“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.
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.
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!