I learned something about myself this week. For a long time I have prided myself (and I use the word “pride” intentionally) on the fact that I’m not a “stuff person.” I don’t like clutter. I didn’t keep every art project my kid brought home from school. I clean out my crawl space and shed every year. We go through my son’s wardrobe and his room twice a year. I’m just not about the stuff. But lately I’ve been feeling like my wardrobe was getting a little full, and I decided to do a full clean out.
I literally removed every stitch of clothing and every accessory from my closet, storage bins, and dresser. I washed every piece of laundry, too, so I knew exactly what I was dealing with. As I pulled each item out of its home, I considered if I really wanted it. Does it fit my body? Does it fit my lifestyle? Do I wear it? It was astounding. I filled a huge Amazon Prime Pantry box with rejected clothing and accessories, and my bed was still covered! Hoodies, cardigans, leggings – up and up the piles grew. I had no idea it was that bad.
I came to a realization: I have wardrobe bulimia. I binge shop and then purge, over and over. Stores worth of clothing pass through my hands, and it’s rare that I keep anything long enough to wear it out. I’m a stuff person after all, not a stuff keeper, but definitely a stuff waster. I’m embarrassed and ashamed of my wastefulness. I’ve been so proud of myself when there was nothing to be proud of!
For a while now I have been learning about the importance of fair trade manufacturing, and have been working toward a fair wardrobe based on minimal purchasing, certified fair trade choices, and secondhand shopping. This purge and inventory taking was part of that process. You have to know what you have in order to make good decisions about future purchases! Ironically (though no coincidence to God, I’m sure…), my purge landed on the same day that I read James 5 as part of my time in the word.
James 5:1-6: Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
My piles of clothing testify against me; I live in luxury and self-indulgence. And I know that the farmers and workers who created my piles of clothing cry out because of oppression and failed wages. And the Lord hears their cries!
On one level, I feel bad that I have been an active and willing participant in this broken system. But I don’t blame myself for the things I didn’t know. And I’m not blaming you either. Until a few years ago, no one talked about international labor practices. We learned about workplace disasters like the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire (New York City, 1911) as history, and celebrated that American labor laws were fixed last century. Meanwhile, we went on wearing cheap t-shirts and tennis shoes made by children in other countries who were paid pennies to work in dangerous factories where they face abuse every day and don’t have an opportunity for a basic education. We didn’t know. In fact, most of us thought we were being responsible if we bought the cheapest clothes possible!
But now that I know better, I feel responsible to repent for the lives that were hurt for my “stuff” and to do better. In fact, my first instinct was to start replacing the things I own with fair trade replacements. But that’s not the answer! It just adds to the waste, filling our landfills and my credit card balance! Fair trade is expensive; it has to be if everyone along the way is getting a fair wage for their work. The real answer is to use up what I have, that damage is already done.
But if this purge taught me anything, it’s that I do not need more stuff. I probably have something that will fill whatever need I have: from work wear I can paint in to a formal gown – including jewelry, handbags, AND shoes, I have at least one thing in my wardrobe to meet any need possible. I don’t usually shop from need; I shop from boredom, and I’ll bet a lot of you do too.
If I shop from need and not from boredom, I can afford fair trade.
The world can’t afford anything less.