Shopping was fast becoming a form of entertainment for Sophie White, until she stopped to consider the wider ramifications of her knee-jerk spending
Like any addict I was lying about my behaviour long before I was willing to admit that my behaviour was in any way destructive or problematic. I hid shopping bags in my mother’s house –oh yes, every addict has an enabler and my mother was mine – I hid bags in the green rubbish bin (I know, I know), I paid in cash to limit my husband’s knowledge of the shopping benders (they were not sprees, oh no) and whenever he admired something “new”, I out and out lied, insisting I’d had the item for “ages”.
Shopping had become a form of entertainment for me. I would go to a cheap high street store and spend €100 without even flinching. I began to notice that I wasn’t even savouring the pleasure of shopping but rather gorging on it, the way I inhale a McDonald’s almost without noticing and then, of course, I find myself hungry an hour later because there is no long-term satisfaction with disposable things like fast food and fast fashion.
I am not anti the high street, I understand that consumer behaviours drive the fashion industry so when I cast a cold eye on my own contribution to this economy of disposal fashion, I was suitably ashamed and made the decision to opt out of buying clothes. The question of waste is becoming harder and harder to ignore and the waste generated by me personally is something I am finally and yes, I realise belatedly, beginning to take responsibility for. I already have two children whose nappies will join my own in a landfill for the next few hundred years. Something had to give.
Ironically I started by buying something – a keep-cup. Then I began to examine other areas in which I could improve. My mission began modestly enough; I would not buy any clothes, shoes or accessories for the month of January. For a non-shopper this may seem like a pathetically low aim, but it says everything about how out of control my shopping had become. It was mindless and completely unconsidered. I’m ashamed to admit how much I would buy each month.
With the ban on shopping in place a strange thing began to happen. ‘Shopping your wardrobe’ is not a new concept but it’s one that had completely passed me by until now and I had no excuse, I never throw clothes out so the wardrobe I’ve amassed in the last 15 years is jammed with possibilities. Morrocan-born photographer Yassine El Mansouri created an interesting photo series about people and their clothing. He staged large-scale still lives inviting his subjects to bring the entire contents of their wardrobes into his studio space. He arranged all the clothes around the owner and then documented it, in some cases even having to employ a multi-storey crane to get far enough back to capture the entire scene. Let’s just say he would’ve needed the crane had I been involved.
I reached the end of January and realised to my astonishment that not buying stuff was not killing me. Not by any stretch. In fact, every time I resurrected a dress or top that hadn’t seen the light of day in years I got an enjoyable little buzz of satisfaction. In early February, I was invited to a black tie event and dove into the furthest reaches of the closet to unearth a dress for the occasion. This was exactly the kind of occasion for which I would automatically skip out and buy a brand new outfit for in the past, despite having at least ten other black tie outfits, purchased for the previous ten events I’d attended. Apart from shopping my wardrobe, I also embraced swapping with friends. My best friend and I have even embarked on something we’ve dubbed the ‘extended loan’, it’s a great one for when things aren’t fitting great for example and you know someone else could be taking it out for a sartorial spin in the meantime and in return you get something pre-loved but new to you.
According to Newsweek only “0.1 percent of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled into new textile fibre”, and according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “84 percent of unwanted clothes in the United States in 2012 went into either a landfill or an incinerator.” These grim stats undercut a little lie I’d been blithely feeding myself for years: that amassing vast quantities of clothing wasn’t doing any harm especially as I brought them to the recycling centre. According to the Guardian, in the last decade textile waste has been the fastest growing waste stream in the United Kingdom and that people spring-cleaning their wardrobes will dispose of approximately 19 items each.
The biggest realisation of the last three months has been that my shopping habit was not satisfying any actual needs in the slightest. I am a privileged person who could probably never buy a pair of jeans again and still be fine until the deathbed. I needed none of the stuff I mindlessly shopped for, but like many addictive behaviours, my shopping was just delivering a little hit of gratification, and a hit that I had become something of a slave to.
I am three months into what I’ve tentatively decided will be my shopping-free year and I can honestly say I’m not feeling deprived in the slightest. I still read fashion editorials and get loads of inspiration from them on how to work with the wardrobe that I have and not trawling ASOS for hours on end, is actually saving me a lot of time. I’m not saying I’m a hero or anything, but if you wanted to gift me a cape (sequinned please) it’s probably the one thing I’m missing from the wardrobe currently.