Ethical consumption in a materialistic world

This summer, I had the opportunity to go to sleepaway camp for seven—yes, seven!— weeks. I packed my life into two black duffel bags and set out for Oconomowoc, Wis.. While I was packing, I had to choose which of my beloved clothes to bring with me. I ended up bringing most of my wardrobe, but I wondered if it would be enough. Spoiler alert: it certainly was enough. 

The two months I spent there were formative in the ways that one would expect, but there were also unexpected life lessons. The main one: I don’t need more clothing.

The only thing that could possibly rival my intense eco-anxiety was my love of fashion. I wasn’t worried about staying on-trend. I saw fashion as a way to express myself. To some extent, I still do. I often shopped in ways that were as sustainable as possible. I thrifted lots of my clothing, which was how I justified the continual growth of my wardrobe.

In the midst of our eco-crisis, I listened to many conversations about how to make consumption more ethical. This meant gentrifying thrift stores, buying incredibly expensive sustainable clothing or shopping on Poshmark and Depop. And while these options are better than fast fashion, they all have sizable disadvantages. More importantly, these solutions are all predicated on the idea that we must continue to consume as rapidly as we have in the past.

The most ethical way to consume is to do less of it. 

On the way home from camp, I realized that I didn’t need any more clothing. I lived with a finite number of clothing for seven weeks and nothing terrible happened. 

However, everything was different at home. I got back on social media, and I was once again bombarded with the desire to buy. I was reintroduced to the fashion accounts that I followed on Instagram. I felt the pressure to not repeat my outfits, something that I had heard a lot of fashion influencers talk about. They felt that when an article of clothing had been worn once, it could never again be featured on their Instagram. 

Luckily, I am not an influencer. After not shopping for almost two months, I learned that nobody is particularly invested in what I choose to wear on any given day. I don’t have millions of followers watching me, waiting for me to set the trends. Although a lot of people may wish they had the fame of celebrities, I feel grateful for the lack of pressure. I can wear the same hoodie every day, and people will not care. 

That brings me to my current plan. I am trying to truly test the limits of how little my clothing matters. Since I have gotten home from camp, I have been on a mission to stop shopping. It’s a process, as is any radical change. However, I’m enjoying myself. I’ve been unfollowing fashion influencers, trying to generally spend less time on social media and avoid going to the mall. When the time comes for a clothing upgrade, I will try to invest in high-quality pieces that will last a lifetime (or close to it).

Changing my mindset has been a challenge, and I am nowhere near done. I am already feeling accomplished. Every time I resist the urge to buy, I realize that the earth is thanking me (and my bank account, too).