Minimising Journey: Chemicals

Today, I feel as though my life is quite insular. My main concerns revolve around my body, its health and comfort, as well as my house and family. I feel as if minimalism is helping me to grow from a little kernel of truth within my life. It’s helping me to get to know myself first, then branch out to other things. Previously, I was more concerned about the way others saw my life, and I often viewed it as if I were some sort of voyeur. These days, I am reexamining everything to see where it fits in my life.

Like most people, I was once big on chemicals. Tooth whitener, hair dye, scented body lotion – all had a place in my home. My efforts to reduce the number of chemicals I use started not from a healthcare perspective, but rather a desire to stop buying things in plastic. This goal has proved to be borderline impossible, but my waste levels have definitely reduced. It wasn’t until after I started learning about the items I used to buy that I realised how bad they can be for my health. Discarding them came with a new sense of reward.

However, mixing my own laundry detergent and hand soap have felt like easy tasks in comparison to my beauty routine. My once-black hair has two-and-a-half inch dirty blonde roots, and my foundation sits unused almost every day. It’s strange to note that not taking action often feels more difficult. Sometimes I spend almost as long getting ready as I did when I wore a fair amount of makeup, just because I feel as if I should be doing something to ‘better’ my appearance. Also, sometimes not dyeing my hair feels like some sort of task.

That isn’t to say that I’ve ditched my entire beauty regime. I moisturise every day (Neal’s Yard) and go to the salon every 4-6 weeks to have an inch of the dyed hair cut off. It’s a slow process, but I feel that I’m gradually moving towards a life free from harmful chemicals. I may not be the wild woman of the forest yet, but I hope to have her perpetually clear skin.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy

As I minimise my belongings, I’m finding that the thing that gives me the most discomfort is owning up to sunk costs. These are the costs incurred in running your business or life which turned out to not be a good investment.

In my case, the sunk costs have long resided in my closet. It’s hard to admit that I spend £150 on a cashmere cardigan that I only wore once, but the money was paid years ago. Likewise, hanging onto it doesn’t make it a better purchase because it stuck around for a long time. If anything, it’s just taking up real estate. Then something more urgent came along.

Shoes have proved to be a huge problem. To say that I loved wearing heels would be inaccurate, but I did wear a lot of heels and felt a sort of pride in my aching feet. I can walk in the stilettos that make most women wobble on Saturday night. I even used to wear them all day, towering over everyone in my office. However, I read an article over the weekend which indicated that heels lead to lower back pain and a shortened, aching psoas.

As a dancer, an aching psoas has made it hard for me to enjoy movement, and I’ve wondered for a long time what could have caused this. In the past, I never needed to stretch my lower back mid-class, and never had a backbend hurt so much. It shocked me to learn that my shoes might be behind the problem I’m experiencing now. So, I started a new purge just for my shoes. So far, I have three pairs of heels remaining. I hope to be able to buy some barefoot shoes to replace this gaping hole, but at least I know I’m doing my back a favour. In this case, the [sunk] cost of those heels is definitely too high.

Is Fashion Keeping us Small?

For the record, I really love fashion. I love finding new ways to style my wardrobe, update old favourites and incorporate little nods to my most admired trends. And yet, as I spent time this past weekend learning the liquid eyeliner flick (still unmastered), I wondered why I spend so much time details that, while fun, are largely irrelevant.

This isn’t just to say that clothing items marketed towards women are the only problem; men’s clothing has played a supporting role. However, tech and cars keep men grasping for the next model, many of them going into debt so they can use the most recent incarnation of something that was fine to begin with. In the case of phones, this turnover is somewhat understandable, considering that updates are no longer available for all models, and some updates purposefully slow down the device. Our minds are decided for us, it seems. We are boxed into things that need to be paid for and jobs that need to pay for them. As treats, we buy ourselves small things for a bit of instant gratification – to remind us that we are rich enough to afford new things.

So, how does this change the way we look at the world? We are so concerned with keeping up with our own material desires and how to afford them that we forget to pay attention to the climate in which we live.

Women are quite happy to say ‘blessed be the fruit‘ by means of protest when discussing potentially shrinking reproductive rights, then go back to scrolling through [mostly male] designers’ new ideas about dressing us. We seem to forget that the same consumerist culture we participate in daily also created the despised leaders, our learned helplessness and a sense of moral ambivalence.

I understand this, and also find myself there – it’s nicer to read about something enjoyable than it is to read about our diminishing rights whilst feeling helpless. Moreover, we are less guided when it comes to political action than we are when it comes to mastering beauty techniques.

However, if our media, already geared toward women, were able to give us a platform for learning how to take action in our communities and give us ideas of how and when to resist, couldn’t our energies be used better? If such a call to action were created, from the same female-centric magazines and blogs that we all love to read, I believe we could have a much greater impact than sporting a ubiquitous eyeshadow style. Hold the brush like a windshield wiper – I get it. Now, where can my time be best spent, please?

We miss you…and your credit card

Since I transitioned to buying more responsibly, I’ve been receiving rather forward emails from retailers. Apparently, they all miss me.  Well, in moments of weakness, I miss you, too.

Sometimes, these emails come complete with little discounts to encourage another purchase. They entice with photos of sultry models wearing what I can only assume is this season’s must-have. You’re going to have to do better than that: I’ve seen The True Cost.

I know that this model of constant, compulsive buying isn’t sustainable. Not for us, not for the planet. Still, it is the model which we are fed and encouraged to use. It’s one I did use for years, and the thought of it now horrifies me. But it keeps our economy afloat – and it’s an economy based on squeezing everyone dry. Garment workers and consumers are particularly vulnerable in this respect.

It’s also come to our attention that, as we demand more and more items, the quality of those items declines. Ant why not? If we’re only going to wear something for a limited period of time before a slightly paid-down credit card allows us to make another purchase, why does anything need to be long-lasting? We’re more likely to get bored with something and want to replace it rather than wear it out and need to replace it. (As an aside, wedding dresses are beautifully made and are intended to only be worn on one special day. Also, they cost a fortune that we are quite happy to justify. How has our culture fathomed this?)

The more I think about this extremely wasteful model, the angrier I become. But these companies have created this demand because they can supply us with stuff for a profit. They have been able to sell us 52 microseasons’ worth of items because we have bought into this. Shopping addiction or no, I know that the only way I can effect change is to change my own actions. This means buying second-hand and avoiding all those companies who supply in extreme quantity from dubious sources. Even if they do miss me.


Statement Pieces v. Basics

For years, I’ve had trouble parting with money for basic pieces. Plain tops, jeans without embroidery, single-colour handbags that match anything else? As far as I was concerned, they may as well have not existed. And so I give you the wardrobe almost completely comprised of statement pieces. I thought I was spending my money better, investing in items that were special and exciting.

I also noticed this trend continue when I made my own things. I was reluctant to spend money on plain black yarn or grey fabric. When I chose fabric or yarn to make my own pieces, I always chose them for the way they looked on the bolt or in the skein rather than thinking of how the end product would fit in as a wearable garment. With this in mind, it’s quite easy to see how I ended up with nothing to wear.

So, I realise that it’s time to start over a bit. As a baby minimalist, I’m learning that cultivating the right wardrobe is not just about having comfortable, attractive things. It’s also about having items that coordinate well and work with the same accessories. Some writers I’ve read have recommended documenting all your outfits so you know what you have. I expect that this tactic would also help me learn any shortcomings lie, and therefore where I can minimise. It might also reveal where I have extremely impractical items…and I might just have to be okay with those.

Status Anxiety and Purchasing

When making a purchase, I’ve always tried to remember quality over quantity. However, in recent years, I’ve noticed that even some designer items aren’t expected to last the test of time, and so the new status symbol is not buying a really good handbag and using it forever. Rather, the trend is to treat every item as if it’s fast fashion – designer included. It seems that some designers are playing into this disposable aspect; I’ve bought shoes that turned out to be lined with cardboard (a fact I only noticed when they got wet) and seams stitched so poorly that they were coming undone before the garment was worn. Also, up to a certain price point, it seems that items are of a similar quality and buying the most expensive version means spending money on a name alone.

This has made me rethink my wardrobe editing strategy, as relying on the designer basics has been a mistake. Conversely, I used to believe that buying something from H&M would not last me more than a season, but have had a few things last for years. Of course, items need to be both long-lasting and stylish. With this kind of nonsense occurring, it becomes harder to choose items correctly – items that will last and stay true to my own style.

It’s made me wonder – for whom am I dressing? Did I choose a designer bag because it was hardwearing, or was I hoping to sway others’ opinions of me by carrying it? Clothes are less instantly recognisable, but it hasn’t stopped me from splurging when I could. And yet, as I edit my wardrobe, I find that the designer stuff is often not as wearable as I thought it was.

Dressing myself and owning the right clothes has been a much steeper learning curve than I expected. It might be time to build a couple of capsule wardrobes from my current pieces. I’ll look forward to choosing pieces for my own requirements rather than out of status anxiety.

Glamour = Always New

We’ve all fallen into a rather curious trap: not wanting to wear the same thing to two events. Some people even set a rule for themselves, deciding that an outfit cannot be worn again if it’s been seen on Facebook. I’m guilty of this thought pattern, of course, and I used to keep a mental tally of all the times I’ve worn a piece of clothing so as to not repeat it for the same ‘audience.’ It was as if I were the Duchess of Cambridge and someone will be reporting whether I wore the same frock.

Um…what? How did we get here? How did we decide that we needed to be celebrities in our own lives? Don’t we have actual celebrities for that, and aren’t there enough of them to keep us satisfied? Or is it the huge number of famous people who have made all of us decide that we, too, should be ‘famous’ in our friendship circles? Do our friends put pressure on us if we don’t wear something new, or are we doing that to ourselves?

But I digress. We as a society have become less interested in owning things that suit us well and that will stand the test of time because we’re more interested in rocking new pieces. Their craftsmanship and inherent worth have become less important than whether they’re on their maiden voyage. Also, if they only have a maiden voyage, there’s no chance of needing to pay a rather expensive dry cleaning bill which might come to more than the item itself.

In a way, this practice makes a bit of financial sense if the cost of maintaining item costs more than replacing it. But surely we should see the low price tags for what they are: a hint of the garment’s sordid past.

I know shopping addiction has become a rather more common ailment than it once was. Mary Todd Lincoln used to corner that market in her very wide skirts, and now it’s occupied by millions of us. Surely, though, glamour should be more about personal style and feeling good. It’s less distracting than tallied garment wears, stiff impulse buys and itchy tags.