Who knew that one conversation with my sister could lead me to change how I approach shopping forever…
“I saw this documentary the other day. You just HAVE to watch it… it’s changed my life” said my sister, during our standard Christmas reunion in 2015.
“Oh no… don’t tell me, I can’t bear it”, I remember replying. She had just watched The True Cost, a documentary about the fast fashion industry, and declared a vow of ‘shopping celibacy’ by only shopping at op shops for a whole year.
I looked at her in horror, but I knew I needed to see it too. If she was prepared to do this, I needed to know why. So, one hour and 32 horrifying minutes later, I joined her in that vow. I spent the next year (and beyond) fighting all my consumer instincts and rationalisations, and stopped buying shiny new clothes.
Why was it SO hard to quit shopping?
I had everything I needed already, but, like many in my generation, I have been lead to believe that more is better. More money means more choice, more variety, and more options, and ultimately, more stuff will improve your life. This mantra also applied to my wardrobe. In the mall, I was quick to search the sale rack and make sure my hard earned dollars would stretch as far as possible.
When attempting to change a habit or behaviour, I find it useful to figure out where it came from in the first place. We’re all exposed to incessant advertising from all kinds of brands, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But what else contributed to my impulse to keep buying clothes I didn’t need?
I grew up in a modest, single income household with a frugal, bargain hunting mother. Each season she would give my sister and I each $100 and the three of us would drive two hours to the big city, Adelaide, and go shopping. We had a ball on these trips… always trying to make that $100 stretch as far as we could.
I continued this challenge all through university and emerged a professional. In my early 20’s I found a new novelty; a modest disposable income. I spent most of it purchasing new dresses for each big event and filling my wardrobe with ‘stuff’. All the while declaring many times I had nothing to wear. My ‘get more for less’ attitude started from necessity but stuck with me, even when I had the money to purchase quality over quantity.
I am not a dedicated fashionista. I don’t follow trends, and I don’t read fashion magazines. But feeling comfortable with how I look still has a significant effect on my confidence and mood, and therefore how I am perceived. This was how I have rationalised my excessive purchases.
How to kick a learned habit?
So, here’s what worked for me – and will potentially help you get started on your own conscious consumer journey!
1. Let everybody know. At first, my sister and I decided to go cold turkey. We literally vowed not to even walk through the mall.Then we did what all great ‘break the habit’ theorists tell you to do, and we told people close to us about our vow. This made us accountable to it and also was a chance to challenge others to learn more, think about why we were doing this and maybe join in.
2. Establish some rules and some exemptions. We all know we want something more if we know that we can’t have it. So, in order to make the challenge achievable, we established some exemptions to the rules. We let ourselves shop the basics. Bras, underwear, pyjamas, socks and shoes, we could buy. We also established the rule that if we couldn’t find something suitable that we actually needed second hand – maybe the fancy suit jacket for the fancy job interview – we would source the most ethical brands available. For that, we had the Good On You app. If that avenue was exhausted we would promise to buy only quality fabrics – at a premium of course – and ensure it was a timeless style that meant it would be a ‘forever’ piece.
3. Be prepared to work a little bit harder and savour the joy of ‘the find’. Thankfully, I had befriended my local op shop, Savers, during my most frugal years as a post-graduate student. It was here I first discovered the pure joy of being complimented on a $12 corporate outfit! I was excited to harness that feeling once again and prepared myself to work a little harder for that amazing find.
Keeping it up…
18 months on and I must say I have broken the vow, but only a handful of times. The hardest thing now is fighting the urge to rationalise that voice that says, ‘I deserve it’. After all, I do work hard for my money.
Over time, I have become much better at silencing that little voice. I now muffle it with reminders of how lucky I am to have the power to make these choices and affect change. I am proud knowing that by opting out of fast fashion, making the most out of what I already own, and focusing on quality over quantity, and I am making a difference.
We all have a role to play, what will your first baby step be?