My struggle to change from being addicted to shopping to having a minimalistic wardrobe
Just over a year ago I wrote an article discussing why I thought vintage clothing was the answer. Now, although I am still a strong advocate for vintage clothing, I’m even more aware of trends, and I know that my 70s american football jumper isn’t going to be in style forever. Instead I started focusing on other ways to accumulate a perfect and timeless wardrobe that wasn’t excessive but also gave me a good variety of outfits. Not quite a capsule wardrobe, but still a small collection of pieces that I adore. I won’t lie- this transition has not been easy, and unfortunately there have been quite a few slip ups, where I’ve managed to persuade myself in the moment that I ‘need’ an item, when realistically I just wanted it. Similarly I’ve learnt that along the way that I have a serious emotional attachment to material objects, and that quickly proved the Marie Kondo method was completely pointless for me. After sitting in a pile of clothes, frustrated and confused why everything I owned seemed to ‘spark joy’, I knew I needed to be harsher with myself. So here is what I’ve done over the past few months to try and kick my unpleasant habits of ‘boredom-buying’ (which I’m concerned might slip back into my life due to the current circumstances of lockdown), item hoarding and fast fashion purchasing. And of course, I’m not perfect; if I’m honest I don’t think I can ever be. That’s why at the end of this post I want to be completely transparent and express my issues with this kind of wardrobe, and discuss my (still rather prevalent) desire to buy more. I really want to debate the questions – is minimalism essential for a sustainable future, and is it even possible?
The short answer is yes. Living minimalistically comes hand in hand when being sustainable and making decisions while taking certain ethics into account. However it is in no way easy in this day and age. I’m using myself and my own tendencies as an example in this post, because I never thought minimalism would be right for me, but i’m starting to register the necessity to own less and want less, and my wardrobe was of course the first place to start.
The first thing I want to do is differentiate my wardrobe from the capsule wardrobe. As much as I initially intended to create a capsule wardrobe, I’m not sure it is for me. Yes, my clothing is quite similar in colour, with a palette of dark green, navy, black, white, grey, orange/brown and bright red, however I’m the sort of person who loves lots of different styles and often looks completely different every single day. I realised I didn’t want to give that up and consequently a lot of my clothing doesn’t go with everything, meaning it simply cannot be a capsule wardrobe. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with this. I’m quite happy to sacrifice the number of clothing combinations for a few eccentric and bold pieces thrown in there. I have two pairs of flares for example – one in plain black, that I can wear with every single top I owned, and one from a vintage shop that has a pretty flamboyant 70s pattern on. Although the bolder flares do fit with my overall wardrobe palette, I only really wear them with black tops or with sweaters with no pattern, just a block of colour. Yes, some may argue that i’m not getting the most out of my clothing, but I do wear them regularly! I find them to be more versatile than a lot of other pieces in my wardrobe, because they can easily be dressed up or down. In addition, when I bought the flares, I didn’t have to go out and buy matching clothes to compile an outfit, so really I do still stand by the aims of a capsule wardrobe. I also don’t think I own much more than 40 pieces of clothing anyway. However, although I’m sure there’s lots of people in my boat who love to experiment with clothing, the value of a capsule wardrobe still stands, and I still try and retain the thought process of compiling a capsule wardrobe despite my few bolder pieces.
So let me cast your mind back to last summer – surrounded by cheap plastic clothing I had impulsively bought off a terrible fast fashion website, feeling as if nothing I owned fit me, and in utter confusion why I couldn’t shake this shopping habit. I’d tried so hard to cut out buying anything before, but I’d failed every time. I felt like I had some sort of addiction… but then, after watching one of Keelin Moncrieff’s youtube videos, I realised that’s exactly what it is! Keelin addresses the issue perfectly, talking about how, during her time working at Urban Outfitters, she felt like she had to buy something every day. There was a certain pressure for her to do so, partially from her staff discount, but partially from her addictive personality. To combat it, she made a simple change. Buy from somewhere else. Instead of her usual fast fashion purchase, she’d buy a snack or a piece of clothing from a vintage shop nearby. Nothing was really different about her daily routine and she was still getting something each day, but she was living slightly more eco-friendly. So that’s the change I made. When I was bored at home, instead of scrolling through asos, I’d scroll through depop. When in town, instead of organising to go look round Topshop, Urban Outfitters and New Look with my friends, we’d head to the vintage shops instead or have a ‘charity shop crawl’. And it worked! I was still buying too much, and owned way more clothing than I needed, but I now longer impulse bought from fast fashion brands. Everything I bought was second hand and I was supporting small independent businesses and charities in the process.
That’s how I lived for a long while, but there are obviously still some issues with it. I was still causing unnecessary transport from ordering online. I was still buying WAY too much. When I justified my decisions, saying it was still eco-friendly, my mum brilliantly combatted my argument; ‘But you didn’t need that jumper from the vintage shop. What if someone else also wanted that exact trendy style, and because it was already bought, they just bought one from a fast fashion website instead?’
What I was lacking was that minimalistic intent. My friend Ella wrote a brilliant blog post about minimalism which you can read here, where she talks about the importance of treasuring material items, including items in your wardrobe. Apart from a few sentimental pieces in my wardrobe, or my strange emotional attachment and inability to de-clutter, was there really anything I was proud that I owned? That I truly treasured? Maybe hidden away in my wardrobe somewhere, but how would I have that mentality when I owned so much? Sadly, items of clothing can never be like children to us; naturally as we accumulate more, they mean less to us. So I needed to be concise and simple when it came to shopping and putting together my clothing collection.
I wish I could tell you there was a step-by-step guide to achieving this mindset, but I’d be lying. For me, I had my lightbulb moment when I bought my first piece from a sustainable brand. The penny finally dropped when I spent £50 on a white turtleneck from Reformation. I had never spent so much money on a top in my life. The process of doing it made me really anxious as I watched my bank balance drop. But this was actually something I needed. Due to my usual spontaneous and impulsive habits, I lacked staples in my wardrobe (and this is another reason why I love the capsule wardrobe technique). But when it arrived, and I felt the good quality of the piece, read the label stating that it was 100% cotton, and put it on with my favourite outfit, I finally felt that treasuring feeling. I felt no underlying shame, no regret, just pure happiness. This top was ethically made and matched everything I already owned. It would last me a lifetime. And I knew I wanted to feel that way for every piece of clothing I owned.
So I made the massive transition. I went through my entire wardrobe, counting how many pieces I had for each item, and cut down. I sold some items on depop and donated some to charity. Some I gave to friends. Absolutely none were thrown away, that’s for sure. And this process was difficult, and required many rounds, slowly turning my messy collection into a carefully compiled and utterly adored one. I stopped buying more clothes unless I absolutely had to, and even when I did I was as sustainable as possible. I wanted to stop living as a hypocrite, constantly preaching about the environmental repercussions of fashion and eating a vegan diet while deep down I knew what I was wearing didn’t match my words. As much as I was trying to fight it, I knew deep down I couldn’t just be all talk forever.
And then we get to now. The reason I’m finally writing this is because I’m in a bit of conflict with myself, mainly because the novelty of a minimalist wardrobe has completely worn off. I haven’t bought anything for months apart from a pair of shoes which were a necessity and ethically bought. My clothes are well worn and I have a style. But I really miss fashion as some kind of hobby, because it just isn’t anymore. Of course I would never want to return to fast fashion – slow fashion is the only future I can imagine for myself, however i’ll happily admit owning lots of different bits and pieces is so much fun! Hopefully I’ll post an update on my ‘wardrobe journey’ (in lack of a better phrase) because sustainability is my number one priority, but I want to embrace fashion as a hobby again. I just don’t know how.
So can you really live minimalistically and still enjoy fashion? Can a fashion industry and minimalism work hand in hand? They’re questions that really can’t be answered, because the way we all live now shows strong evidence that it’s impossible, yet the eco-trend is growing. Right now, we are consumed by consumerism itself. How are we meant to resist all the offers constantly thrown at us? There just has to be a change – the amount that is being produced is obviously so unnecessary and there is no value to clothing items anymore, creating a vicious circle, as people don’t mend broken clothes anymore. Instead, they are chucked away and more cheap clothing is bought.
I hope this was a genuinely interesting read, because sometimes you really can’t control your impulse buying until you recognise that it is a type of addiction. Sadly, it’s an addiction that doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon due to the constant fuel behind it from fast fashion companies. I’m glad I have this mindset now, because during lockdown in the UK the list of companies who have released a ‘comfy quarantine chic’ line is endless, and so many are succumbing to the vicious grasp of ‘boredom-buying’. But I encourage everyone to make the first initial switch, from buying too much fashion fashion to buying too much slow fashion. The positive eco-friendly impact it has makes it so worthwhile, and even if you can never cut down on what you own, at least the world is changing for the better, and you are partially responsible for that.