Last week I read about 2 exercises, dubbed “shopping diets” that are currently taking place. In the first, called Six Items or Less – a global experiment examining the power of what we don’t wear, participants pledge to wear 6 items of clothing or less for one month (not including swimwear, underwear, outer jackets or coats, workout wear, shoes or accessories). The sister challenge, called The Great American Apparel Diet, is more strict. Participants pledge to forgo buying apparel for one year. That includes regular clothing items plus outerwear, athletic-wear and Halloween costumes. Underwear, shoes or accessories are exempt.
The founders of both challenges have been vague about the purpose. Most people assume that it has to do with consumerism. For me, that’s what struck a chord. Do we really need more than a handful of items to wear? Concern for the environment (especially with the increase of cheap clothing worldwide), the cost, and the time wasted by shopping and in choosing what to wear every day were all motivations, too.
I was immediately intrigued when I read about these 2 experiments. I love clothes and I love buying clothes. And, I know that I own more clothes than I need. The clutter in my closet contributes to my mental clutter. The amount of clothes I own given my environmental commitment is more than a little ironic. Some might say that I don’t practice what I preach.
I began to toy with the idea of 6 Items or Less and decided to take a small step by packing only 6 items for a weekend at the lake. This would be a perfect opportunity to try out the concept. A weekend at the lake doesn’t require much for clothes. I wouldn’t have to dress up. I wouldn’t need anything fancy. I would just need clothes to keep me covered and warm. So, I began to pack. I was surprised at what a challenge it was. It doesn’t take long and you’ve got 6 items. At first I didn’t realize that workout clothes were exempt from the count but I quickly determined that I couldn’t count them or I’d never keep it under 6 items. I packed and I purged; packed and purged. In the end, counting my pajamas (2 pieces) I had 8 items. And I have to admit that getting it down to 8 was stressful. It meant leaving behind things that I really wanted to bring along in case I might want to wear them. If I’d had access to a washing machine I could have done it. But I still would have felt restricted.
The whole process proved interesting. Do I think I could survive a month? Maybe but I might be pulling my hair out. I do know that at the very least it would be awfully uncomfortable. Will I try it for an entire month? I still might. But even if I don’t, I’ve started to put more thought into the lavish wardrobes that many of us have stuffed into our closets. The impact of the clothing industry on the environment is great. Many items are made from cotton which uses large amounts of water and pesticides. Other clothing is made from polyester and other manmade products which come from petroleum. Petroleum is made from large amounts of crude oil. The waste products from clothing factories are full of toxins. And the production of clothing requires large amounts of energy. Then there are the poor working conditions in the factories. For the most part, the clothing industry is not a sustainable one.
For those who are daring enough to jump in and pledge to wear 6 items or less for a month or to take an even bigger step by refraining from buying clothing you have my admiration. I, myself, am not quite there yet. I know that it would be good for me and good for the environment. I just have to convince myself that I can do it.
Kristin Eggerling is a board member for Conservation Minnesota Voter Center, the mother of two, and a freelance writer in northwestern Minnesota.