October Update

Well folks, it’s October. and I’ve neglected you horribly. Please forgive me. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind last several weeks, some of which I promise to tell you about shortly. But first things first. For those of you who remember, October is a very special month! October Dress Project month! Which means, of course, that I’ve been sporting the same dress for the last 16 days. Like last year, no one has noticed so far (or at least not mentioned it if they have). I’ve told a few people, but for the most part I’m just chugging along in simplicity of dress.

Kiki and her trusty cat Jiji

Choosing a dress this year was a bit different than last year. I tend to think about my Halloween costume for at least ten months of the year, usually coming up with 4 or 5 ideas before deciding on something by January. Upon finding a childhood treasure earlier this year (a 6-inch red hair bow that I adored as a 7-year-old), I’ve decided to dress as Kiki, from Hayao Miyazaki‘s famous (and absolutely delightful) film Kiki’s Delivery Service. So a simple, long-sleeved black dress was in order. I found said dress on my excursion to Portland in the summer. And realizing that Halloween is of course the end of the October Dress Project, I thought I’d wear my “costume” all month.

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This may not have been the best idea, as I find I’m already terribly sick of it. You’d think that the second time around of doing this project would be easier, but I guess not. I must admit, I do miss my last year’s dress (I hope you’re keeping it safe, Anilee!). Check out the October Dress Project blog page, Facebook page, and even Pinterest for more information and some inspiration. Consider joining in, even late! Or do it in November, or any month for that matter. And you can always get creative, and choose another article of clothing to commit to for the month. For example, my husband is wearing the same button-up shirt for the month! What a champ.

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Guest Post: Nearly Ruined

This post is from my dear friend, Angelika. Check out her great blog, Thrift Shopper for Peace.

. . . . . .

Angelika and me many moons ago.

Angelika and Anna-Marie many moons ago.

I’m not sure if it’s an honour or a punishment to be doing a guest blog post for Anna-Marie.

It’s an honour because she is my friend and thrift-shopping-soul-mate. I am always happy when I find someone who gets me.

It’s an honour because I also share Anna-Marie’s concerns around consumption, our responsibility in the global market place, and care for the earth. It’s why my blog is called Thriftshopper for Peace – my blog is as much about sharing my thrift scores as it is about my desire to be a peacemaker. Being at peace with my fellow human beings and with the earth is as important to me as being a good steward of my resources.

Both Anna and I come by our love of thrift honestly. We both have parents and grandparents who are thrift minded. Honestly, I think it’s part of my DNA. When I think of poverty on a global scale, I know that my parents were not poor. But we weren’t wealthy either. My mom scrimped and saved and turned every penny over twice before spending it. She embodies the phrase “get blood from a stone.” Thrift shopping was just what we did, always. So now, when I think of purchasing something, I just naturally turn to a thrift shop first and when I’m tired of something, I always try to either donate it to a thrift shop or repurpose it to give it another life.

So why does doing a guest blog here feel like punishment, then? For a whole year I’ve followed Anna’s blog and journeyed with her through a year of non-consumption. Here I was feeling all smug and virtuous about being a thrift shopper and then Anna made me think, dammit. She made me think about a whole host of things, not the least of which is whether or not my penchant for shopping thrift is enough.

Angelika and Anna-Marie at Anna-Marie's wedding.

Angelika and Anna-Marie at Anna-Marie’s wedding.

Certainly, buying a pair of jeans at a thrift shop is better than buying retail, right? I’m spending less money, I’m not supporting a third-world sweat-shop, I’m keeping the item out of a landfill and supporting a charity. How can that be bad?

Ever since I started reading Anna’s blog, I’ve felt her sitting on my shoulder as I’ve gone about my thrift routine. “Sure that looks great, but do you really need another top?” “Yes that’s a great deal but you can’t fit another beer glass in your cupboard – do you really need it?” Anna-Marie’s journey of non-consumption has truly impacted me because, just as my mom turned over every penny twice, I now look at every thrift purchase twice and ask myself whether or not I need to buy it. Just because it’s a deal, doesn’t mean I need to own it. I think I’ve actually shopped less because of her blog. She hasn’t quite ruined my love for thrift shopping… but she has certainly made me think more deeply about my responsibility as a consumer, even a thrift- minded consumer.

In the end, I guess that’s not a punishment after all… it’s simply a challenge to be more thoughtful. How have you been challenged as you’ve followed Anna’s journey?

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Up And At ‘Em

Hey there friends, it’s been a long while.

I’ve been back at the shops for a month and a half now (well, not straight, that would be insane. I’d probably have died), and I think it’s time to update you all on my consumption!

Oh, yes, my consumption.

July 6th came in all its glory and I was able to celebrate the end of my year-long sabbatical from shopping by exploring the wonders of Portland, Oregon. If you know anything about Portland, you could probably imagine that it would be a top-notch place to find some quality goods of the local/used/ethical nature.

And you would be right.

My stack of new (and used) books

My stack of new (and used) books.

While my closet had dwindled considerably and I was in rather dire need of things such as pants (the American and British versions), my first real stop was Powell’s City of Books. The name itself inspires one to new heights of rapid consumption. And consume I did. Powell’s is a great place (I could probably spend three days there, no sleep, and maybe make it through the whole store), and it boasts an impressive variety of both new and used books. On the first day, I walked away with more new (and used) volumes for my shelves than I care to admit. On the second trip, I gathered a few more. Oh the glory of being back with my dear friends, the books.

I also found myself some new and used clothing (some much-needed and some definitely not needed). I hit up my favourite clothing company, PrAna, for some new pants, and discovered the wonders of Buffalo Exchange, a large consignment store. Laden with new things I could honestly feel good about, I travelled north to Vancouver (another great city to find some quality goods of the local/used/ethical nature). Here I returned to my favourite local shop, Devil May Wear, and added to my collection.

On top of all this, I ordered goodies from my new favourite underwear place, PACT apparel (check it out. Fair trade, organic cotton, oh-so-soft and very comfortable. I’ve never met with better gitchies), and made a hefty order from Amazon (for what I amazingly could not find at Powell’s). I also finally got a few goods from a vendor I’ve been admiring for two years, UK’s Annie Greenabelle.

I may have got a little carried away.

Stack o' new clothes! Yikes!

Stack o’ new clothes! Yikes!

I know I did practically a year’s worth of shopping in one go, but I remained under my budget. Almost everything was second-hand, locally made, or ethically made (much of it fully fair trade), and I have a hard time feeling bad about buying books.

My drawers are full again, my bookshelves are bursting, and I love everything I bought. I certainly did not need most of the things I’ve purchased over the last month, and after a year of being (relatively) happy with what I had, I am ready to go forward to consume mindfully. The year-long practice of reflection and deeper understanding of consumerism, especially my consumerism, has left me slower to buy and far less swayed by changing fashions.

I know it’ll take willpower to remain in the mindset of the last year. Hopefully I’ve learned and changed enough for it to be more natural as time goes on.

What my next steps are, I don’t yet know. If you have any ideas, leave me a comment!

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That’s It, That’s (not) All

Me, one year ago today. I now have more hair (which I’m not sure I like) and less stuff (which I like very much).

That’s it! Today is the official end-day of my year-long consumption sabbatical.

I am facing this day with both pleasure and with trepidation. Certainly, my experience to clothing (and to stuff in general) has changed. There’s no way I could communicate all the things I’ve learned, and I’m probably still figuring out what most of those things are. But anyway, here are a few highlights:

1) Having fewer items of clothing really is easier and more enjoyable than having a lot.

2) Today’s fast-fashion clothes are not meant to last a year. This I know for absolute certain and have proof. However, these clothes can be made to last longer than they’re meant to, and can be re-purposed to extend their useful life on this planet.

One of my new favourite books. Inspiring and hilarious. What more could you want?

3) I have lots of books. I will always have lots of books and I will always want more. However, expanding my bookshelves by borrowing, and expanding others’ bookshelves by lending is fun and strengthens friendships. I was introduced to some new favourites this way.

4) Using less plastic is easier than it seems. It takes some more work, creativity, and the willingness to appear a bit silly (read, counter-cultural). Every effort is worth it.

5) I still love clothes. I need a few new things, and I want a few new things. Now, however, instead of simply wanting and buying the clothes I covet from friends and peers, I want well-made, versatile items that will last years (of my hard wearing), rather than clothes I will wear out or get bored with right away. The point is not to have a large donation pile along with a large closet (which has been my strategy for years), but to have things so good and loved that I will not want to give them away.

So now I go back into the world of purchasing. I will now be working on the commitment to buy ethically-made goods. I am willing to spend the extra money on something I believe in. (Also, if I just buy fewer items, I can afford to spend the extra money). I want to buy better and smarter. I want to maintain a focus on needs rather than wants.

I still want to be, rather than buy.

But on that note, I’m going shopping.

P.S. Even though this sabbatical is over (for now, who knows what’s next), I’ll be keeping up this blog with my further adventures in (or out of) this crazy world of consumption. I will also be featuring some amazing guest bloggers who also care about these issues. If you are interested in contributing, send me a message!

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#Humblebrag

With less than two weeks to go on my consumption sabbatical, I thought I should confess one more spot of weakness in my consumption patterns: arts and crafts.

I was raised to sew. I have distinct memories of sitting on the kitchen floor with my grandmother instructing me in hand sewing. I quickly learned to use a sewing machine once it was age appropriate and I’m a skilled mender. I’m very adept at knitting. I’m also into the visual arts and general handicraftery. I guess the brag isn’t very humble, but it’s an area of passion for me, and an area I’ve always been encouraged in. I also find it to be a great stress-reliever and a way to center myself and work out problems.

I take particular pride in creating new things out of old, garbage things. Such as my hoodie-turned-sweatpants I mentioned in a previous post. I’ve also made a dress out of a pillowcase, and a different one out of a bed sheet. I’ve made jewellery and belts out of old bicycle tubes. I have a particular passion for mixed media art using all manner of odd leftovers.

Only some of my collection of paints and other things to put on canvas.

Only some of my collection of paints and other things to put on canvas.

While I do like to use recycled materials, I also have a bit of a problem with purchasing new items to fuel these hobbies. The two biggest areas I consume for are painting and knitting. I love to use oil paints. And with oil paints comes easels and stretched canvas, turpentine and linseed oil, pallets and pallet knives and paintbrushes of many shapes and sizes. I also love knitting, especially with natural materials such as sheep or alpaca wool, cotton and bamboo knitting needles. I have a large bin fill of yarns to use and more knitting needles than seems reasonable. 

It really adds up quickly.

And I always find a way to justify the consumption. I like oil painting because the colours are vibrant and forgiving, and not made from plastic like acrylic. I like natural yarns because they’re natural and not made from plastic. And these are creative outlets! I make things! It’s good for my soul! I make things to wear or to gift! It’s not like having an enormous wardrobe, which only really benefits myself.

My pile of yarns and needles!

My pile of yarns and needles.

While I have been focusing this year on not consuming things like clothes and books, I’ve also stopped my consumption for these creative outlets. I think this has had a heavier toll on me. My husband, bless him, has bought me some new canvases, and I’ve experimented a bit more with using mixed media and alternative materials for my art, but mostly the non-consuming has just stopped me from creating. My father bought me some new yarn a few months ago and since I hadn’t been knitting much at all, it took me ages to get going again. Now that wedding season is upon us, I don’t have the usual gusto for making crocheted blankets, and not enough time to finish any now.

I’ve learned that I can live (more) happily with less clothing, that I find joy in borrowing and lending my books, that going plastic-free is fun and challenging. But perhaps there are things I “need” to buy that may not seem like needs to other people. In no way do I need oil paints and yarn, but I’ve been more stressed this last year than in previous years, and had I spent more time (and perhaps money) on creative things, I may have handled things better and may be in a better place now.

It is very difficult for me to balance my concerns for unnecessary consumption and my desire to do art. I’ve worried about it for years now. I know that art is not defined as a basic need, but do I limit my understanding of needs to that which keeps me alive and physically healthy while neglecting that which keeps me mentally and emotionally healthy? Are they not related? Is not emotional and mental well-being as important as physical? Can I shift that understanding without feeling like I’m “cheating”?

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Confessions by Half

Forgive me, readers, for I have shopped.

In what feels like a very short amount of time I will be attempting my first (and perhaps last) half marathon. I’m a bit unsure at this point as to why I decided to do this, but I’m signed up and ready(?) to go.

An interesting thing about running is that it requires very little gear. That is, in fact, one of the things I love the most about it. I’ve always been active, but the sports I’ve done require quite a bit of gear. Like swimming (you need a pool, first off) or rowing (boats aren’t small or cheap) or cycling (oh gosh, the gear). But running! You can just slip on a pair of shoes – or not, depending on where you live – and go! Glorious freedom.

Of course, when training for a long(ish) distance event in Manitoba, you have to start when the weather isn’t exactly outdoor-activity-friendly. This wasn’t a problem for me (gear wise – the searing cold was almost unbearable). I have tights and jackets and wool socks a-plenty. As it got colder in the winter, I realized I needed a pair of sweat pants so I made some! No problem!

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However, as the days got warmer and my distances became longer, I ran into a few problems. My feet ached and my physiotherapist recommended that I get a pair of more supportive shoes. So I did. On long runs my cheapo sports bra actually wore out the skin along my ribs (bit of an issue) so I bought a new one (or two…). My only tops for activities were cotton or cycling jerseys and I wanted a singlet. My husband wanted to buy me one, but I mostly picked it out so I’m pretty sure it’s cheating. I run to work and needed something to carry my ID, keys and phone, so my husband bought me a running belt.

My low-gear activity suddenly got a lot more gearful.

Ready to run.

Ready to run.

And now I will be running the half in almost exclusively new things.

I realize that I can justify the  shoes and the sports bras as “needs”, since the old items were causing pain and suffering. But then I ask myself where these “needs” are stemming from. They are stemming from a goal of mine that is certainly not a need. In no way do I need to run a half marathon. I’m running more than is necessary for my fitness, and maybe more than I should, considering all the pain I seem to be in. In fact, running like this is a privilege – it is time-consuming and expensive: race fees, gear, extra food, physiotherapy as well, in my case. Only those of us who can afford it, have the time and the good fortune of good health really get the opportunity.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had many conversations with people about privilege and what it means. Now it seems that I have broken my fast for things I do not really need so that I can participate in an event that is reserved primarily for those of us with enough privilege. So much for being and not buying.

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Ten Months

It’s been over ten months since I began my consumption sabbatical. Ten months of attempting to be and not to buy.

Looks like it's mending day. Again.

Looks like it’s mending day. Again.

My jeans have been patched, twice, and are wearing through the patches again. My tights are threadbare. My favourite shirt has sprouted a hole. I’ve gone through my wardrobe again and again, trying to get rid of things I don’t wear anymore. I’m finding myself experiencing a combination of contentment at not buying and the eagerness to do so again.

I feel freer from the pressures to have certain clothes and to keep up with constantly changing fashions. I want to buy sustainable, quality items rather than a fad only meant to last six weeks. I want a style that is me, rather than what the world wants me to be.

But at the same time, I want new bike shorts (see my last post about those here). I want books! (I have a heavy shopping cart on Amazon.ca). I want new, hole-less jeans. I want a spring jacket. I really want a new couch.

The last few weeks have been interesting. Within one week it was the end of Lent, Earth Day and the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse. All reminders of why I wanted to embark on this experiment, and why I want to change my habits and my lifestyle to better reflect my values and my understanding of my place in this world.

As I near the end of my consumption sabbatical, I need to remind myself of why I’m doing this in the first place. I need to constantly make personal decisions and changes that stay true to the world I want to live in. As I am concerned about human rights abuses, I need to remove my support form the exploitative aspects of consumer culture. As I am concerned about the climate, and how our damage to this world is causing suffering to the earth and to my fellow human beings, I need to reduce my own impact and footprint on the planet. As I am concerned about my own spiritual and emotional well-being, I need to break the addiction of consumption and find value and happiness within myself, rather than look for it from society.

Apparently they have everlasting flip-flops as well…

My office is, oddly enough, situated in a mall. And I am lucky enough to have mall-facing windows. I can look down from my little work space onto the storefront of Ardene, which I have realized is probably my antithesis. It is a store peddling cheap, disposable clothes that cater exclusively to a particular idea of beauty (and thereby make anyone who does not fit that image feel inadequate). The window display changes every few weeks, as well as the selection of items at the front of the store. One shirt actually has an infinity symbol on it, which is ironic enough for me. This last week, the slogan in the window says “more is better” (referring to cheap, foam flip-flops).

It is a constant reminder of the world I am trying to break away from, the world I want to help change. And that more is better: more understanding, more effort, more contemplation, more thankfulness, more contentment. We need more of this. I need more of this.

Breaking free is not an easy journey. But to me, it is a vital one.

So I’d better go re-patch those jeans.

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