I wrote this at the end of December for the Herald and it’s been just over three weeks… How are we all doing on those resolutions?
It’s the time of year when, for most of us, everything is full. Our bellies, our bins, our wardrobes and fridges are all heaving with things we needed, things we wanted, things we grudgingly accepted from well meaning friends and relatives, and things we didn’t need, want or accept willingly but found ourselves saddled with anyway.
The entire run-up to Christmas is an orgy of excess, and in many ways that’s nice. Personally I’m fond of a bit of excess to tide me through the darkest days of the year. But this year I became a lot more aware of the amount of stuff I own. Unpacking our stuff after six months of living with a minimum ‘in between houses’ made me realise I hadn’t missed the things I’d packed up. I didn’t need them.
Having a toddler makes your home a magnet for plastic, due to the generosity of friends and relatives who never call without something in their hand. Said toddler is still happier loudly banging saucepans than playing with anything we’ve ever bought for him. In July I took up the challenge of plastic-free July and for the first time really opened my eyes to the amount of waste we create on a daily basis, most of which is generated by completely unnecessary purchases.
The blogger Lisa Regan went for all of 2017 without buying a single item of clothing or accessory. You’d think that would be virtually impossible for a style blogger, but she did it. As as been pointed out on Twitter, plenty of people do that every day – it’s called having no money – but for those of us that do have money to spend, this is an important lesson. Impulse buys give us a momentary thrill but the thing we’ve bought is unfortunately miles from momentary. That polyester Penneys top at the bargain price of €5, or the more expensive equivalent, is never going to rot. That filmy piece of glitz hastily purchased for a Friday drink is going to live on, in the earth or in the ocean, and could even end up on someone’s dinner plate via the stomach of a shellfish.
So the thought of shopping in sales, from black Friday to January ‘events’, makes me feel horribly queasy.
Retailers spend December trying to make you buy everything you already own, but with reindeer on it, for use over the festive period and to be discarded immediately afterwards. You probably have reindeer cushion covers, Santa curtains, snowman bedclothes and a fun Christmas jumper for every day of the week. There are factories in China that exist purely to serve this need for sparkly junk, so maybe you can clap yourself on the back and say at least you created a few jobs.
In January, the same rubbish, along with plenty more, is half price, and so the spending continues.
But, once Christmas is over and you’re getting the house back to normal, what do you do with all of it? Are most peoples’ attics crammed with seasonal novelty goods that rotate throughout the year? Or does most of it – cheaply produced and shoddily made – end up in the bin, only for the same things to be purchased the following year?
We have a crisis of stuff and it is only getting worse. Marie Kondo’s book, ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ was big news a couple of years ago for her approach of only retaining something if it ‘sparks joy’ or is useful. That’s a great attitude, but rather than just throwing away things to make ourselves feel better, maybe we can use Marie’s approach when we’re mindlessly surfing Ali Express late at night, or making a quick dash to Penneys at lunchtime for tights and coming away with four tops, a set of makeup brushes and a onesie, none of which we need.
So, I’m making a resolution for 2018. I won’t say no shopping whatsoever – because I know myself better than that – but I will be following the ethical pyramid approach. To be honest, none of this will be news to your granny, she was doing it for financial reasons long before anyone invented freecycling or the concept of zero waste.
The best option is to borrow. Do you really need what you’re buying, long-term, or can you borrow it from a friend or from one of the new businesses popping up to serve this need, like Sustain Sister which lends out ethical clothing or Verso which lends dresses for events.
Next, if you do need to buy it, can you get it secondhand? Between websites, vintage stores and the good old charity shop, almost everything we need for the home is out there, unwanted by someone else. Rather than putting your own old stuff in the bin, it’s worth donating or trying to sell it first. If neither of those is an option, buy the best quality you can afford, so that it’ll last and you won’t be buying again next year.
If you do have to buy, try and buy sustainable clothing from brands that are environmentally conscious. The leader here is Patagonia, where you buy a jacket and they will repair it for you for a lifetime (word to the wise: you will need a mortgage to buy the jacket). But lesser beasts like H&M do FairTrade and organic cotton garments while the likes of online boutique Ethical Souls do smaller boutique brands from trusted designers. You can also buy from small local craftspeople and designers. It’ll be expensive, but rather than buying 10 items in Penneys maybe buy one piece that will stand the test of time.
While I’m focussing on clothes here (and boy have I found it difficult to sustain this even through the brokest January I have ever had – I didn’t realise I had such an addiction to the novelty of new stuff), there’s a lot more to it. Homewares, furniture, even books. Does everything you buy have to be new? There is often both great value and great product in secondhand outlets, and personally I get a real thrill from buying something at a knockdown price purely because someone else is sick of it.
Have you kept up your New Year’s Resolution? And crucially – will you be able to keep it up after payday? For me that’s the real test!