Tips For Developing A More Sustainable Relationship With Clothes

For a few years now, I’ve been working to majorly shift my relationship with clothing. You may have seen me post about this some on Instagram, or talk about it on this episode of my podcast (oh, and this one, too!).

Why the big focus on changing my clothing habits? Here are three main reasons:

  1. The clothing production industry is an incredibly problematic one, both from a sustainability standpoint and a human rights standpoint. The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter, second only to the oil industry, and it’s incredibly common for the people who make clothes to be grossly underpaid and to work in dangerous conditions. (Why do you think tank tops can be sold for $4? There’s no way a company makes a profit on that unless the people making those pieces are paid horribly.)
  2. Sustainability also comes into play when we get RID of clothes. Because we buy 400% more clothing than just a decade ago, there’s an extreme amount of clothing waste that’s only increasing. Even when you try to dispose of your clothing responsibly, such as through donation, only a fraction of it will end up being reused. It’s more likely it will end up in a landfill, contributing to the pollution issues our world is experiencing at an alarming rate.
  3. I’ve seen first hand the benefits of pushing against this culture that tells us to CONSTANTLY buy clothes. When I started being more mindful about how and when and why I was shopping, and when I pared down my closet so there are fewer things in it, I started feeling so much BETTER. I feel lighter, happier, I experience less guilt around buying clothes, AND I get to model this lifestyle for my children — something I feel very strongly about doing.

The thing is, I think clothes (shopping for clothes, wearing clothes to express your personality, etc.) are FUN, and I want them to stay fun! I most definitely still buy new items. This is not about making clothes buying a bad or shameful thing. I just realized that I needed to bring a lot more intention to the way I was engaging with clothing so my clothing habits could align more closely with my values (the ones I mentioned above).

The best thing I can do to help address all three things I listed above? BUY FEWER CLOTHES.

And yet…if you’re anything like I was, that’s easier said than done.

I knew I would need some guidance, and I also knew I’d need to practice looking at clothing a whole lot differently. This was going to take time. It did take time — I didn’t rush myself — but I’m proud to say my relationship with clothing looks SO different than it did just three years ago.

If you’re on this journey, too, or if you feel ready to embark on it, I thought I’d share a few tips to help you along the way. (Some of these may resonate with you, and others may not. Take what’s helpful and leave the rest behind!):

Out of sight, out of mind.

This has probably been the most beneficial action for me, personally. I took a critical look at what was coming into my email inbox and what accounts I was following on Instagram. I opted to unsubscribe from virtually all emails from clothing brands, and I stopped following a LOT of IG accounts that feature clothes (and links to buy said clothes) allllll the time.

As a result, I’m not seeing clothing-related content nearly as often, which means I don’t miss it OR feel like I have to exercise self control to avoid buying it. And when I do want to make clothing purchases, I feel more in the driver’s seat instead of influenced by an abundance of emails and social media posts.

Find your wardrobe gaps.

Many of us have a tendency to shop for the same items again and again without fully realizing it…which results in a closet full of, say, striped shirts but no black heels to wear to formal events! Spend some time in your closet and notice what you already have versus what’s missing. Then, add those wardrobe gaps to a note on your phone. When you shop, prioritize looking for those pieces so you are thoughtfully rounding out your closet!

(Plus, shopping is more fun when you are looking for a piece you truly need!)

Buy secondhand when you can.

Yes, secondhand shopping sometimes takes more time than buying things new, but consider giving it a go to see how it could fit into your life. You can explore local thrift stores, but you can also shop secondhand online! While it can be more time consuming, it can also result in some majorly good finds AND save you lots of money in the process.

Give clothing rental a try.

I’m SUCH a fan of this — especially for any events you have! Think about it: Instead of filling your closet with items you may only ever wear once or twice, you can enjoy a few pieces for a few weeks and then pass them along for someone else to enjoy!

I rent through Nuuly because I love their range of offerings — they have everyday items, super formal pieces, and everything in between!

Choose sustainable + ethical brands when you can.

This takes more research and can be more expensive (that’s because they’re actually paying the people who make their clothes fairly!), but if you are buying fewer things overall it should work budget-wise.

Good On You is a helpful resource when trying to find brands that are sustainable and ethical!

Consider the Rule of Three

Before you buy anything (or before you take an item’s tag off), ask yourself:

“Does this work with at least three things I already have in my closet?”

If the answer is yes, you’re likely to get so much more wear out of it than if the answer is no!

Ask yourself whether this is actually a bargain

It’s easy to buy something on sale because we think we’re getting a deal…but remember this:

“50% off is still 50% on.”

Plus, if you never or rarely wear the item, it’s certainly not an actual deal!

Ideally, you want to wear everything you own at least 30 times during its lifetime. Start to do that math — that’s wearing something every other week for a year, for example — and it helps you say no to things!

Get clear on your personal style

House of Colour (both the color and style analysis) helped me with this, but even without House of Colour you can think about words you’d use to describe your style and think about clothes that make you feel most like “you” when you wear them.

Call those things to mind when you’re shopping. This helps to avoid that thing that’s SO easy to do — when you buy something you love on someone ELSE, but then never wear it because it doesn’t align with YOUR style/what looks best on you.

Swap out clothing for the current season before shopping for new things for that season.

It can be so tempting to want to shop for summer clothes in February, but if you’re like me that means you’ll end up with ANOTHER cute black romper.

Instead, swap out your clothes and take inventory first. Then make a list of any wardrobe gaps and let THOSE drive your purchases.

Map out your current clothing needs based on activity

Many of my clothing purchases are workout clothes because I LIVE in them. I need virtually no “work” clothes and not all that many casual outfits, really. Then I wear dresses, usually, to church, so those make up a small portion of my weekly wardrobe needs.

Your ratio may look very different, but knowing what it is helps you end up with the clothes you actually need and will wear often!

Embrace the baby steps

This is NOT about being perfect. (There’s no such thing anyway!) But if more of us take baby steps, they start to add up.

Just bringing more thought to how and where and why you shop for clothes is an amazing starting point.

And like I said, there is SO much value, I’ve found, in going against this “BUY!” and “MORE!” and “NEW!” culture we live in and leaning, instead, into LESS.

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