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The Clothing Season: One in, one out

October 25, 2011

I have to admit that buying lots of clothes is not something I struggle with, or (as my wife will testify) give much thought to. As I began to realise how deeply consumerism pervades my life I began to think about food, energy, transport, housing, giving and sooner or later I came to the issue of clothes.

When I looked at my wardrobe it occurred to me that perhaps, after all, we did indeed have quite a lot of them. So I asked myself this question, and perhaps it’s one you might like to consider too.

‘How many days in a row can I wear a different set of clothing before I run out?’ This doesn’t mean turning up to work in your swimming gear, I hasten to add, but simply do I have enough clothes for a week? A month? A year?

Have a think, work it out and then ask yourself, ‘how comfortable am I with this answer? For me, witnessing the sharp end of poverty made the answer all the more uncomfortable. I have a crystal clear memory of a small boy in Burundi whose only item of clothing was a ragged, filthy T-shirt several sizes too big that I wouldn’t use to to mop up oil from my car with. That kind of encounter does tend to throw things into sharp relief.

So what to do? The first step was considering what I already had. The second step for me, was to stem the tide. I cleared out and I gave away. If I couldn’t remember when I last wore it, or my wife didn’t want to remember when I last wore it, out it went. This continued until we got to a level that we considered, well, enough. Not too little for our day to day lives, not without choice but not overwhelmed by it  either.

Thirdly, I battled with the mindset that old equals bad. You know, as in old-fashioned. The tyranny of the new can be oppressive. Simple as.

The fourth stage was then to develop a simple strategy that would keep me more or less in the right place from that point onwards. This powerful strategy has worked wonders for me, ever since. One in, one out. So, if I wear something out then I replace it. If, as happens every now and then, something new comes my way then we take a look at what hasn’t been worn in a while and can be given away. It’s simple, flexible and effective. It doesn’t stop you buying something new that you like the look of but it does stop that wardrobe from getting out of control.

Although it is only sporadically adopted by the other members of my family who upon questioning about their lack of zeal for this, simply ask me when I’m going to apply the same idea to my library? Well, like I said buying too many clothes is not my struggle.

Lastly, when we buy, we look to buy what we need and the best we can reasonably manage in our budget. This lesson was powerfully driven home to me when I went inter-railing as a student. My friend bought cheap sandals, a cheap t-shirt at the market and some cheap sunglasses. I bought some decent sandals and was happy with the rest I had. His feet blistered, when it got hot the colours in his t-shirt ran making him look like a banana and he broke three pairs of sunglasses. 14 years later my sandals are only just about worn out.

I’ll buy new and I’ll buy the best I can manage (within our budget) so that they hopefully last us as long as possible and hopefully represent a reasonable deal for the person who stitched it all together.

Those are my clothing rules, what are yours?

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