Monday, August 24, 2015

The no clothes manifesto

Simplifying and paring down one’s possessions is not a novel idea. Books, workshops, and websites praise the value of living with less. I get it.

Just today I read an article on Apartment Therapy (photo credit to AT) about living with no closet at all. I’ve been cleaning out my bedroom closet for years. Things go out; more things come in. But in recent months I have become more ruthless. Items of clothing no longer have sentimental value to me. That cute sweater with the beaded design on the back, the one I bought in Austin when I was shopping with my daughter, the one I bought because my daughter thought I needed a change from my usual dowdy clothes? I wore it a few times when I was feeling frisky, but it is years old now and it began to lose its shape. (Hmm. . . perhaps I am the one who is losing my shape, but I prefer to blame it on the sweater.) Well, that sweater finally got purged. I’ll keep the happy memories. The sweater and lots of other things, with or without sentimental value, have gone. No longer do I own 100 pairs of shoes. Everything I own fits comfortably in one closet with room to spare.

For years I have believed that retail therapy was the cure for any ailment. Bored? Go see what Marshall’s might have. Depressed? Maybe they have some new jeans at Nordstrom Rack. I’m a sucker for a deal—give me a coupon, a secret code to get 40 percent off online, throw in free shipping and I’m all over it. I can just feel the serotonin flooding through my brain. And the thrift stores—wow! I have found fabulous clothes, beautiful silver jewelry, and unworn designer shoes. I even know when the thrift store is offering additional discounts. And now, those things that I bought at the thrift store because they were incredible deals? Many of them have been weeded out, purged from my closet. It doesn’t matter how great a deal I got if I don’t wear it. The same with the things I thought I should wear to improve my image or the cute things that I probably would have worn back in my hippy days in the ‘60s. My image is beyond repair and it has become foolish to dress like Stevie Nicks at my age.

All of this closet purging, this simplifying, got me thinking about my attachment to clothes. Yes, I’m easily distracted by shiny objects. But gradually it has dawned on me that this is incredibly foolish and wasteful. I think my many hunting and gathering excursions into thrift stores have actually over-loaded my clothing sensibility. It all looks like junk to me now. It all smells funny and the pure quantity of discarded clothes makes me a bit queasy. I noticed that much of the discarded clothing on the racks of the thrift stores comes from retail stores like Target and Kohl’s and Forever 21 that sell cheap clothes, often trendy clothes that are made to be worn briefly and discarded. Have you noticed the smell in one of these retailers that sell cheap clothes—they have a particular aroma that almost has the undertone of insecticide. That should be a sign.

I did a little online research about the clothing manufacturing industry. I learned that 98 percent of the clothes sold in the United States are made outside of the U.S., mostly in China. Our clothes are relatively cheap because they often are made using child labor or people who work on sweat-shop subsistence wages, in horrible working conditions. Remember the factory that collapsed in Bangladesh in 2013? The factory produced clothes for retailers including Benetton and Walmart. Over 1,000 people died.

Suppose most of our clothes were made in the United States? It would create jobs but we would have to pay more to stuff our closets full of things we might never wear.

All of these things together pressed in on me—the rampant consumerism, the mindless retail therapy, the waste, the exploitation of people in 3rd world countries to produce clothes—as I cleaned out my closet. And I wanted it to stop.

So, here’s what I’m doing. This is my personal manifesto: I am not buying any clothes for one year. That includes accessories, shoes, and the cheap bauble jewelry that clutters my drawers. If there’s a small fire in my room and all of my underwear is destroyed, I’ll buy new underwear. If I get married (that would be the most incredible surprise of all!) I might buy a simple wedding dress. And shoes . . . maybe a few things for the honeymoon—no, stop! I can’t have too many loopholes in the manifesto. One year, starting today, right now. So that means I can’t go out tomorrow and stock up for the coming year. It includes buying clothes at estate sales, thrift stores, outlet centers, and street vendors. If I go to Paris . . . no, stop!

Lord, have mercy! What have I done? What am I going to do when I’m in desperate need of retail therapy? Guess I’ll find out. This is my first manifesto ever. I'm feeling quite the revolutionary. I wish I had a Che Guevera tee shirt.

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