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. 

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Small ways to save money when you're already pretty frugal

As well as banning myself from buying shoes and clothes, plus reconsidering my health expenses, I've been trying to save money in other ways to make my four-day-a-week pay packet go further and to boost my savings. But it's not easy because, in the grand scheme of things, my boyfriend and I are relatively frugal already.  

Most of our meals are home cooked and nothing fancy. We don't shop at gourmet stores and we try to buy what's best value for money at the supermarket. We rarely go to bars (I hardly drink at all). He rides his bike to work and I take public transport. He owns a small, fuel efficient car and I don't have one at all (I never have). We have the smallest internet/home phone bundle we could get. We got rid of Foxtel (cable TV). A lot of the things we like do in our spare time are free or cheap. We don't need to have the best of everything when it comes to furniture, appliances and electrical equipment - a lot of what we have is old, but serviceable, and we don't upgrade for the sake of it. We don't care about labels or brand names. 

We do spend a lot on rent because we live in an affluent area that we love in a flat that we love (even though it's old and bit shabby), but we do get free heating (wooh!) and we don't pay for water consumption. We expect to have to move out in the next year or two, so we'll look for somewhere cheaper then.   

Because we are already relatively frugal, making our money go further requires a bit more thought. I can't think of any 'big ticket' ways to cut back that I haven't already done, so I've been trying to come up with a lot of little ways to spend less in the hope that, combined, they will make add up to noticeable savings. For example, I've always been a bit obsessive about turning off lights when I leave a room (it was ingrained in me during my working class upbringing), but now I'm being totally obsessive about it. If I can do what I need to do without turning on the lights, then I don't flick the switch. I'm even peeing in the dark! (Although when you live in a city, it's never truly, totally dark.) 

Turn it off

So here's my brainstorm on small ways to save. I already do some of these, but I'm listing them anyway.

Make stuff go further by using Every. Last. Ounce. Use those last sheets of toilet paper; apply that last little nub of lipstick; store near-empty shampoo bottles upside down to get the last bit out; squeeze that toothpaste tube until it can't give any more. There's some useful advice here on how to make stuff go further/last longer.

Only buy what you need. I'm thinking here about food/perishables that will spoil if you don't use them in time. Plan your meals and buy what you need to make them.

Do your grocery shop in one go - you usually end up spending more if you make separate trips to get what you need (especially if you're hungry!). 

Make fresh food last longer.  There's some good tips here  and here on ways to make fruit and veg last longer. I started using Keep Fresh Bags a couple of years ago and they really do keep things fresher for much longer.

Grow your own herbs. We buy a lot of herbs, but our attempts at growing them at home in pots (we don't have a garden) have so far been unsuccessful. But we will persist! (I think the key is to grow them all inside as our balcony doesn't get enough sunlight).

There are loads of fruit and vegetables that can be grown in pots if you don't have a garden. Here's a list of things you can regrow from fruit and vegetable scraps. 

Cook meals from scratch - packaged and pre-prepared food is expensive. 

Buy bulk spices at Asian supermarkets for very little (if you use a lot of spices, anyway). 

Only use your dishwasher when you have a full load. Dishwashing tablets are ridiculously expensive and, according to the guy who installed my dishwasher, they aren't as effective as powder anyway. You don't need to fill the little drawer up with powder either - dishwasher guy said a tablespoon is enough. We use a cheap, generic brand dishwashing powder and it works fine (even without pre-rinsing,which is mostly a waste of water, if you ask me).   

Wash your clothes only when they are dirty or stinky - some things just don't need to be washed after every single wear.  This not only saves energy and water, it makes your clothes last longer.  

Yeah, this is my back yard

Minimise use of your tumble dryer. Sunshine and wind are free (when available!). Be wary of hanging dark coloured clothing in the sun though, because they fade and look shabby so quickly. We dry everything inside because we don't have access to a clothesline, but we do have a drying rack in the cupboard where our gas hot water service is and it's the bomb (and my black clothes barely fade at all). 

Look after your clothes well to make them last longer.  This is a great list of clothing care tips. or google 'laundry hacks'. 

Look after everything you have to make it last longer. Get things serviced on schedule, clean and store them properly. Protect them from the elements.  

Avoid single-use, disposable products, such as antibacterial wipes for cleaning kitchen benches and floors, facial cleansing wipes and make-up removal pads. We use machine washable dishcloths to clean everything, but I need to find alternatives for some other stuff, like make-up wipes. I just found this DIY and this one for reuseable make-up wipes. 


Make your own green cleaners. Store-bought cleaners are expensive and full of nasty stuff. Vinegar and bicarb soda are cheap as chips and they smell like chips too!

Use your own bank's ATMs to avoid paying fees. I reckon this would save me about $20 a month. Note to self: walking a bit further won't kill you. I can't wait until the Bank of Melbourne opens its new HQ in my office. 

Look around for a better deal on health and other insurance. I only have extras health cover and I get value for my money, but I'm interested to see if I can get the same for less.   

Buy generic brand pharmaceuticals (prescription and OTC) where possible.