minor tweaks in terms of what is done with the discarded goods after you’ve made your decisions about what stays and what goes, the results of the process will make it possible for you to easily have a positive social impact when you eliminate these things from your life. We’ll go into more detail about this in a little bit. But first, we want to help explain why hauling all of your stuff to the Goodwill may not be the most helpful approach.

The $340 Billion secondhand goods industry is not here for the purpose of helping poor people have better clothes so you can justify buying more for yourself. It’s also not focused on ensuring the best and highest use for that t-shirt that you don’t want to wear anymore. Furthermore, the vast majority of the industry is geared first and foremost toward making money (whether for private gain or to support a specific social service objective that may or may not be in alignment with your values or priorities).

To that end, decisions made by most ‘big box’ thrift stores are made based on profitability, often without regard to product quality or history, material integrity, long term ecological impact, or what an aesthetically-oriented society is actually interested in purchasing or experiencing when they shop. And while we may assume that donating our goods is ‘doing enough’, or presume that we’re being helpful anytime we make a donation of our unwanted stuff (in part because the government subsidizes us for making these contributions), these companies are not reporting on how much of the donated content is actually being reused (far more is being channeled into materials for rag factories or baled for resale on the secondhand goods market). They are also not reporting on how much of the donated goods they receive becomes waste.  What this means is that while they have encouraged us to feel good about our donations (of course they would do this — because free goods are profitable for them!), they also have a vested interest in continuing to have people give them more stuff (even if it’s further enabling/justifying/encouraging unsustainable consumption behaviors).

That being said, throwing something away should always be the last resort, and donation centers are equipped to move even damaged textiles into the secondhand market (and the rag factory) instead of the landfill. So with this in mind, recognize the community value provided by these organizations, contribute to them where appropriate, but downgrade your ‘I did a good thing by donating’ sense of personal satisfaction (an unwarranted pride that the secondhand goods industry has encouraged you to feel) to an appreciation that these businesses exist as a channel to help you more easily avoid sending salvageable content to the landfill.

Responsible stewardship of our unwanted goods:

So if we’re not supposed to pat ourselves on the back when we drop stuff off at Savers or Salvation Army, then what?

Well, instead of thinking about our unwanted stuff as garbage (or the opportunity for a tax deduction), we have an opportunity to *actually* have these unwanted things (things that we chose to purchase, to collect, to keep for a time) be helpful.

Many social service organizations (those that provide direct support through their chosen cause) have needs similar to our own (to clean, to feed, to clothe, to care for, to organize, to manage…). While some are stringent in their desire to not receive used product, others are not only open to receiving gently – or even not-so-gently – used goods, but would find them genuinely helpful (for example: ratty towels and blankets are in high demand at animal rescues, where they are used to make puppy beds and clean up accidents).

When we are thoughtful about the lifetime impact of our own unwanted belongings, we can create positive change without spending a dime — and we can deserve to feel genuinely good about our efforts. Because think about it: this is about improving/enhancing our own psychological well-being — and feeling like our best selves is about more than looking great: it has to do with aligning our actions with our values. Being genuinely helpful is a pretty great way to feel good.

This is a list of Minneapolis-based organizations who can use your unneeded stuff (yes, even partially used cleaning products, for example), divided by item type. If such a list doesn’t exist in your area, consider putting one together and sharing it to save others the time and energy of having to gather the same information more than once.

Creating your new wardrobe and style:

Then, mindfully build out your wardrobe to include crucial pieces and thoughtful accents. Fashion is about personal expression: make it personal!

Really think about how choosing your wardrobe ties into your sense of self as a compassionate global citizen:

Brita Long, a contributor to the Huffington Post, asked these compelling questions in an article contrasting Fast Fashion with the Capsule Wardrobe:

What if we changed our shopping habits not to become more fashionable, but more ethical?

What if we minimized our wardrobes not to make our lives easier, but more sustainable?

What if we stopped putting ourselves first, but instead prioritized the global community?

These questions seem a great place to start as you ponder your own future as a newly informed consumer…

What if *I* did these things? How would I behave? And how would I be better for it?

Simplify.

Embrace reuse (and the opportunity for truly individual expression that accompanies finding pieces that aren’t being spit out into shopping malls in four- and five-digit quantities). Get creative with old pieces by adding embellishments or making adjustments. Find a great tailor to take in hems – and to implement your visions. Spend time thoughtfully compiling an ethically-sourced capsule wardrobe out of high quality pieces you absolutely love, that make you feel good when you wear them, and that you will be able to enjoy for a long time (with luck, you already have many of the pieces that make this sort of cut, or you can find them at consignment shops or vintage boutiques).  Really, really love your stuff!

Adjust your habits
As you move forward with less stuff, you’ll find it edifying to shop less often, and with more intention. If you’re habituated to dropping in at H&M, for example, find an alternative behavior to embrace whenever you experience the urge to shop as a recreational pastime. When you do shop, plan ahead of time, determine what you need, and stick to the list. Choose to take pride in your restraint and careful, ethically-grounded choices. As you make progress, don’t shame or blame others who aren’t yet with the program, but do set a great example by what you choose to wear from day to day — and take quiet pride in your emerging role as an agent of positive change.  Need a dopamine fix? Head to a thrift shop for a sweet, sustainable, one-of-a-kind score.

Thank you for caring.

Most of all, thanks for your interest in contributing personally to solving this global problem. Your next steps are not only critical to the collaborative effort to offset climate impact, but also far likelier to create lasting satisfaction and an enhanced sense of personal well-being than perpetuating that mess in your closet ever could. Win-win!

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