The Three Yellow Sweaters (Zero Waste Clothes Shopping!)

I’d hand-washed handkerchiefs. Mastered making almond milk.  Minimalized my pantry. And discovered a new clean in three-ingredient toothpaste.

But I hadn’t yet found my yellow sweater.

During a guided meditation by Iris Higgins on which chakra I would best serve me in 2017, I tried forcing my will towards the security of my red root chakra or on the blue emanating from my throat relating to communication. But the third chakra, yellow and seated at the solar plexus, “was kicking and on fire,” as I later journaled. Looking into it, I discover that the Manipura chakra is the core of our identity and ego and the seat of our personal power. It’s about willpower, action, confidence, and self-discipline. Its message: You have the power to choose.

The word confidence stood out strongly then; towards the end of 2016, my confidence had dwindled, which is how removing negative thought became my January Challenge. Considering that this Year explores how habit, choice, and moderation affect overall happiness, this solar plexus yellow chakra seemed spot on overall.

I wanted a yellow chakra “personal power sweater” of sorts, but didn’t own any yellow clothing. With lessons learned from the No Shopping Challenge, buying something online willy-nilly no longer felt true to who I am. My body then turned pretty sick for three months, so popping around stores didn’t happen, either. Days passed, until I found myself in the thick of this Zero Waste Challenge, contemplating the life cycle of clothing.

In The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard pulls together the effect of consumerism on the planet and all living things in it. It’s a fascinating read. A  blog post on TSOS digs further into clothes in particular. Andrew Newell notes that “fast fashion”–the cheap clothing we buy to stay on trend and discard after a few wears–contributes to some of the greatest environmental dangers of all industries: It’s second only to the oil industry for pollution, occupying 2.4% of global cropland, using 24% of the world’s insecticides, and taking a massive amount of water to create (not to mention the footprint of shipping finished items). Then there’s the human factor: The $8 shirt we buy in Forever21 is still largely made by hand from someone in Bangladesh (monthly minimum wage of $68) or China ($155-$321/month), who often works in appaling conditions. Sadly, these facts only skim the surface.

This short and punchy video by Grist recommended in the post makes a worthy three-minute watch.

As soon as I see problems in the system, my part in them, and how shifts in my habits can contribute to a better outcome, I can’t unsee them. I can’t not change my own actions to better myself and the bigger picture through baby steps. Looking at my wardrobe, I see favorited things inherited from my mother and grandmother, a few cherished high-end purchases, vintage finds, and a mess of stuff. Observing the holes in this system over the last few years, I’ve invested in more sustainable companies and awesome thrift-store finds. But I’m not immune to the ease of walking into TJMaxx and buying two pairs of jeans at $30 a piece, either (which I did only two months ago).

So now I see the holes, am looking for a yellow sweater and, given my Zero Waste circumstances, can’t buy it new.

The same struggle for access to butcher counters and bulk items means in two months I hadn’t made it to a thrift store because of illness and accessability. My mother kept mentioning this “Turnover Shop” in the center of our Stars Hollow-like town, but memories of it from a decade ago didn’t have me rushing to go back in until one cold April Fools Day Friday…

I’d made it through a long week of doctors appointments, blood draws, and pharmacy runs, driving myself for the first time in two months (with one mom rescue). I’d felt highs of productivity followed by lows of physical consequence. I wanted a worthy treat for these accomplishments. With time to kill waiting for prescriptions, I crossed the street of the sleepy town Center in the misting rain to pick up some dry cleaning (two old, inherited/used items) and, spotting the Turnover Shop in the corner of my eye, walked down to its spot by the river to stop in… just in case.

Ten minutes later, I had three yellow sweaters heading out the door with me, all in excellent condition, befitting different weather and moods–for $26.

Sometimes it just takes opening your eyes to what’s there, too.

Laundry (without plastic or hangers), pills (no bag), and yellow sweaters (in a canvas bag) dry in the car, I sat down next door at the Village Luncheonette counter for my comfort-food lunch of chicken soup, french fries, and coffee. I pondered clothing stuff.

According to that Grist video, 20 billion new articles of clothing are made each year, and 10 million tons of clothing that same year get discarded into the trash. Newell notes that only 10% of donated items are ever resold.

So how much clothing I’ve donated in the past has gone into the ground anyway?!

I contemplate the blouses, pants, and sundresses I’d not thought about after their drop in the charity bin. And how concentrating on better-made products has been only a general goal. My love for my handmade wares has been about appreciating quality, history, and their style on me more than anything. And when TJMaxx is the closest thing to home in a body that appreciates the ease of getting things done…?

But now, I have a Turnover Shop equally close, and it only took me walking in to recognize it. About twenty-minutes up the line of bucolic Connecticut towns lies a higher-end thrift store for fancier duds; another sits twenty minutes south. With all the harm to people, earth, and animals the post highlights, I don’t know how much love my Banana Republic card will get in the future, despite their rewards programs and “money saved”.

Buying new clothes doesn’t make much sense anymore.

Tomorrow, weirdly, ends this Challenge. There’s so much more I want to do, and I’ll spell that out later for myself. But regarding Zero Waste Shopping…

In the future, I’ll follow the Grist video suggestions for Lesser Waste Shopping:

  1. Buy less! Given that this year is about taking out, I dig this. The most valuable lesson learned from my No Shopping Challenge was how little I actually need, so I already do the whole “does this bring me joy?” thing before, not after. This helps.
  2. Look for better brands. If and when I buy new, I’ll commit to this more.
  3. Buy better quality clothes you’ll wear forever: I forget where I read this idea, but I’ll set a minimum amount to spend on a new item to ensure the thought that goes into the choice, its quality, and its potential for long-term wear. A pair of adorably rugged leather ankle boots bought in London for $200 crippled me at the time. But eight years later, I still adore them and they’re in excellent shape.
  4. “Don’t trash your fash.”: Don’t toss; donate. The secondary “turn them into rags” seems even more appropriate now, given that I no longer use paper towels.
  5. Don’t wash your clothes as much: The water and electricity used plays into this.

I’m adding a few things to this list, too:

  1. If you love love love it, buy more than one: I know a kindred spirit in a garment when I see it. I regret not buying more identical perfect fleece-lined leggings and t-shirts when I had the chance. Washing these for reuse often encourages me to wash other things just to fill a load. So if I adore it and can afford it, I’ll buy two.
  2. Buy used unless…: Now that I have a trifecta of secondhand stores nearby, I’ll buy used at all times unless I’m too sick to trek, or actually need the item new (which is how those jeans came to be at the start of this Challenge, honestly).
  3. Remember your friends: I’m lucky to have a few girlfriends of the same size. Often the clothes they hand over are my favorite, and favorites to the friend I pass onto. Do more of this.

Resources:

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