It’s Time to Pitch the Stuff

“The business of America is building houses, then building roads to the big box stores where people buy the stuff to fill the houses.” (Jim Kunstler’s description of the American economy before the crash of 2008 via TreeHugger)

I have a new and intense desire for simplicity. I want less stuff. I’m tired of feeling as if my house is constantly exploding with clothes, toys, papers, and countless other things. We chose to live in a small house and I want to figure out how to adjust to its limits, rather than feel as though I’m trying to fit us into it.

Paring down is fine with me; in fact, I’m starting to believe that I have a moral obligation to do so. We are a society drowning in crap – cheaply made stuff that we buy at immorally low prices that clogs our homes, breaks quickly, and gets pitched in a landfill within a few years. From furniture and “fast fashion” clothes (think thin shirts from H&M and Forever 21 that stretch out after a single wear) to electronics and appliances, our collective hunger for shopping and addiction to the instant gratification of stuff is suffocating the earth. Think of the excessive amounts of non-recyclable packaging that go along with new purchases – hangers, plastic bags or wrappings, tags, boxes, tissue paper, paper bags. The garbage bag swells every time I unpack something.

qblogs.es
qblogs.es

At New York Fashion Week earlier this fall, designer Vivienne Westwood urged people to buy less:

“It doesn’t mean therefore you have to just buy anything cheap. Instead of buying six things, buy one thing that you really like. Don’t keep buying just for the sake of it.

“I just think people should invest in the world. Don’t invest in fashion, but invest in the world.”

It might sound ironic, coming from a clothes designer, but she has a point. We’re on a dangerous, self-destructive path if we continue to produce and consume at this rate, and much can be helped simply by choosing not to buy anymore. When we do need to make a necessary purchase, opting for high quality, environmentally friendly, fair trade, and ethical products is very helpful and important. My personal rule is that I must expect an item to last for the next five years, which usually means a bigger financial investment up front, but better quality. If it’s not going to last that long, or if it’s anything less than fabulous (thanks, Carrie Bradshaw, for that nugget of style advice!), then I won’t buy it. But I do think the biggest step forward is rejecting the overarching cultural model that consumption is a personal right.

My grandma used to complain about her granddaughters’ messy bedrooms with clothes strewn all over the place: “When I was young, I took very good care of my clothes because I only had a few and they had to last. I’d never dream of walking on them!” I often think of her comment when my room gets messy. It’s hard to take care of something when it’s been bought cheaply and doesn’t feel particularly valuable. It’s even harder to put anything away when there’s too much stuff in my drawers and nowhere to put it.

readysetsimplify.com
Looks like some stuff needs to go. (readysetsimplify.com)

I’m inspired by Bea Johnson of the Zero Waste Family, whose family owns enough clothes to fit into a single suitcase for each person. (See this post I wrote about the Zero Waste Family.) The five small drawers I have should be more than enough for the clothes I need. Jason dropped off three huge boxes full of tablecloths, bed linens, shoes, boots, and kids’ toys at the thrift store this past weekend and it feel so great. I’ll continue to weed out the excess things so that we’re able to live a simpler, tidier life.

I’m also weighing the possibility of starting a year-long challenge to buy nothing new, restricting all of my purchases to used and thrift (excepting food, of course) – but I’m not quite there yet. I need a few more months to mull it over and figure out what to do when I need new underwear!

bridgetteraes.com
bridgetteraes.com

You might also like:
Walmart’s Yeast-Overgrowth Death Spiral
The Joys (and Frustrations) of a Small House
How about that Frugality Mentality?

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13 thoughts on “It’s Time to Pitch the Stuff

  1. Love this. We’ve been working on quality over quantity and it is very liberating. I’m convinced keeping less is the key to keeping tidy. Plus, there is something wonderful about opening a drawer or closet and only seeing things you truly like in there. Good luck on your adventure. There are lots of great Buy Nothing/Less themed memoirs out there.

    1. Thanks! You’re right about there being some good books about there. One I’m dying to read is “Overdressed” by Elizabeth Cline. I’ve heard it’s excellent.

  2. Last Year I decided to purchase 30 coat hangers. I made sure my clothes fit unto the 30 hangers. Sometimes I do cheat and place pants and matching tops on one hanger. I do have extra hangers for winter jackets. But I find this way I wear all the clothes I have and if I buy new ones, one set of clothes go. I am losing weight and I find I downsized one dress size. I find my closet space is more fitting to my style.

    1. That’s a good idea to limit clothes to hangers, and congrats on the weight loss! I do find that, ironically, the fewer clothes I have, the more I wear because I can sort through them more easily and can see what I’ve got.

  3. The only new item I purchase for me in 2013 was a blouse for my brother’s wedding. All the rest of my clothing was second hand. My son only had two pairs of new shoes – summer and winter – in 2013. All the rest of the clothing was second hand too. The same with all my kitchenware, it is all second hand. I rarely visit malls. I cannot accept buying more stuff, spend so much money, and pollute even more the environment, while I see good unwanted things around me thrown out from homes for pennies or given for free. Over consuming is the one of the first things I saw when I immigrated to Canada and quickly understood that the problem here is not how to accumulate stuff to assist you in your everyday life – like in Greece that things are very expensive and are passed from one family to another – but how to slow down your appetite for more and more cheap stuff that will not feet anywhere in your home and you will have to donate or throw them in the garbage very soon. I do not think shopping is entertaining. Going to the beach, watching a movie, talking with family and friends, having a dinner is entertaining to me ( example: I just came back from Florida but I did not make a single purchase – except the necessary meals of course).

    1. What a wonderful response, Marina! I agree with you that shopping is not a fulfilling experience, but rather a stressful one. There is a need to re-prioritize what truly matters to people – whether it’s relationships or things. As for handing down family treasures, I love that. There are so many stories and positive associations to be had with family relics. In my family, we have violins, lots and lots of violins that all 4 kids in my family played, as well as those played and made by Jason’s dad. Those are true treasures I’m excited to pass on to my grandchildren someday.

  4. I really enjoy reading your blog. You may be interested in what my business partner & best friend are doing. We are launching a clothing line where we are embracing the concept of “upscaling” and taking it to a new level (not new but ours). We are deconstructing new or gently new garments and reconstructing them adding our own personal twist to each item. In addition we are donating a portion of the revenue generated from each garment sold to a organization called Tamu Orphans which is based in Kenya. Perhaps you would like to read more about it at http://www.gofundme.com/3z1wes.

    Also I was nominated for the Liebster award and I would like to pass on the nomination since I genuinely enjoy reading your blog. You don’t have to accept it but I think it was a little fun participating. 🙂

    http://boblist.me/2013/10/01/my-second-liebster-award/

    1. Hi!
      I’m so happy to hear that you enjoy my blog. That’s exactly what I love to hear from readers. And thanks for the award nomination. I don’t formally ‘accept’ them anymore by answering all the questions, but I certainly appreciate the gesture greatly.
      Your clothing project sounds very interesting. I’d love to see your website once you’ve got it up and running to showcase the pieces you’re selling. Yay for creative entrepreneurial ventures!!!

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