Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Breaking the circuit: it's a Jayne thing

 "This extended break from shopping seemed to work as a circuit breaker, and gave me a fresh perspective." 

This quote, from a story on The Age today, perfectly sums up the effect of my own almost year-long break from shopping (28 days to go!). 

Before the ban, I was on the fast fashion treadmill and never paused to think about the ripple effects of my purchases: is the person who made it paid enough to live on (probably not)? Did the manufacturing process pollute the environment (quite likely)? What will happen to it when I get rid of it (the op shop can deal with that)? I just enjoyed the thrill of having something new to wear while ignoring the growing feeling that I was amassing a wardrobe of clothes I hardly ever wore. 

Eventually that feeling got too loud too ignore and that's when my no-shopping challenge was born. Unlike the Jayne who wrote the above article, I only started investigating the ethics of clothes shopping after I stopped shopping, whereas she kind of defaulted to not shopping because of her interest in eco-style. 

We both followed the path to the more broader minimalist movement though. Conscious consumerism and minimalism go hand in hand. (I encountered The Minimalists along the way too, but kicked them to the kerb without watching their documentary because of the odour of white male privilege emanating from some of their stuff.)

I don't know if it's just because I've been paying more attention, but it seems like more and more stories about shopping bans, ethical consumption (especially of fashion) and minimalism have been appearing in the mainstream media in the past 11 months. I have been paying more attention, but my feeling is it's the latter - conscious consumerism is so hot right now. Or at least hotter than it used to be. Maybe it's the Konmari effect. 

But while these stories are making their way into mainstream media, the movements themselves are still far from mainstream, and I doubt they ever will be because capitalism. It's all about constant growth, and not the personal kind that involves getting in touch with what we really need. 

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The end is in sight

I'm on the home stretch of my year-long shopping ban now - just over one month left! Thirty-eight days, to be precise. It only seems like a few weeks since I blogged about being in the last 100 days of the challenge, and now more than half of that time has flown by too.

I'm not particularly impatient to finish the no-shopping challenge. In the beginning I would have predicted that I'd be desperate for the ban to end so I could go out and buy myself some new things, but now that I've seen the error of my fast-fashion ways, I have no such plans. I know I've said this before, but I'm still flabbergasted I've found it so easy to stop buying shoes and clothes, and that it's had such a marked impact on my attitude to consumption and my happiness levels.

If anything, I'm looking forward to the ban being over so I can start my next challenge - 12 months of buying only secondhand or handmade, mostly on a needs-only basis. I say "mostly" because I foresee myself noodling about in a secondhand store or at a makers' market and spotting something I absolutely love, but don't really need. I feel like leaving the door open a crack for an occasional purchase like that is OK. (In reality, most of the things I fall in love with in secondhand stores don't fit. It seems small women donate far more stuff to op shops around where I live, but you never know, I might get lucky.)

Ending my relationship with fast fashion is only one of the things I'm doing to live more eco-consciously (though it's probably the biggest thing). I've also been progressively swapping single-use products for reusable ones and further reducing energy and water use. So far I've:
  • returned to using handkerchiefs instead of tissues;
  • bought stainless steel drinking straws - I keep one in my bag to take everywhere and one at work;
  • bought a set of stainless steel utensils to keep in my bag to avoid using disposable ones;
  • swapped cotton make-up removal pads for washable ones;
  • bought bamboo 'cotton' buds instead of the cotton/paper ones I was using (after switching from the standard plastic-stemmed ones a while ago);
  • stopped buying single-use exfoliating facial wipes (a plastic tub of 30). I got a similar product in a gel pump-pack (still plastic, but recyclable and less waste over all); 
  • started using biodegradable bamboo floss picks instead of plastic ones. I don't like them as much, but I'll get used to them;
  • bought some organic cotton pantyliners, which are an improvement on the non-organic brand I used previously. but they're still packaged with plastic, so...
  • ...I've recently purchased some washable pantyliners/pads.  I decided it was time to get over the "ick factor".
  • become obsessive about turning lights off when not in use (I've always been very conscious about not wasting electricity, but now I'm a zealot);
  • started collecting clean "waste'' water in the kitchen and using it to water my plants (eg the water from my hot water bottle or from steaming vegies);
  • stopped using plastic wrap altogether in favour of plastic containers with lids or reusable ziplock bags (which I already owned);
  • started getting my lunchtime sushi to eat-in rather than take away to avoid the plastic container, rubber band and those bloody soy sauce fish (seriously, even when I said "no soy sauce", they still give me a handful because they're on autopilot).

This is in addition to things I was already doing, like:
  • using recyled loo paper;
  • using BYO shopping bags and produce bags at the supermarket and for shopping generally - I have one of those fold-up shopping bags with me almost all the time;
  • turning appliances off at the power point;
  • trying to buy only as much food as we need to avoid waste;
  • taking quick showers;
  • using a quick, cold machine wash for laundry (and only washing when necessary);
  • using stainless steel or reusable water bottles; and
  • avoiding unnecessary packaging.

Things I still need to do:
  • I have a terrible Pepsi Max habit (yeah, I know), and I prefer the 600ml bottle, but it's totally ridiculous to swap to reusable straws when you're using it to drink from a single-use plastic bottle. I need to swap to cans, or - ideally - give it up altogether;
  • Find an alternative to buying cherry tomatoes, berries and herbs from the supermarket in plastic punnets. I'm not sure how to fix this yet. We tried growing our own herbs without success because of a lack of a sunny position and I'm told that they don't do well inside (but maybe I should have a go anyway?). Farmers' markets are probably a better option, but they aren't convenient for a number of reasons, especially if we need to stock up mid-week.  We have a local organic shop but even they have plastic packaging! We always recycle them, but I want to reduce first;
  • I need to investigate green energy options. I thought I had green energy already, but it must have got dropped during some energy company to-ing and fro-ing a few years ago;
  • Buy meat from the butcher instead of the supermarket to minimise packaging. I'll take my own containers to the butcher to avoid packaging altogether. My local butcher had a gourmet make-over a few years ago and of course everything is now more expensive, but it's not a bad thing if we eat less meat (which we've been moving towards anyway).

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

I fell at the first hurdle of conscious consumerism (sort of)

After thinking I'd be able to get by without buying any new opaque tights before the end of my shopping ban, I gave in and bought one pair of footless tights (which I consider to be an essential - no rule breaking here!) 

A few of my existing pairs have - mysteriously - developed a large thin patch above the left knee. I have no idea what's causing the sheer patch in the same place, but it looks pretty bad, so I decided it was time to visit the hosiery department.

I bought the same brand as several of my existing pairs  - Berlei Dig-Free opaques - because I love the wide dig-free waistband. It's the best design I've found for banishing the muffin top you get when a tight, narrow waistband cuts into your flesh. I don't like how this looks when I wear a slim-fitting outfit. The tights are also good quality and made to last - I'm still wearing pairs I bought in 2015.

BUT. I feel as if I've fallen at the first hurdle of the never-ending race that is conscious consumption because I didn't stop to think about whether there were more ethical options available. Duh! It's only since the purchase that I've looked into it and it's taught me an important lesson: making more ethical purchasing decisions isn't always going to be easy. And this was just a pair of tights, not a big-ticket item! There are a lot of variables to weigh up and sometimes there will be no 'perfect' choice. 'Better' might just be as good as it gets.

Berlei gets a 3/5 rating ("It's a start") on the Good on You app for its labour and animal welfare policies, although it needs to improve on paying its overseas employees a living wage (which is a pretty major issue!), but there's no information available on its environmental credentials.

Regardless, the tights are synthetic (nylon and elastane, made from petrochemicals) and they're made in China so as environmental friendliness goes, they aren't the best option. Organic cotton and bamboo are better options, but it turns out bamboo isn't all its cracked up to be as far as its environmental impact (or lack thereof) goes; and tights made from organic cotton and bamboo usually have a small amount of nylon and/or elastane added to them anyway (to stop them falling down, kind of an important feature).

More environmentally friendly versions of nylon and elastane are becoming available, but trying to find black opaque footless tights made with these materials is probably going to be virtually impossible, at least for now.

So organic cotton with a little nylon/elastane looks like the best option...but I've trawled all the companies with 4 and 5 star ratings in the Good On You app and looked at all the sites mentioned in this Guide to Good Tights, but I can't find anything similar to what I want, particularly as I'm looking for footless tights. (Black opaque footed tights and leggings made from organic cotton are much easier to find.)

Even if I could find a similar product, most of the sites are not Australian, some don't even ship here and even if they do, is it worth buying tights made from more sustainable fabrics if I'm going to have them shipped to me from another country? I want to buy locally, or least Australian, made.

So...perhaps I would have ended up buying the Berlei tights anyway. 

Choosing which tights to buy isn't the only quandary here. What do I do with the old, worn out ones? Previously I would have dumped them in the bin without a second thought because they're no use to anyone else, but now that I know about the massive volumes of textile waste going to landfill each year (much of it non-biodegradable), I can't do that now.

Nylon can be recycled but it's not easy to do and you can't just chuck them in your council recycling bin. I've never been much of an "upcycler", but perhaps it's time I gave it a go. There's certainly plenty of ideas online, both practical and ornamental, for ways to reuse old tights. I'm thinking maybe some DIY jewellery (which would allow me to sneakily acquire something I'm not allowed to buy right now!).  

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Less than 100 days to go

Five days ago I had exactly 100 days left of my shopping ban. I sat down to write about it because it seemed like a milestone worthy of a post, but after stating the fact in a single sentence, I stopped and thought, "Well, what do I write now?".

Because, in some ways, it's not noteworthy. I haven't been crossing off the days until the end of the challenge - I've barely been keeping track of the the days at all because not shopping is my new normal now. The other day, apropos of nothing, I wondered how long I had to go and worked it out to the day. It just happened to be 100 days. 

I'm not breathlessly anticipating the day I can hit the shops and buy a pile of clothes and shoes and bags because I have no intention of doing that. I've broken up with fast fashion and we won't be getting back together. Not just that, but I've said goodbye to the habit of buying things I don't need and the almost constant state of wanting that goes with it. 
If anything, I'm looking forward to my shopping ban being over so I can start a new challenge. I haven't settled on what it will be yet. One option is a whole year of buying only secondhand clothes (except for socks and underwear). Unlike my shopping ban - which has been a breeze - I think only buying pre-loved will be very challenging. I have bought a small number of clothes at second hand stores over the years, but I would have bought more if it weren't so hard to find things I like that fit. Most things are way too small. Shrinking to a size 8 isn't a strategy I'm willing to employ! 

Further, because I intend to mostly buy things I need - not so much things that just take my fancy -  I suspect the chances of being able to find a particular item that I'm looking for, without spending entire weekends trawling op shops, are quite slim.

The other option I'm considering is limiting myself to secondhand and handmade clothing (buying directly from the maker). Buying handmade will be a back up option when a secondhand purchase proves too elusive. 

Thinking about these options now though makes me realise that restricting myself to mostly only buying things I need will likely end up as a de facto shopping ban (or close to it). If there's one thing that my ban has shown, it's that my needs are few...even virtually nonexistent!

When I started the ban, one of the ground rules was that I was allowed to buy essentials like socks and underwear if the need arose. But it never did! I started off with way more than enough so even though some of my socks are wearing thin, I have plenty of others to take their place. I could do with a new pair of opaque black tights because one pair seems to have gone missing somehow and a few others are looking a little shabby, but I can probably make do for now (I wear opaque tights all year round because my office is often very cold). 

I still have 95 days to work out what to do. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

My shopping ban...what I've learned so far

Although I've decided to stretch out my shopping ban to a full year, I couldn't let 31 Decemberthe end of my original challengeslip by without giving myself a pat on the back. I did it! I lasted from 1 June to 31 December 2016 without buying any shoes, clothes or accessories! I'm pretty pleased with myself.

I wasn't sure I could do it when I first thought of the idea and even once I got going, but it didn't take me long to realise that I could do it. It's been easier than I could ever have imagined and I have no doubt I will easily make it to a full year of no shopping on 31 May. I'm already more than half way!

These are the things that have helped to make it easier:
  • I unsubscribed from all mailing lists for online shops and unfollowed them all on social media as well.
  • I posted about my shopping ban on Facebook, which made me more accountable.
  • I asked my boyfriend if he wanted a wager on whether I could do the shopping ban and he laughed and said he "already had it won". Now he'll probably claim that was a deliberate ploy to motivate me after numerous failed attempts at lasting even a month without shopping.
  • Not working or living near shops. Obviously moving house and changing jobs is not a sensible strategy to remove temptation, but it turned out that where I live and work made the ban easier: my office is at the 'business end' of the CBD where there aren't many stores selling consumer goods; there's only one clothes shop on my route to and from work (which isn't open when I'm passing); and my local shopping strip is almost entirely populated by food and services outlets. 
  • I enjoyed wearing more of the clothes I already owned—it was like shopping without spending money.
  • The ban led me to investigate sustainable clothing and the (massive) downsides of fast fashion, which increased my commitment to not buying new clothes.

These are the lessons I've learned so far: 
But most of all...

I thought this ban on shopping was about money, but it turns out that it's mostly about living. Thinking less about my next new dress or pair of shoes, and eradicating time spent mindlessly browsing online shops, has freed me up to focus on more important things, like how I want to live my life. I've been doing a lot of thinking about this as the new year gets underway. It's not that I didn't  think about this stuff before, it's just that now I have fewer distractions and more cash to spend on doing things.

What next? 

Another five months of no shopping! More focus on intentional living (more to come on this). More saving and hopefully an overseas trip later in the year. 

Once this challenge is over, I'm contemplating a year of buying nothing new, probably limited to shoes, clothes and accessories again, but who knows? 

Monday, 14 November 2016

And now for a book ban (sort of)

Since I started my shopping ban on 1 June, the pile of unread books on my bedside table has grown. It wasn't huge to begin with and it's not massive now - less than 15 books - but it concerns me still. 

No doubt diehard bibliophiles wouldn't be bothered by mountains of unread books, much less a molehill such as mine. It's just the way life is when you love reading, right?

It's certainly far easier to justify spending money on books than shoes - books are experiences, not things. They can be life-changing. They educate and entertain. They enrich the mind and soul.  Yes, but only if you read them! 

Famous book collector A Edward Norton, who wrote the book on book collecting (literally), would vehemently disagree. He once said: 
"Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity ... we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance."
This is all nice and romantic, but a pile of unread booked doesn't produce ecstasy for me; rather, it produces a mild sense of disquiet, in the same way unworn clothes hanging in my wardrobe makes me uneasy. Despite any pleasure the purchase brings me, they are both a waste of money and useless occupiers of space. It feels wrong writing that, but it's true. An unread book is just a thing, not an experience, no different to a pair of unworn shoes or any other thing you have in your house that takes up room but is never used. I concede a room with walls lined with a vast collection of books - a personal library - is very inviting and visually pleasing (see home library porn here), but I don't want to amass a huge collection of books just because they are nice to look at. I'm not opposed to collecting things just because they are aesthetically pleasing, but that's not what books are made for.

I've never been a big hoarder of books. I've always gone through my shelves and culled them every now and then, getting rid of books that didn't thrill me the first time I read them and books I enjoyed, but know I will never read again. It will probably take me my whole life to amass enough books to line the walls of a personal library, but at least I'd be able to say I've read nearly all of them. 

The other reason my growing collection of unread books bothers me is the likelihood that I've transferred my desire to acquire from clothes and shoes to books. I've certainly wanted all the books I've bought recently. I most definitely plan to read them (I finished one on the weekend and I've started on my next one)...just the same as I wanted and planned to wear all those dresses and pairs of heels! If I keep buying more books  - justifying it to myself because books are experiences - I won't be able to read them all. They will end up as just things.

So, I'm not going to buy any more books until I've at least made a very big dent in the pile of books on my bedside table and then I will finish one before I buy another. 

Friday, 4 November 2016

Ethical shopping: why, how, where

Since my previous post about wanting to become a more conscious clothing consumer, I've been swinging about the interwebs like a monkey, gathering advice and resources on how to make more ethical choices.

I found loads of blogs and sites with a wealth of information so, rather than re-invent the wheel, I'm going to point you in the direction of the good stuff. It's gonna be super link-heavy. 

Still not convinced fast fashion sucks? Read here:

Fast fashion is drowning the world 

8 reasons to rethink fast fashion 
Why the fashion industry is out of control 
5 truths the fast fashion industry doesn't want you to know
Fast fashion is creating an environmental crisis
Fast fashion facts

For more in depth reading, try these books: 

To Die For: Is fast fashion wearing out the world? by Lucy Siegle 

Overdressed: The shockingly high cost of cheap fashion by Elizabeth L Cline 

And then there's The True Cost, a 2015 documentary on the dark side of fast fashion. I haven't watched it yet, not that I need more convincing to ditch fast fashion.

If, like me, you've already decided to break up with fast fashion, here's some great resources to get started: 

This infographic, by Elizabeth Stilwell aka The Note Passer, sums up perfectly how to be a more ethical consumer (of anything, not just fashion).  She expands on it in her post here.

Anuschka Rees of Into Mind and the author of The Curated Closet: A Simple System for Discovering Your Personal Style and Building Your Dream Wardrobe includes a similarly useful infographic and advice in her post Five ways to build a more ethical closet (no matter your budget).

Both women - and pretty much everyone else interested in sustainable fashion - emphasise that an ethical wardrobe is about more than simply shifting your purchases from fast fashion to sustainable clothing brands. It's about buying less, 
looking after what you already own, making more mindful choices, purchasing second-hand, and, when you do buy new, spending your money on the best quality you can afford, with a focus on your personal style, not on trends.

(Related: I haven't read Anuschka's book, but I've had a pretty good look around her blog and it's a great resource for defining your style and putting an end to bad shopping decisions). 

See A guide to curating a conscious closet and The guide to becoming a more ethical/socially conscious clothing consumer for more advice.

So that's the 'what' of ethical fashion covered...what about the 'how exactly'? 

Learning to make do

Making do isn't a hardship if you're already starting with a gigantic stash of clothes and shoes, as I am (provided your gigantic stash of shoes and clothes works as a cohesive, functional wardrobe). 

But what if you're starting with less? A minimalist or capsule wardrobe could be the answer (not that having a lot of stuff already stops you from exploring this approach). 

The Tartan Brunette has some great advice on capsule wardrobes. 
Capsule Wardrobes: the ultimate shopaholic detox
10 reasons why you should start a capsule wardrob
How to create a capsule wardrobe 

You could have a go at Project 333, a challenge created by Courtney Carver of Do More with Lesswhich involves wearing a wardrobe of only 33 items for three months (and yes, that 33 items includes shoes and accessories, but you could modify it a little to suit your lifestyle and needs, like Jennifer of Simply + Fiercely). 

See also How to buy less and stop overspending and Why shopping is a bad hobby (and what to do instead) at Into Mind (seriously, that blog is a gold mine of practical advice).

When you do need to buy something 

Finding ethical clothing is obviously far trickier than shopping for fast fashion; you can't just breeze into your local shopping centre and browse through rack after rack of stuff. Here's some places to look (Melbourne/Australia-focused, I'm afraid because I reckon if you care about the environmental impact of your clothing, buying local or Australian-made should be a priority):

Shedd is a phone app for buying and selling second-hand clothes which allows you to browse stuff being sold in your local area or further afield (also available on Android). This article has a list of other apps for buying and selling pre-loved clothing. 

Click herehere and here for lists of Melbourne's best op shops. 

If you're looking to buy new, check out 12 Australian fashion brands you can shop for online by the Eco Warrior Princess (an Australian site well worth a visit).

Check out the Ethical Consumer Organisation's website which summarises issues surrounding ethical clothing and rates company performance to help you work out where to spend (and not to spend) your money.

Similarly, the Good on You phone app by Ethical Consumers Australia allows you to search for a particular company or browse by category to see how brands rate on labour rights, environmental performance and animal welfare. It's also available for iPhone and Android. 

How to recognise quality when you see it 

Buying less means buying clothing that's built to last. But if you've spent most of your shopping life consuming fast fashion, it can be hard to recognise good quality when you see it. Into Mind has an excellent series of posts on how to assess the quality of garments and even a handy printable cheat sheet.

How to take good care of what you have

This site has lots of tips on how to properly clean, maintain and store clothing to make it last longer. 

I've linked to this list of tips on how to care for everything in you wardrobe before, but it's worth mentioning again here.