Every day at Pure Barre, the instructor tells us to get deeper in our stretch, or lower in thigh work, than we did the day before; sometimes just an inch is all it takes (but man, that inch is brutal!!). When you push yourself a little more, to do a little better, you will grow.
And that is all we can do, just a little better. It takes 10,000 hours of doing something before you become an “expert” at it; we all have to start somewhere. One step at a time, and each day we get closer to our goals and better at what we’re trying to “do.”
I have been fighting HARD against that all my life. I wanted to be the best piano player as soon as I started, hating to practice. I move quickly, and get frustrated when “life” doesn’t keep up. I am also easily overwhelmed by analysis paralysis, trying to do and be THE BEST when I get an idea in my head, or am on a mission, only to hit a wall when I (inevitably) realize that I am human, and I can’t do EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE, or be “the best”.
There is NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT.
It’s a hard pill to swallow though, and has been a tough lesson learned. But you may have seen me repeat over and over again here in my Minimal Closet posts, and elsewhere: baby steps. The first step to having a better, more sustainable wardrobe, a closet that reflects your personal values about the world and the people/animals you share it with, is simply being more conscious of what and why you buy.
That’s it. Be aware. Arm yourself with knowledge. Choose to heed it and do ultimately what you think is RIGHT, or maybe not that day, instead choosing to make another choice if it works for you the moment. Either way, any time you make a decision, aim to make a mindful one.
Challenge yourself to make a better decision, and then don’t look back. Own that decision.
As a personal example, it’s important to me to purchase organic cotton now as much as possible, and I try to do so even if that means the item is NOT produced in the US. I decided that I wanted to replace the underwear I’ve been purging lately with organic cotton, and placed an order recently at Neiman Marcus that included three pairs of organic cotton undies and one “conventional” nylon/spandex pair that is made in the US. I made that choice consciously because I really wanted to try the brand and the style, and was willing to make that tradeoff.
So in that situation, maybe I didn’t make the VERY BEST decision I could have with regard to my position on organic cotton and the environmental impact of conventional cotton and/or synthetic materials, but at least I made it knew it was the “second-best” decision, and now own it completely. Better is better than nothing.
In the past, I would have derided myself for not sticking guns blazing to my core beliefs, but that hasn’t helped me up until now. In fact, it always made things worse.
Another very important issue for me is using/wearing leather and eating meat. I have been a vegetarian and a vegan off and on for most of my life, and in general, I lean heavily towards vegan under most circumstances, because I’m just really not a fan of eating animals for ethical reasons. BUT, I do love a nice slice of pork belly, or a grass-fed hamburger. And I have tried, but I just cannot quit leather. So I compromise. Oftentimes, I look the other way (Sam Harris talked at length about why we do this on a recent podcast) and just eat it. But most of the time, I restrict my meat-eating to what I purchase at Whole Foods based on the highest “animal welfare” rating I can get.
I used to feel guilty if I ate any meat at all that was not local, grass-fed, or raised organically/cage-free, but I have let go of that recently, choosing instead to do the best I can, be aware, own my decision, and just move on. That has worked for me better than self-flagellation ever did…
So, now, I try to follow the same logic with leather and other animal fibers like wool or cashmere, and do the best I can to get what I would consider to be more “ethical” leather, and then, if I can’t, and make the purchase anyway, at least I’m aware of what I did, and that I made the “second-best” decision, perhaps hoping to do better next time.
This is how I make all my decisions now, more mindfully, and with intention. I am fully present when I buy something, or eat something, so that I understand and accept the consequences of my actions, and that has made all the difference in my life and in my closet.
I no longer binge shop, and then feel hungover when I get home. And now that I’m giving myself some leeway to make the wrong decisions (still conscious, but wrong…) and not feel guilty about them, I am more accepting and loving of myself, which then leads me to WANT to make even better decisions, such as they are. Funny how that works, isn’t it??
So, if you aren’t ready to check out completely, still considering yourself a consumer, but want to be a more conscious one, what can you do? There is no PERFECT. Literally every decision you make, and every product you buy will have some impact, no matter how small. Our only option is to try and mitigate that and make better buying decisions going forward. Baby steps:
Made in the US
If you want to start somewhere, perhaps start buying more products made in the US. It’s not an ultimate solution, and has its problems (only one part of a garment need be finished in the US to be considered “made in the US”), but it is something, especially if you live in the US (lowers transportation costs, well-entrenched worker’s rights).
Artisan, Locally made
Next, maybe you try to buy directly from producers/artists local to you? Go to farmer’s markets, seek out designers on etsy or visit local boutiques, and buy items that are made by people in your community.
This is truly one of the most important things you can do as you choose to add new things to your wardrobe: buy more organic cotton, hemp, linen and natural fibers. (I will write much more on why this is so important, and what to look for)
Buy second hand
If you’re willing to, thrifting and buying second-hand at consignment shops is a great way to buy “new” without having as large an impact. You extend the life of a garment, possibly keeping it out of a landfill, and chances are if an item of clothing or a bag has made it that far, it’s of relatively higher quality and will continue to wear well for even longer.
Use what you already have
Even if you are like me, and appreciate new things, there are probably quite a few things you already have in your wardrobe you can work with. I keep all of my clothes out where I can see them (I don’t store things away seasonally), so I always know what I’m working with at any given time; I can see what I have enough of, and where my holes are. If you’re tired of certain pieces, examine why – maybe all they need is a hem or to be taken in a little? Or a dye job? Be realistic and honest with yourself about why you want to buy something new, or add something secondhand, but new-to-you to your wardrobe. Is it because you truly need the piece? or is there a more emotional reason?
Whatever your values & goals are for your life and your wardrobe, keep them in mind, and use them as a beacon, a guiding light, but realize you will get nowhere if you do not take the first step. It will not be perfect, but it will be better.
See The Minimal Closet in the WSJ! Then read more in The Minimal Closet series:
If you’re interested in becoming a more conscious shopper and getting your closet under control, but need a little push, I’m available to help 🙂 Please take a look at my Conscious Closet Consulting services at Grechen Reiter!
dawn lovejoy says
The BEST advice! Thank you <3
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This is hard. I’m working hard to realize it’s not all or nothing.
Sometimes I feel like I should be buying everything second hand and there’s no good reason to buy anything new. But I look at some of the second hand purchases I’ve made and I’m not happy. Sometimes they are things that have served me well and I need to simply thanks them and release them (a la Kondo) and other times I realize the item never looked all that great and I was swayed by need (real or perceived) and/or price.
Looking at your categories I think I am trying to meet at least a couple of them for each new garment that comes in. And removing something in return unless it is filling a hole in my wardrobe.
Thanks for keeping this conversation going.
Wonderfully stated! In the beginning, the biggest struggle for me was to make better choices for my family without making my kids feel “too weird” . It took a while but I got over that. They know that we do things a little differently and that’s ok. My husband and I explain our choices to them, such as why we prefer local organic produce and local/ grassfed /pastured meat (why there is one quarter of a cow and half a pig in our freezer) and why we TRY (since I seem to have a black thumb) to grow some of our own food.
Right now, my challenge is teaching my daughter about being conscious about clothing. She LOVES fashion. And family members (grandmothers) indulge her.
Baby steps…I know…
Grechen Reiter says
oh, i’m terrible at shopping secondhand. when i lived in austin i started, because there was an amazing designer consignment shop. but i have not ONE SINGLE THING left in my wardrobe that i purchased there, or purchased while thrifting. i can’t pinpoint exactly why, but i do know i bought those things back when i was in my throes of emotional shopping/shopping too much/shopping for fun, so it’s inevitable that i would have made lots of mistakes. i also am swayed much too much by price, or a perceived “good deal” – still. but with consignment shopping it’s magnified…
i will try again, since i’m in a new place now, and i think it is important to try and find things second hand that i might otherwise buy new, but i know i can’t shop 100% second hand. i just can’t….
Grechen Reiter says
haha. grandmothers…you’ll have to try and work your magic on them as well then 😉 baby steps!!!!
or once your daughter catches on, she’ll influence her grandmothers. even better!
It’s funny that I think I might have had the same percentages of hits and misses at both the Goodwill and higher end consignment shops. However I am trying to keep my standards high (and consistent) now for both new and re-sale items.
My current success story is finding two pairs of jeans at a consignment store that fit and are brands that I like (Citizens of Humanity and AG).
Thrift /Consignment shopping is dangerous because it falls into the “Wow that is such a good deal” or “I could never afford this when it was in the store” or “It’s not perfect fitting but I can make it work, maybe just wear it open or have it tailored” categories. But a bad choice is still a bad choice even at a deep discount and it might get worn once if at all. Not such a bargain after all. I try to shop consciously now no matter where I go – for me that means shopping with intent. The last time I went to the local Thrift Shop I was looking for black pants and found 2 pair of Eileen Fisher pants – one wide leg and one skinny – for $4 each. I have been joyfully wearing them 2/3x a week. I did pass on a lot of other items that I liked, but were not on my list. Difficult most of the time still, but it’s the new, mindful me.
I just started taking a class on “Voluntary Simplicity” and I volunteered to open with an object lesson this week. My first thought was, “I can bring out my 10 white cotton shirts and explain how all of them are different and each one was chosen for a different reason!”….sound of bomb dropping….Ker-POW!!! Nope. Didn’t go off that cliff. But it did make me think a lot about WHY I have 10 white cotton shirts, most of which I don’t wear, and what I’m going to DO about that.
I’m learning. But it’s baby steps.
Sounds like a good buy, Gloria: Each pair serves a different purpose. (and Eileen Fisher!!!) 🙂
Great article, just the motivation and guidance I was looking for!