I have wrapped my life into two bags (and sometimes a bike, and one time my friend Melissa's Honda Civic) on seven occasions in 15 years for moves to Australia, San Francisco, Western Canada, Austria and Afghanistan and long trips to India and Southeast Asia. The ritual of minimizing, streamlining and sacrificing is one I enjoy immensely. It makes me feel more agile and capable. It also makes me feel less like a product of my cultural milieu, one in which fast fashion empires are built on the backs of low income earners in poor countries. At those times, I also feel more useful to a world in which I am uncomfortably privileged. John Oliver sends up this issue better than I ever could.
"Fashion: Personality you can buy" - John Oliver, Last Week Tonight
But there is a tension here, right? I still would like to feel good in my body and part of that is what I wear on my skin. And the other tension I feel is that I come back from places and countries where most people have very little and I still fall into the trap of buying stuff I don't need and spending money I don't have. It's a problem I share with most North Americans.
Of course, you can source high quality clothes from respectable retailers who deal in fair and equitable trading policies. Those clothes can be really beautiful. But my budget does not allow such investment pieces right now. You can also shop second hand, and I do that a lot but that is also tricky as a tall person who has ranged from a size 0 to size 16 in the last 8 years. I also like Fashion Project, which offers nice second hand clothes for really good prices. I also like to make my own clothes with sustainable fabrics.
But then I came across this other idea from Caroline at Unfancy when I was listening to this episode of The Lively Show podcast. It gets at the heart of why I usually end up buying clothes; Not because I need new clothes or have an event coming up, but because I think buying something will make me feel better when I am bored, stressed, hungry, tired or otherwise feeling not okay. Also, my body has changed drastically so many times, so buying something new for adornment has been a chance to appreciate those changes. To be generous with myself when I feel as though my own flesh is sabotaging my ability to be happy.
There is something so dysynchronous about wanting to be a better human and global citizen but also showing up to soothe your mind in the materialistic void that is retailing in North America.
Unfancy started when Caroline Rector was having these same frustrations with her own tendency towards retail therapy. Unfancy documents Caroline's curating of her wardrobe into four seasons. In each season, she gives away what she doesn't love or doesn't fit, takes what works from the last season and minimizes her wardrobe, including shoes and coats, to 37 items. Then she doesn't shop until the next season comes around. The goal is that you only end up needing four or five pieces of clothing every three to four months and that's all.
My husband and I are moving in two weeks. Because I am studying for my medical licensing exam, retail therapy is super tempting because I am S-T-R-E-S-S-E-D. But I haven't! Instead, I Unfancied my wardrobe. I made it down to 7 bottoms, 9 dresses and 15 tops, not including workout stuff, fancy dresses for special events and stuff that would strictly wear to clinic. I pared an obnoxious shoe collection down to 5 pairs for this season plus the heels I wear to fancy things three or four times per year. Shoes for hiking, working out and wearing with scrubs don't count either.
I am choosing different seasons than the Texan that writes Unfancy. Winter will be November to March, Spring will be April to June, Summer will be July and August and Fall will be September to October. That is, I will shop four times per year for a small number of items plus whenever there are special events. Anything I else I have to make. My luck is pretty poor at second hand stores, so I won't be counting on them.
Mindful, intentional commerce for the win. Would anyone like to join me and help with accountability?