7 Tips for a Sustainable Closet

(Here I am wearing a vintage silk kimono that I purchased from a second-hand shop in Iceland with my favorite merino wool camisole from Rambler’s Way)

  • Avoid white or light colors. Not only will you have to wash them more often but they also show and retain stains more than darker colors. This means that if they’re polyester they will be releasing micro bits of plastic into the water with every wash and they will inevitably have a shorter shelf life than that same item in black.
  • Avoid purchasing clothes that are not made from natural fibers. Not only are polyester and rayon made from plastic (ew!), but human-made materials also retain scents more than those that come directly from nature. Wool, bamboo, and hemp are all naturally anti-bacterial and therefore smell a lot better for longer. Silk, too is surprisingly scent-resistant, even for someone like me that sweats and exercises a lot.
  • Avoid prints and florals in human-made materials as they tend to fade more quickly and look cheap.
  • If you’re like me and love to wear a lot of black (see bullet point #1), avoid items made out of darkly dyed cotton (t-shirts, jeans) as they tend to fade quickly. Instead, opt for black clothes in silk, wool or bamboo which retain their lovely richness wash after wash. I personally love black linen clothes (due to it being a loose-weave cotton fabric), but I minimize purchasing them since they too will fade over time.
  • Reduce how much you use your washing machine. Between this time-saving appliance alone, your clothes go through a literal wringer. Not only does using a washing machine for one year use the average amount of water that one person will drink in their lifetime, but unless you’re using biodegradable soap, you are also polluting the water reservoir with nasty chemicals. Since most of the clothes I own now are made of natural materials and are therefore more delicate, I tend to hand wash them in the sink with room temperature water using Eucalan- a soap that is safe for all fabrics and doesn’t require any rinsing. This might sound like a lot of work, but it’s really easy for me to fill up my bathroom sink with water, put in a capful of Eucalan and let the item soak for as long as I feel is necessary (a completely arbitrary amount of time).
  • Reduce how much you use your dryer. Your electrical bill will thank you, and your clothes will have a nice, fresh smell if you hang them up outside or on your porch instead of drying them. Also, hang-drying ensures absolutely no shrinkage and eliminates the need to purchase dryer-sheets! Yes, it takes a few minutes extra to hang them up instead of toss the bundle in the dryer, but now that it’s part of my normal laundry routine, I barely even think twice about it. This way also reduces the existence of wrinkles since everything is hanging up to begin with and doesn’t get forgotten in a twisted mess in the dryer.
  • Buy second-hand whenever possible and avoid fast-fashion. Lucky for you and me, it’s now trendy and socially acceptable to buy used clothing. Gone are the negative associations with thrift-stores, ’cause vintage is in, baby! Levi’s even came out recently with a new second-hand store where they’re re-selling old jeans and jackets, and they will accept your used, and even damaged items at select stores and give you a gift card in exchange. Considering that denim is one of the most water-intensive fabrics to create and dye, this is a major win for your pocket book and the planet. See my other post for more great places to shop secondhand.

They Want Me to Buy New Shoes

(Said sneakers pictured above)

They want me to buy new shoes, but I will not.

And, by “they”, I mean my sister and boyfriend. If I told my friends that I threw out my sneakers and was currently “sneaker-less” (running shoes aside), one can bet that a similar sentiment would be expressed.

Granted, these sneakers were worth every penny of the $55 I paid for them back in the fall of 2016. They lasted three years, multiple spins in the washing machine, and thousands of miles on my feet in over fifteen countries and too many cities for me to count. They went the distance. Until, of course, they became permanently discolored, developed gaping holes in the soles, and the interior cushioning wore straight through to a point beyond repair.

To this day, I miss them. But, no, I will not be replacing them.

Yes, this seems counter-intuitive. “But they lasted three years” and “obviously they were good quality” one might say; yet, I refrain from tapping the few clicks on my phone that would have them quickly shipped again to my door.

Okay, okay, I’ll tell you why.

First of all, I have fifteen OTHER shoes that are in perfectly good condition with excellent soles. Maybe they won’t look as cute with my outfits as my white sneaks did, but it has forced me to break out my lesser used pairs and bring them out into the light of day. I’ve gone outside of my comfort zone with my footwear and I’m actually loving it. In fact, I might even go as far to say that I’m looking more fashionable and classy than ever? That’s a win in my book.

Second, my white sneakers had to be tossed into the trash can and will end up in a landfill. Nothing irks me more than throwing away shoes. Clothes can be turned into rags, torn apart and reconstructed into something new, or worst case: donated. Shoes though, they don’t seem to have much of an alternative future (besides the quaint and quirky shoe garden in San Francisco). With that knowledge, I can’t bring myself to buy a new pair that will once again, in approximately three years time, end up in a garbage heap too. Since I started this project, I’ve become much more conscious and careful where and from which companies I purchase my clothes and products, and generally speaking, if I don’t buy something secondhand, then I buy sustainable, biodegradable materials (which are generally natural and non-plastic) that will decompose. And when buying new shoes, I buy ones that I know I’ll love forever and can be repaired and re-soled to last me the length of my lifetime. Unfortunately, my favorite sneakers did not fit that bill.

Third, I’m seeking a minimalist lifestyle, and fifteen shoes even feels like a lot to own. Especially since I have two sets of flip flops and triple pairs of black boots. Yes, I love and wear them all (they survived my Marie Kondo and Minimalism Challenge purge), but it’s still fifteen pairs. So, no, I don’t need to add a sixteenth pair to my wardrobe when I have three weeks’ worth of all weather shoes that serve me just fine.

With my new minimalist, sustainable mindset, buying a new pair of sneakers seems like the epitome of frivolity. How fragile is my life that I can’t go without owning a pair of white shoes? A mere hundred years ago, most people were lucky to own two pairs of shoes. Now, we feel deprived if we don’t have a closet full of sneakers or heels to match every single outfit in more colors and style combinations than could possibly be worn in one person’s lifetime.

They want me to buy new shoes, but, no thanks, I know I can go without.

 

Don’t Buy New Jeans! Repair Them in 4 Easy Steps

Did you know that jeans and denim are just about the most polluting and water consuming piece of clothing that you own? Indeed, it takes approximately 2,000 gallons of water to even grow the amount of cotton required for the raw material in a single pair of jeans.  Little known by the public, a majority of the cotton used to manufacture jeans sold in the U.S. is grown in China and India and consists of genetically modified hybrids that require high amounts of pesticides that are very damaging to the environment.

Many more hundreds of gallons of water are then used to dye the cotton that beautiful indigo color that we’re so addicted to. This is also a highly toxic process, affecting the health of the workers involved in the dying and design process, and causing monumental damage from the run-off and fumes from the dye.

When you purchase the jeans, the water consumption doesn’t stop there. Over the lifetime of your favorite pair, 1,000+ gallons of water will be used in consumer care (washing) and in their final disposal.

Have I convinced you yet not to buy new jeans? If not, I’d encourage you to look in your closet first and check the tally on your total number of pairs. Chances are you own about seven. I myself own six, but I really only wear about two consistently. I’m proud to say though, that three out of the six I got as a hand-me-down, picked up at a clothing swap, or bought used. Anyways….the point is that we own double the amount of jeans that we really need and that waste has a negative effect on the environment (and our bank accounts). Here’s an idea: let’s take care of our beloved jeans, and repair them when necessary, instead of tossing them in the trash.

So, here’s how to repair holes in your jeans very easily and cheaply (for the price of a cup of coffee- definitely less than the price of a new pair)!

  1. Buy a repair kit, or better yet, cut a patch out of an old pair of jeans.
  2. If you do the latter, skip step 3.IMG-2215
  3. Flip your jeans inside out and cut away any loose strings from the hole. Lay them flat and cut the patch to the size of the hole. Make sure that there is about .5 – 1 inch extra patch around the perimeter of the hole to give yourself space for sewing.IMG-22203. Pre-heat your iron for three to five minutes on the “cotton” setting,  and place a towel or piece of brown paper bag between the jeans and your work surface. Next, heat up the fabric around the hole before placing the patch over the area to be repaired. Press down firmly with the iron until the patch is securely adhered to the jeans.IMG-22184. If you don’t have a sewing machine, then you can skip this step, and you’re done! However, I always reinforce the iron-on patch by sewing it with my machine to ensure that it will not come off and the hole will not rip any further. Try to buy a spool of thread as close to the jean color as possible, and then start sewing! IMG-2221Tip: I’ve found that a spiral pattern looks nice, secures the patch, and blends in well with the fabric. But, really, you can sew in whichever direction you prefer. Ta-da!

Do you have any tips for jeans repair? I’d love to hear about them!

Find more fashion-related water facts here.

Marie Kondo Changed My Life

Full disclosure: perhaps like many of you, I had heard of this book in passing but was skeptical about the snippets I caught about “touching an object to see if it gives you joy” and “folding your socks in a way that lets them rest”. Eye roll. But then my cousin told me how after reading the book she managed to donate six bags of clothes. I had been feeling for some time (my whole life?) that I had too many clothes, and it stressed me out, so this caught my attention in a way that I couldn’t shake.

Shortly after she told me this, I logged onto my Overdrive app and downloaded the audio book at no extra cost(!) thanks to my library membership, and started listening. About 20% of the way in, I couldn’t help myself and got to work going through my closets. They were already fairly lean, so I was no where close to having 130 shirts/tops, for example, that the author, Marie Kondo states is the average for her clients; but I nevertheless managed to get rid of two bags of clothes, shoes, and accessories. Next, was reorganizing my closets per her directions. I wish I had taken a before picture, but here are the “after” photos (ignore the pile of dirty laundry in the corner-I’ve since started folding them like the crazy Kondo-method convert I’ve become):

Other than my work-out clothes, coats, shoes, and undergarments that are stored in another location, these are the only clothes that I now own! And, look, there is actually space between the hangers and room for me to hang up my backpack inside. Previously, they were jam-packed together and organized by work clothes in one closet and leisure/other in the second closet. Now, they’re organized by type of clothes, with the longer/heavier ones on the left, with the shorter/lighter garments moving towards the right side of the closet. I can’t tell you how much I love opening up my closet now! I no longer cringe upon turning the door handle, or have feelings of guilt about having too many clothes.

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Pre-Kondo, this drawer was overflowing to the extent that I couldn’t shut it. Now it’s neatly organized and the top easily closes! I am so proud.

An unexpected benefit of only having items of clothes that inspire joy is that I’m wearing more of my clothes now. I can finally see everything that I own, and I’m excited to wear all of them. Not to mention, that the urge to go shopping has completely dissipated– something I didn’t think would ever happen. And when I eventually acquire a new item (it’s inevitable, I’m only 30), you can bet I’m going to be extremely selective about what I bring into my haven of organization.

Kondo’s only metric for keeping or discarding an item is as follows: does it inspire joy? and will it make you happier by owning it? If the answer is yes, keep it. If no, then give or throw it away. Indeed, the only rule that you need to live by is the one you make for yourself. The only measure is your happiness. When was the last time you were given that freedom? Forget the rule of: “if you haven’t worn or used it in a year, toss it.” If owning 100 books inspires joy for you, then fill up your closets with leafy texts. If stilettos are your source of glee, then stack those shoeboxes to the ceiling. However, if any one of those books or shoes inspire an emotion other than joy, you’ve got to toss it to the curb.

I’m not going to tell you that it’s an easy process. In fact, I was seriously exhausted from a combination of decision fatigue and lugging boxes up from my basement. But, it was 100% worth it this morning to experience the feeling of taking the below containers (bags of clothes not pictured-I’m saving them for an upcoming clothing swap) to the thrift store.

Kondo helpfully provides detailed instructions for which categories of items in your home to start with (first, clothes; then, books, papers, misc., and finally, sentimental mementos) and then gets into the nitty gritty tips and guidelines that will guide you in sorting through the items for each category. Trust the process and follow her method; I can tell you from personal experience that it works. I completed going through the final category last night and managed to get rid of half of my photo albums and photos. I no longer felt obligated to keep photos of extended family members or people that were no longer important in my life. #SorryNotSorry

The “before” picture is on the left and the “after: picture of what I discarded is on the right. I manged to toss my old yearbooks, random small photo albums, old scrapbooks, and a huge pile of photos that did not inspire joy in me. This part was especially emotionally draining as I re-lived the whole spectrum of old emotions, and then pointedly decided to let them go.

 

In the chapter covering the “memento” category, Kondo reminds the reader of the importance of living in the present, and that if the memories were truly special and important, then we don’t need photographs to remember them. Old letters and cards fall into this category, too. I re-read greeting cards from friends and family members, and then only kept the ones that gave me particularly happy feelings, and were special enough to hold on to and take up valuable real estate in my house. As a result, I actually took the time last night to look through my newly improved photo album and enjoyed each and every photo, since it was now filled with pictures that fill me with joy.

The other reason that this book is so aptly named “life-changing” is that Kondo insists that her clients group all of the items of a particular category (clothes, books, papers, batteries, etc.) in one specific location in their home. This has three purposes.

  1. You will easily be able to find your possessions and you will rarely misplace items again! After I completed my round of tidying up, I found at least three “missing” items that I hadn’t been able to find in months.
  2. You will know exactly what you have on hand, which translates into avoiding over-buying or repeat-buying of a certain item.
  3. You will be able to monitor and control the accumulation of objects in that category and cut yourself off before it gets too late and you have stuff that isn’t giving you joy.

In conclusion, I can’t stress the value of this book and its principles enough. You will truly be shocked about how much money, time, and stress you will save if you put her methods into practice.  Your physical space will be clear and you will have room to live out your values in the way that works best for you.

Tidy away and let me know how it goes!

-Abi

 

The Not-So-Glamorous Impact of Fast-Fashion

Clothes. We can’t exactly live without them.

Nope, I need to go to work and not spend my life at a nudist colony. Darn.

But, we can certainly buy fewer and buy smarter.

Why should I care about clothes, you ask?

Well, for starters when we have too many things that we don’t love, it can cause us stress, decision paralysis, and it causes us to buy things we don’t need. If you think you might have this problem and you’d like some inspiration to go through your clothes once and for all, see my previous post here about Marie Kondo’s life-changing book.

Secondly, clothes are one of the most polluting and high energy/water-consumption items that we purchase on a frequent basis. All made worse by the fact that many of us shop as “a hobby”, a stress-reliever, or addiction; instead of only buying things when we absolutely, positively, can’t live without (i.e., toothpaste, a warm coat, etc.). It’s America, which means that most of us do this.

Third…Read below. I’ve pulled together clothing-related facts that I find both interesting and jaw-dropping.

According to Maxine Bedat’s Ted Talk:

-Consumers have 300% more clothes than they did just a generation ago. That’s like my parents only possessing 20 items of clothing, whereas now I own 60. (Actually, I own 112. Yup, I counted. And this is after I did a serious clean out of my closets. Omigod, I need to get rid of more. Disclaimer: this doesn’t include shoes/accessories).

-The U.S. went from having 95% of its clothes produced domestically to less than 2% being manufactured in the States today (that’s an 80% decrease). One can really see this particular fact come to life on the “Made in” tags of older, vintage clothes versus new ones.

-Polyester is in 50% of all our clothing– and is NON-biodegradable (hint: it’s oil-based); and when these materials are washed, thousands of plastic microfibers end up in the water. And then end up in the fish. That we eat.

Not to mention that plastic-based fibers are not breathable and they retain odors much more than cotton, silk, cashmere, wool, linen, or bamboo. To top it all off, they generally look and feel like the poor quality stand-ins that they are. One reason that “fast-fashion” companies (i.e., H&M, Loft, Zara, A&F, etc.) can sell clothes so cheaply is that most of their items are made out of polyester. Gross.

-Linen, on the other hand, only requires 8% of the energy that is used to manufacture polyester. Natural fibers for the win. Takeaway: DO NOT buy anything with polyester, acrylic, or other synthetic/human-made materials. Trust me on this.

40% of the clothes that the U.S. imports come from China where 75% of the power is generated from coal. Those Chinese-made clothes are dirty and bad for the environment.

One in six people in the world work in some part of the apparel supply chain, with 80% of them being women, and 98% of them not receiving a livable wage. Not to mention that many of them are frequently abused and exploited. If you care about human rights, and especially women and worker rights: Do. Not. Buy. Cheap. Clothes.

So, that leaves us with the big question: where do I buy clothes? Not to fret, I’ve got you covered with my post here.

And no need to throw away perfectly good clothes, learn how to repair them here.

If this got those wheels in your brain churning and your blood pumping with the clothing industry injustices of the world, read through more articles about the topic here:

“We have one eye open and one eye closed”: The Dirty Labor Secrets of Fast Fashion

“Fashion Must Fight the Scourge of Dumped Clothing Clogging Landfills”

“The Clothing Insurrection: It’s Time to Take on the Fashion Supply Chain”

“Is Fast Fashion a Class Issue”

Then, tell me, how many items of clothes do you own?