The Mindful Materialist
No-Buy Challenge 2020: My New Year’s Resolution to Stop Shopping
Over the last few years I've been getting into the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, and to my surprise I've managed to see them through. In 2017 I decided to give up meat for the year - something I've decided to continue, in 2018 I took up yoga and (with a few exceptions) I managed to do weekly sessions, 2019 was my ban on purchasing fast fashion and now this year in 2020 I'm banning all clothes shopping.
This so-called 'no-buy challenge' is something I've seen on many social platforms from instagram influencers to YouTubers and bloggers. It seems to be a bit of a trend within fashion circles and among environmental and climate activists. As a former shopaholic, this resolution is definitely my most ambitious. It is both a personal challenge to test my self-discipline, but it is also an environmental and ethics-based challenge. Last year I lived out of a suitcase for seven months when I completed a university exchange program. I had to cater for a European winter, spring and summer. I needed clothes for studying, for exercising, for going out to restaurants and shows, for hiking and for snow. Being a literature students, I needed many books and my laptop and adaptors. This checklist meant I had to plan my outfits, and only take things which would serve multiple functions. I stuck to limited colours which would all go, and I realised once I was over there that I had more than I probably needed. And I can’t deny I did a bit of shopping while I was over there — I had to make the most of being so close to all these ethical European brands I’d admired from afar!
When I got home, I went through a phase of decluttering. Living with so little for all those months made me feel overwhelmed when I came back. My wardrobe was too full, I had too many storage boxes in the garage. I was surrounded by things when all I craved was my little dorm room with white walls. 2019 seemed to be the year of de-cluttering. 'Konmarie' became a buzzword and everyone seemed to be reflecting on what 'sparked joy' in their lives. The only problem with this Marie Kondo movement was that the solution to eliminating clutter and fixing peoples' dissatisfaction with their lives was to throw things away. But where is 'away'?
In Australia at least, 'away' is usually to landfill, or offshore recycling plants which have until recently been taking care of our rubbish for us. 'Away' is someone else's problem. It seems as long as we can't see it anymore, then for all intents and purposes the problem is solved. The truth is: there is no ‘away’. Wherever we choose to discard our unwanted things, they will still be somewhere. Every piece of plastic ever made is still in the world somewhere — whether that means landfill or not. It seems to me that we are not actually addressing the heart of the issue here. By throwing everything away, we are suggesting that the things we buy — clothes, books, furnishings, electrical devices and so on — are disposable. But what we don’t seem to be considering is the amount of human effort and natural resources we are discarding when we decide something no longer sparks joy.
In this country, on average we buy 25 kilograms of clothing each, per year. Of those 25 kilograms, 23 will end up in landfill. Some with the tags still on and only worn a handful of times. The solution to our clutter problem surely isn’t to just throw things away, but to buy less in the first place. I’m ashamed to admit that I was one of those people who consumed fast fashion seemingly endlessly, and I thought myself a wonderful human because I donated my clothes to the Salvos (Salvation Army) when I no longer wanted them. But the sad truth is that not all clothes donated to charities end up on the shop floor. Some are in an unsaleable condition with rips, stains, missing buttons and broken zips, and some are not even washed. Often clothes are not donated according to seasons, and for many North American charities especially, they end up sending puffer jackets and winter coats to Central America where they have no use.
Facts aside, I’m a romantic at heart. I’m studying creative writing and literature, I’m writing a blog, I love antiques and heirlooms. I want to make things for people instead of buy things. I would much rather inherit something meaningful from my grandmothers or my mum than buy something new. I wish I lived in a time where that was the norm. We’ve only been living with this culture of fast fashion for the last 30 years or so — but unfortunately that predates my lifetime. My parents used to share clothes with their siblings, my mum made her own dresses and hats. My goal for this year is to demonstrate to myself as well as others, that we don’t need new clothes to be happy.
It’s only April, but already I’ve been taking better care of my clothes. I’ve been paying closer attention to the washing labels. I’ve also had fun pairing items which I hadn’t before. I’ve been feeling more creative and I’m certainly getting better acquainted with the items I already have. I’m shopping from my own cupboard, so to speak. I hope that now more than ever, with the impacts of the coronavirus, we can reflect on what we really need to be happy.