I feel paralyzed by all the problems in the world. What do I do?

I know I’m not alone with my feelings of paralysis when faced with depressing news story after news story. Between climate change, mass extinction, pollution, homelessness, loss of human rights, and murders, all I want to do is curl up in a ball and lay in bed. There are just too many problems for one person to tackle, and I just don’t have the emotional or mental energy to read and learn these topics every single day. But, it doesn’t mean that we each can’t do something. Or do one thing at least. So where do we start?

1. Watch documentaries to inspire and educate yourself about important topics without making it feel like “work”. Surprisingly, Netflix has stocked its virtual shelves with high quality documentaries and docuseries. Instead of binging on mindless tv, put your free time to good use. Some of my favorites include “Dirty Money”, David Attenborough’s “A Life on our Planet”, “Minimalism”, “Explained”, “Our Planet”, “The Keepers”, “Down to Earth”, “Drugs, Inc”, etc., etc….

2. Donate to a worthy cause. This might just be the easiest and quickest thing to do that can make a positive impact on the planet and in someone else’s life. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount either, most websites and charities will gratefully accept donations in any amount. Pick a topic that is particularly close to your heart, do a little online research, and then make a donation via their website. If you want to check the legitimacy of a charity, Charity Navigator is a good place to look.

3. Meditate. When I find myself feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed, I stop what I’m doing and take a few minutes to breathe deeply and center myself. Meditating helps remind us that everything is perfect in this moment, and that we are not our thoughts. I find that I’m more equipped to handle the stressors of the world and stay focused on what I can do instead of what I can’t do when I regularly practice meditation. This helps me lead a more meaningful life, improve my self-control, know that I am enough, and I have more than enough.

4. Next time you need to buy something, try to pick a more sustainable, local option. Remember, each dollar you spend is like casting a vote. You can either vote for the corporate, polluting option or you can be resourceful and creative and choose the local, sustainable option. Yes, it’s easier to click “buy it now” on Amazon, but it’s better to shop local, shop small, and shop green. It’s also more fun! Etsy and Ebay are two of my favorite options for buying handmade and second-hand items and for supporting individuals rather than big companies. Just because you buy it from Amazon or Target doesn’t mean it’s cheaper than buying small and local. The corporations try to trick us into thinking theirs is the best and most affordable, but it’s just another marketing ploy to get you to spend money in their stores. In fact, I would argue that buying local, small and sustainable is actually the better option because you will generally get higher quality items that will last longer and keep the money in the local economy, instead of padding the already well-lined pocketbooks of the mega-rich.

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.

 

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?

4 Rules for Anti-Corporate Living

1) Whenever possible, buy local and buy small.
2) If you see the product everywhere (e.g. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Exxon), you can make a safe bet that it’s a mega corporation, and should avoid it.
3) Download the Buycott and/or Better World Shopper applications. These will make your life significantly easier because they’ve already done the research on the companies for you!
4) Research! Take time to learn about the products and companies from where you buy your products and services. Find out if the company is reputable, treats its workers well, practices environmental stewardship, and is not a cog in the mega-corporate machine.  Yes, it will take more time than clicking a few buttons on your Amazon app, and yes, you’ll go down some rabbit holes, and most likely get frustrated. But, I promise you, it is WORTH it. You’ll feel better knowing that your morals and values align with your spending and you’ll buy fewer, more high quality, not to mention unique, things (it’s about quality, not quantity, people!).
And, of course, check out this page for an ever expanding list of acceptable/unacceptable companies to buy from. I hope that you will contribute to the list as well!