Over four years of pursuing less, I’ve donated hundreds of books, bags and bags of clothing to the charity shop and recycled mountains of stuff. Have I mentioned my skips as well? I probably should have mentioned the skips. Skips, I’ve had a few. Literally, I’ve filled three. There are brilliant skip hire places that then sort and recycle your stuff, and I used one of those. Do some research, and they are out there. It saves things that are hard to recycle domestically from going into landfill. Anyway, I’m now at the point where I’ve still got a few boxes of clothes to sort through and one large suitcase that I’m filling with things to donate. I’ll come onto books another day …
Those last few boxes of things aside, I’m also in the middle of an eBay run with one box of clothes that I’ve already sorted out and are ready to go. I’ve sold a rail full already this year. Now I’m running out of enthusiasm but am also hating my living room looking like a badly organised car boot sale …
When I sell things, they go out the same or the next day and I’m pretty efficient about it. But earlier this year there was a perfect storm. Literally. I got snowed in for four days, I turned off the notifications on my ‘phone (by accident), and then an item sold that I hadn’t expected to have The Reaction to. It wasn’t even an item I considered sentimental. But as I was snowed in anyway, it seemed to me that I had the time to reflect on it. It was four days as well, remember. Now that I’m trying to make more mindful purchases (although January didn’t really work out very well and I’ll write about that next) if I buy something it can take as much as six to eight weeks to arrive. Personally that feels really good – I’ve had to decide I want it enough to wait for it. So four days didn’t feel like a big deal for the eBayer to wait.
So full disclosure, this eBayer was pissed off. I totally respect that, they were excited about their purchase and they wanted it right away. I explained I was snowed in and there’d been a technical glitch. They were still seriously pissed off, and “disappointed.” I offered reparations, and all was resolved. This isn’t about them or whether it’s reasonable they were annoyed – I get it and respect it, I was also snowed in and couldn’t have got to the post office and hadn’t known I was supposed to. None of that matters; I get that it’s annoying.
It did, however, really get me thinking. Are eBay and the pursuit of minimalism mutually exclusive? It’s great to get rid of things, and selling them back into the system is the epitome of the circular system, right? But aren’t we also then promoting a buy cheap, buy quick, want it now, get it now mentality. To reiterate, I’m not criticising this person for being annoyed. But I was seriously struck by how intense the disappointment was that the purchase hadn’t arrived within a day of payment being sent, and that the item was no longer wanted after four days. Ultimately doesn’t it mean that this thing that had been bought with great enthusiasm would have simply sat in someone else’s home, a thing to be given space but ultimately a reminder of another pointless purchase? Given how I now feel about shopping, and stuff, am I not simply promulgating the same mentality I’m trying to move away from, and by fostering it to serve my needs (getting rid of stuff), aren’t I being a hypocrite? Have to say that feels like a horrible question to pose myself, which probably means that it’s the right question.
A few months ago I watched The True Cost like all good aspiring mindful citizens of the world – don’t we all want to be super mindful, mindful 100% of the time? It’s awkward and frankly embarrassing to be confronted with the reality of the privilege that this position of choice is imbued with. Not least because I know I’ve certainly made the other choice. It’s a confronting and compelling piece of documentary and essential viewing just in terms of wanting to be a good citizen. Also for realising that, you know, there’s a LOT it’s easy to turn a blind eye to and accepting that the blind eye doesn’t mitigate the impact of my choices is not a pleasant reality to accept.
One of the things that really leapt out at me was how many women are forced to leave their families to work in jobs that are hard, poorly paid with minimal job security, but that ensure the flow of fast fashion is maintained. It struck me that while I denounce Trump and his government for the separation of families, there is a spectrum and I am on it, by buying clothes that are also creating a dynamic of separation. And aren’t I occupying a particular type of privilege that I can choose to acknowledge that or not?
I’ve been reading the discussions in the slow fashion and knitting communities over the last few weeks and months. None of these issues are new, and they’re not new to me. They are however increasingly urgent because while it’s never been ok to claim that clothes and fashion (or craft and art) are apolitical or are “just for fun” it is increasingly essential that people recognise these things are absolutely political and crucial we engage with these things at that level. Clothing is all too often written off as frivolous, primarily, I believe, because clothing retail marketing is predominantly directed at women, and women are still often portrayed as innately slightly frivolous and, let’s face it, eradicable. This article says it far more cogently. Textiles and their production have been at the heart of how, as a species, we have identified ourselves since we first got up on two feet. New technologies often depend on the development of groundbreaking textile design to progress to market: textile heart valve prosthetics anyone? Hardly frivolous.
This post wasn’t supposed to be about the cultural politics of textiles, but the idea that we can continue to ignore their participation in social injustice is as abhorrent as the fact that social injustice continues to worsen every day, that the gap between how we could live as a society and how we do live seem to be creating greater numbers of ways that people can fall through the gaps. The reality is that clothes and textiles have never not been political. From the use of Opus Anglicanum to demonstrate royal economic might overseas, to wearing purple to show one’s wealth, or forcing the production and exportation of indigo and the “Paisley” pattern as a way of reinforcing empire, the removal of women from the Academy through the redefinition of paper arts as crafts, and the sexualisation of plants that took women out of the garden and back to their needles, to the way that hair has been used as a cultural identifier and means of social control and dominance through the ages and across culture. Textiles are never neutral and our relationship to them shouldn’t be either.
How this ties to eBay and my relationship with selling on clothes and perpetuating the “want it cheap, want it now” culture, I don’t know. I do know that textiles mean and communicate something, something important and we must start engaging with that conversation and by engaging, not just talking but really listening because we are in real danger of only hearing our own stories over again and missing some important lessons along the way. Again.
What I’m reading this month: