The Life Changing Magic of Using Things Up
CATEGORY ONE: CLOTHING
This is a weird season of being at home every waking hour and staring unceasingly at the clutter of our lives. I’m sure more than a few people have begun Spring Cleaning as a way to manage this. I’ve watched Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up series on Netflix, and I love seeing people embrace opportunities to let go of the items that have served their purpose in our home. There is much more room to live intentionally when we are free of the burdens of the clutter and the stress of overwhelming our lives with excess. The KonMari method plays beautifully into my desire to be grateful for the life I have and not to let possessions get in the way of living my life. But it also causes me deep turmoil at the same time.
This year, my word of the year is Abundance. I wanted to go into 2020 looking for the places in my life where I am blessed and overflowing. To look to the richness of life instead of continually feeling lack. Being in my home every day for multiple weeks due to COVID-19 has really made me think about the ugly side of abundance…excess. I’ve spent so much of my life hunting to be full, and kept repeating the cycle of filling my life with useless items instead of seeing how we already are enough. In the spirit of Mari Kondo’s order of clothing, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous), and mementos, today I want to talk about the clothing industry.
I am not exempt of buying into the consumer culture of fast fashion. Especially as a young adult, I accumulated many things that I believed were necessary. As a consequence of this, I’ve made a fair number of trips to a Donation Centre, especially when Alex and I combined our two households of possessions into one after marriage. Even now, there is a pile of clothing “to be donated” that sits in the corner of our bedroom. There are ill fitting work clothes that hang in my closet and never get touched which I bought on a whim. The KonMari Method would tell me that these things do not spark joy – because they don’t – and that I thank them and send them out of my life.
But when it comes to getting rid of things, something doesn’t sit right with me. Taking all of our unnecessary purchases to the nearest donation centre just because we’re moving on doesn’t mean that those choices didn’t impact our world. I feel guilt that I let these items into my household in the first place. I caved and bought into the consumerism of it all, and fueled the fast fashion industry that puts workers in developing countries into dangerous labour conditions. It doesn’t seem fair that my past lack of awareness should be solved by loading my car up with unwanted items and dumping it onto someone else to deal with.
When my things don’t spark joy, I think it’s important we reflect upon why that is. And I don’t think Marie would disagree. We need to know when something has served its purpose, even if the purpose is learning that you didn’t need that thing. I once bought $350 backpacking pack because I though I would start backpacking. Boy was I wrong, and I’m grateful for learning the lesson that nature can be enjoyed just as well from a car camping lot or a day trip to the mountains, rather than destroying my arthritic knees in attempt to appear the most nature-y. I know that backpack will never spark joy in my life, but I’m also okay with sending it on to someone who can very much still use the item to pursue their joy (if you need a women’s medium 70L pack…let me know).
But sometimes things spark guilt. The guilt of know that the item was literally made while risking a underpaid worker’s life, is low quality, and remains basically useless to all of humanity. The guilt of knowing that there isn’t a future for this garment, and it will join the 75% of clothing items that are not sold in a local thrift store (Jay, 2018). We need to reflect on these moments too, and decide whether we can break that cycle in our own lives of buying too much crap. I want to get better at recognizing that valuing human life and sustaining our planet is more valuable than the item I want to buy.
Just because these jeans don’t fit right, does getting rid of them change the fact that they took 2000 gallons of water to dye a single pair? Just because I’m taking my items to a Donation Centre instead of a dump, does that change the fact that every second in the world, one truckload of textiles is being incinerated or dumped into a landfill? (UN Environment, 2018). No, it doesn’t. My past purchase habits, and the continuing mob of material-hungry consumers set the precedent for this cycle to continue. Across nearly every apparel category, consumers keep clothing items about half as long as they did 15 years ago (Remy, Speelman, & Swartz, 2016).
So I’ve decided to start using things up and giving them new life. Until I let possessions leave my hands, there still may be a way to redeem them, and donating them isn’t a guaranteed way to do that. Someone, somewhere had to put time into making the item in front of me. And you know what? As a person with no dependents, sitting in COVID-19 isolation, I’ve been given a lot of time. Time to brainstorm, time to sew, time to redeem. In case you’re curious, this is the thought process I’m going to use for my clothing category of “The Life Changing Magic of Using Things Up” for the items as I sort:
Does it Spark Joy? YES
- Does it fit? Then put it in that closet and keep letting it live it’s best life.
- Have I been holding onto it but it needs some mending, hemming, or to be taken in? NOW IS THE TIME WOMAN. Be empowered. Take in that dress, Darn that Sweater. Change the freaking world.
- Is it something that fantasy Katelyn wants but real Katelyn doesn’t need? Then it doesn’t really spark joy, just fantasy. Move to NO.
Does it Spark Joy? NO
- Is it an actually nice usable item that someone actually would want? Sell it or donate it because you aren’t THAT good at sewing Katelyn, and it has a likely success rate of avoiding the dump. Selling is obviously a better guarantee but you know you love fueling the good finds at the thrift store too!
- Is the fabric good quality? Think about other ways it could be used. Spend all your free time on Pinterest, be creative, use things up! Alex was searching for a pair of lighter mittens, so his shrunken wool sweater became two lovely hand warming friends.
- If the fabric is crap, why did you buy it? Did you fall in love with the pattern? Try sewing it into something else! I BELIEVE IN YOU. So far, I’ve turned a Maxi Dress into a Slip Dress, and an ill-fitting off the shoulder dress into some flowy shorts, as well as making a lot of scrunchies with scraps.
- All else failing, can you put it into a pouf? You know you love you some good decorative cushions Katelyn. A moroccan pouf is something I’ve had my eye on for a few months now. While they used to be filled with straw and wool, present day Moroccans usually fill their poufs with old textiles. I’m fairly certain that I have enough old blankets and sad clothing that they can find new life as a filler, and can live there for the rest of their life! If I don’t have enough clothing, I’m going to start with a pillow or bolster. As poorly made clothing I loved well wears out, I will get one step closer to achieving the POUF OF MY DREAMS.
Sometimes it is necessary to start from a clean slate. You’re so overwhelmed by the contents of your life, physical, mental, and spiritual that you just need to haul your junk out of your life. That alone is a hard task, and stepping up to that is it’s own redemption story. But often, I think we deny ourselves an opportunity to engage in a story of redemption. Of finding ways to make one man’s trash into that same man’s treasure. While I personally have the excess time from a lack of social life, I’m choosing to work on using things up and making things new, so when I’m allowed out of my house and am able to hug my friends, I will be even more grateful for the people and the world around me.
Stay Healthy Friends!