It’s not been unusual for me, after a long week, to find myself on an excursion to the mall for new gloves or a piece of jewelry. After reaching some milestone, I’m as likely to celebrate by buying a scarf or sweater as with a massage or dinner out. I don’t consider my shopping forays as exorbitant—certainly not as extreme as the weekly shopping trips my sisters and I would make when we were in the throes of adolescence, needing to appease the wild animal of peer pressure. But after the recent fire at a clothing factory in India I felt compelled to relook at my buying habits.
Now, my partner and I have owned a single car—and it’s a hybrid–for 13 years. We’ve been members of a Community Sustainable Agricultural Farm (CSA) for over 10 years, and we are dutiful recyclers and repurposers. But clothing? To look more closely at this area of consumption was more than a little shocking. Because I feel that my clothing budget is low to moderate (I buy mostly on sale, and strive for quality that will last), I rarely deprive myself. But faced with the tragedy of the warehouse fire, I didn’t want my behavior to add to more suffering.
So after a sobering inventory of my closet I gulped hard and made a few new guidelines for myself. Like buying local food, I’m focusing on American-made goods. Given how little I know about where and how clothing is manufactured (do workers earn a living wage? Are non-toxic dyes used? How many miles does an item travel?) this seems easier—but it turns out to be really hard. Thankfully, my town has several used clothing stores that have great buys. When I buy gently used clothes, I’m keeping things out of the waste stream and since the clothing already exists, I don’t have to worry as much about where it comes from.
But the first time I tried on a new blouse and realized it didn’t meet my criteria, I encountered a feeling that I hadn’t been prepared for: The pinch of deprivation. Wow. The inner conversation went something like this: “You mean I REALLY can’t have this beautiful green (it’s my favorite color—ask any friend or co-worker) silky blouse with the collar scarf? REALLY??”
“Really,” I responded to the image in the mirror. Quickly I left the store and started to nurse a feeling of let down, a part of my brain adding up all the reasons I NEEDED this new purchase. But within a minute I felt something quite unexpected. It was relief. I was relieved that my money had stayed in my wallet, relieved that I didn’t have to choose this blouse over that blouse tomorrow when I got ready for work, relieved that I actually have more than enough of everything and could afford to live lighter, with less options and be quite content. In fact, the relief gave way to contentment. And as far as I can tell, that’s never been for sale.