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. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

I'm debt-free!

It's now five months since I started my shopping ban and today I paid off my credit card in full. *happy dance*

Giving up shopping for shoes and clothes hasn't played a major part in clearing the debt, although it stopped the balance from continuing to creep up. As mentioned previously, I paid off a large chunk of the debt last month with my tax return and I chipped away at the last few hundred dollars of it with extra money I had in my pocket as a result of being too sick and exhausted to go to pilates and yoga for the past three months. 

Now that I am debt-free, I can focus on boosting my savings to pay for an overseas holiday next year. Yay! Paying off debt feels great, but not as wonderful as watching your savings grow. 

I'm toying with the idea of cancelling my credit card - that's the best way to avoid accruing further debt, after all - but I'm not sure I can let go of having it as a safety net just in caseeven though I have enough money saved to act as an emergency fund. But...but I want to use that for a holiday! For fun stuff! Important soul-enriching experiences! Not boring, no-fun emergency stuff like buying a new fridge or paying for an operation or something. 

Clearly I need to save enough for a holiday on top of an amount to keep aside as an emergency fund. Perhaps once I've done that I'll feel more secure about cancelling my credit card. 

What now?

I have two months left of my shopping ban, but I think I'm going to continue beyond the end of the year, maybe stretch it out to a year of no shopping (which would be until 31 May 2017). 

As I wrote recently, my shopping ban has instilled a desire to be more ethical about my clothing purchases in future, but the true foundation of an ethical wardrobe isn't to simply re-direct your spending to sustainable brands: it's about learning to live with less and making do with what you have; it's about buying what you need (secondhand or from ethical brands) with a focus on quality and durability. 

So, extending my ban - continuing to make do with what I have already - is the best way to put that into practice. The most ethical consumption is no consumption!  (Of course it's a lot easier to do that when you already have a massive wardrobe and many, many pairs of shoes...)

I'm still working on my post with practical advice and resources for ethical clothes shopping. It's coming soon. 

Monday, 17 October 2016

My shopping ban: the beginning of a permanent change?

When I first started my shopping ban on 1 June (four and a half months ago!) I suspected I would stop buying stuff until the end of the year and then go back to my usual spendy ways in the new year. I can shop again! Yay! I will buy all the shoes! 

But fairly early on I realised I did not want to go back to the way things were. My intention now is for this challenge to be the beginning of a permanent change in how I spend my money.

It's possible I will extend the ban - wouldn't it be great to say I went for a whole year without buying shoes and clothes? - but if not, this is how I plan to continue beyond 31 December 2016.

I want to mostly only buy clothes and shoes that I actually need. I won't promise to never again buy the occasional thing just because I love it, but I don't want to go back to the compulsive acquisition of stuff I don't need, while letting most of the clothes and shoes I already own sit unworn in my bulging wardrobe. I do not want to get sucked back into a constant state of yearning for stuff. I don't want to waste hours a week scrolling online fashion websites for things I don't need, when I could be doing something more worthwhile with my time. I don't want to see my credit card balance inching up and up while my savings stagnate - or go backwards. I don't want to miss out on a holiday overseas because I bought too many pairs of shoes, some of which I DON'T EVEN WEAR! (When I think about that, it really sheets home just how idiotic my behaviour was.)

When I do buy something, I want to focus on buying second hand, or purchasing from small businesses, especially local makers (the latter of which is more expensive, so I'll be forced to buy much less). I want to opt out of fast fashion because, although it seems awesome to be able to buy so much for so little, it's actually NOT awesome for many reasons

The quality is often poor, so it doesn't last long and then if you replace it with something of similarly poor quality...well, that's false economy in any language. 

Giving the really crappy stuff to charity shops seems like the responsible way to get rid of it, but in reality it just becomes someone else's problem.  Almost a quarter of all donations (i.e. not just clothing) to charities in Australia end up in landfill (going on 2014 figures) because they are not fit to be resold, recycled or exported. Dumping rubbish at landfill isn't free, so rather than helping the less fortunate, donations of very poor quality clothing actually cost the charity money! (Dumping waste outside a charity store to avoid paying landfill costs yourself  - a major problem for charities these days - also forces charities to pay for disposal. Don't do it!)

According to ABS statistics, Australians buy an average of 27 kilograms of new textiles/leather each year (second only to the US) and - gobsmackingly - we discard an average of 23 kilograms textile/leather waste each year. That's a total of 500,000 tonnes of leather and textile waste every year. I was astounded when I read this.  

A lot of what we wear these days is made from synthetic fibres - wearable plastic basically - and, just like plastic, synthetic fabric takes decades - probably many, many decades - to degrade in landfill. Even natural fibres like cotton and linen don't degrade readily because processes like bleaching, dying and printing, mean they don't stay natural for long. 

Of course, the ecological impact of clothing starts long before it hits the shops/website. Clothing manufacturing consumes a lot of resources - water, electricity, chemicals, petrol - and it's a dirty business. According to one American fashion insider, clothing manufacturing is the world's biggest source of pollution after oil (or the third largest polluter according to another source. Whichever, it's bad). All this, just to make poor quality goods that end up in landfill!

Because I care about the environment, it's hard impossible for me to justify spending money on fast fashion.

All this is reason enough for me to farewell fast fashion, and I haven't even mentioned the direct human impact: most fast fashion is made by factory workers in developing countries toiling away for a fraction of the retail price of the garments they make, in poor, frequently unsafe, conditions. Remember the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 (not the only accident in the industry, just the most high profile)? There have been some improvements since then, but we'd be delusional to think everything's hunky-dory there and in other garment factories around the world.

With all this in mind, I want to stay off the fast fashion treadmill. I plan to reduce (buy less), re-use (buy secondhand) and only recycle (sell or give to charity) as a last resort, which is the way the 'recycle' part is meant to work. I want my purchasing decisions to be more sustainable, more ethical and more mindful. I want to be an even more conscious consumer. 

The reduce, re-use, recycle ethos is a great place to start, but wait! There's more! This Greenpeace article sets out another nine Rs for a more conscious consumption. It also contains this excellent graphic created by Sarah Lazarovic, which is a good guide for shopping and spending less. 
In my next post I plan to gather together a bunch of practical advice on how to shop more sustainably.