Last week, one of my fellow condo dwellers put out a box of clothing by the trash bins. I had a quick rummage through (wouldn’t you?) and discovered that the donor 1) was only a size or two bigger than I; 2) liked the same colors; 3) shopped at Target and was getting rid of essentially new clothing. Target clothing is cheap, but I’m still guessing she paid over $300 for the contents of that box.
I dragged the box upstairs and tried on everything for the heck of it. I got three tees out of it, and it was fun, but I also started thinking about how tragic our lives really are. We work long hours at jobs we don’t like or find meaningful, ruining our health and sacrificing our time, energy, and happiness. The money we make goes to buy cheap clothing, which we already have lots of. A lot of natural resources went into making that clothing, and a lot of time and energy from underpaid and unhappy third world workers. And ultimately, we didn’t even want the clothing. For the sake of having too much, too cheaply, we ruin ourselves, other people, and our planet.
But rather than just assume that we’re either crazy or ignorant (though both could well be true) I decided to experiment. On myself. So I went to the mall to rediscover the causes of my own overcrowded closet. These are the reasons I came up with.
1. Boredom/desire for new things/variety. I don’t think humans are alone in wanting novelty; Brie certainly appreciates new toys. I’m a texture junkie and a sucker for anachronistic detail: hooks and eyes, piped seams, lacing rings, interesting seam placement, gored skirts. Of course, the novelty doesn’t last. My romance with a new piece of clothing inevitably turns out to be infatuation. Solutions: clothing swaps, being ruthless about not buying — even used — things that almost fit, need to be altered, or require special care.
2. Shopping as a hobby/pastime. Water-skiing is a hobby. Playing chess is a hobby. Painting is a hobby. Buying stuff really shouldn’t be. I suggest making a list of activities that genuinely sustain you and make you happy, and choosing something from it whenever the urge to shop ‘for fun’ comes up. In the meantime, adopt Kevin’s shopping habits: shop only when you need something, make a beeline for it in the store, buy it, and leave.
3. The desire for more of the same. I don’t know about you, but I buy the same piece of clothing over and over again. 3/4 sleeve tees in solid dark colors? I have enough to wear a different one for two weeks. I don’t know why I do this, but I do know it’s a pretty powerful compulsion. The one thing I was really tempted by today was a pair of 1930s brown pumps that fit like a dream, regardless of the facts that I have a similar pair in black and that I wear high heels approximately five times a year. And yet, I’m still fighting the urge to go back and get them. Knowing I already have something similar and recognizing this compulsion are different from not feeling it.
4. The thrill of getting a good deal. The brown pumps were $15. And they fit. If you have an odd shoe size, a weakness for anachronistic footwear, and a small budget, it becomes a pretty potent combination for unconscientious consumerism. Even if you know some factory in China is probably polluting an entire river by itself, mistreating its workforce, and otherwise acting in morally reprehensible ways, the real price of these pumps is an abstraction, whereas the price tag and the shoes themselves are in front of my face.
Yup. It’s a real problem. And I say this as a very moderate consumer who can’t quite remember the last time she bought a shirt new. Sadly, I’ve gotten to the point in my environmentalism where I don’ t think voluntary action is possibly going to be enough to save our own hides; I think we’re going to need someone or something to save us from ourselves.