"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."
Somewhere between these two is where most frugalistas (and frugalistos) live. But it is easy to see how frugal living can tip the scale and send you right into accumulating too many things you will never use again.
For me, it was my clothes closet. I love getting new clothes, something that hasn't changed just because I want to live sustainably. However, a quick look at my closet this summer showed that I had gotten rid of very little since the early 1990s. Clothing was shoved, stacked, and stored in there: everything from current favorites to out-of-fashion but expensive pieces to cheapies that had seen better days. It was time to take action.
I was helped by two powerful forces. First is the recent proliferation of television shows about hoarding; after watching about two-thirds of an episode about these poor folks with disorders that resulted in the inability to throw things away, I invariably need to clean something out. More than one episode of such a show has ended with me holding a full trash bag.
The second, more powerful force is my wonderful Mom. She encouraged me to get rid of anything in my closet that I don't love and that doesn't make me feel good when I'm wearing it. No matter how expensive or how un-used (or, conversely, how loved-to-death), if it no longer works, it goes. When I needed a push forward, she would look at a piece of clothing with wide shoulder pads or an androgynous shape and parrot a commercial from a few years back: "So, where did you park your DeLorean?" No one wants to look like they are tooling around town with Marty McFly, so out the offending garment went.
This doesn't mean everything hit the trash. I tried to clean in a sustainable way, including:
- Items that were too worn to use became rags or quilt squares or hankies, as the fabric dictated. I tried to limit this category so I wasn't just moving stuff from my closet to another pile.
- Items that were still good but just didn't look good on me went to Goodwill. For example, I don't know how many mock turtlenecks I had to buy to learn the lesson that these shirts make me look like I have mono-bosom. Yuck.
- Items that no longer work but are more valuable as a garment than a rag also went to Goodwill. For example, wool jackets of a questionable cut were sent in the hopes that maybe they would be sold at deep discount to someone who needed the warmth more than the latest style. However, I didn't send anything obviously dated that was also super-cheap, like a cotton blouse with shoulder pads.
Is organization like this frugal and sustainable? I think so. Since the organization, I have been better able to find my favorite items, and I treat them better. Now that clothes have room to breathe, I am less likely to pull something out of the closet only to find that it needs ironed before wearing. I have also better been able to resist buying a new item because I didn't remember that I had one similar tucked away on the shelf.
The organization has also carried over into my shopping. Now, when I shop, I ask myself if I really love something, if it will look good on me, if it will make me feel good about myself. If it is just OK or a "like not love," I put it back on the rack. Someone else who loves the item can give it a home and "use it up, wear it out." I will do likewise with my favorites before I shop for new ones. I think that's sustainable.