20 Apr 2020
Garb, Not Garbage: Why Minimising Your Wardrobe is Not Always the Most Sustainable Choice
By getting rid of your old clothes, you’re doing the environment more damage than good.

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I would like to talk about the importance of using your wardrobe well instead of minimizing it in pursuit of sustainability.

Sustainable Wardrobe
Image Source: Instagram/thebaksaproject

If you are reading this, I would assume that you dedicate a reasonable amount of your day’s time to the internet, and must be well-conversant with what is ubiquitous in pop culture.

And, if that assumption holds true, off late, you’ve quite certainly come across a post (or many) by someone you know, KonMari-ing their way to a clutter-free wardrobe and home.

Ever since the release of the Netflix documentary, ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’, there’s been a surge in people’s urge to purge (erm sorry, but the rhyme was just too tempting).

Every other person seems to be on a mission to shake-up their home with the objective of identifying the things that “spark joy” and breaking ties with the rest.

Full disclaimer: I have neither read Kondo’s book nor watched her documentary. I have, however, read several articles, think pieces and critiques that followed the KonMari mania to grasp the gist of her mantra and deduce that it only focusses on giving individuals a temporary sense of accomplishment and high, while completely disregarding what happens after.

“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle”, writes Kondo. This statement, no matter how well-intentioned, reeks of indifference and mindlessness, and gives more power to the same disposability culture that drives people to shop for things they don’t necessarily need, just because they’re cheap (and dispensable).

Also, where does all this “discarded” stuff finally end up? If not in the hands of someone needy, it most likely ends up clogging landfills. Nope. The environment already has a lot of baggage to take on another “30 bags” of stuff you’ve suddenly realized doesn’t spark joy in your life anymore.

In the midst of this ongoing conversation about the wonders of minimal living that the likes of Marie Kondo have spurred, there also seems to be a growing idea of how living with fewer means living sustainably.

The concept of ‘Capsule Wardrobes’ that many sustainable fashion advocates swear by is also a product of this ideology. While I absolutely agree that it is important to circulate and re-wear the clothes you have, as much as possible, what I don’t quite agree with is that, to do so, you have to “reduce your closet”.

When you decide to let your wardrobe comprise of only 20 pieces, you also have the responsibility to think about what to do with the rest of the clothes you own that didn’t make the cut as your capsule wardrobe staples.

Proponents of the capsule and minimalist wardrobes may argue that they don’t let their unwanted clothes go to trash; they donate them, and, thereby, help people in need. According to an article by Scienceline, contrary to popular belief, donated clothes very rarely end up benefitting people within the community, especially in Western nations.

I have personally also begun to feel slightly conflicted about the idea of donating old clothes. I lost my grandfather last year, and, after he passed, we reasonably decided to donate all his clothes to an old-age home a family friend told us about.

On reaching the old age home, we were informed by the neighbors that institution had moved to a new address.

On seeing the huge bags of clothes in our hands, they politely advised us against donating clothes to them since they had often seen them burn the clothes that they were given because they already had so much.

I suspect this to be a practice many such institutions follow for the same reason — supply is greater than the demand.

So then, what is the best way to deal with the clothes one doesn’t need anymore? Here are some tips:

  1. Hand down

Often when you donate your old clothes, you don’t really know where or how they’re eventually going to end up. It is always better to personally give them to someone you know will use and care for them.

Image Source: Instagram/thebaksaproject

Alternatively, reach out to institutions that are trustworthy and transparent about how they handle donations. Goonj is a highly credible NGO you can approach for donations. They have collection centers all across India. Clothes Box Foundation uses social media to connect the donor of the clothes with the recipient. This way, you exactly know who your old clothes are benefitting from.

2. Use them as DIY supplies

Old clothes can make excellent raw materials for a variety of DIY projects. T-shirt rugs, memory quilts, cushion covers, the possibilities of what you can create using your worn-out clothes are endless.

3. Swap or sell

I have written about swapping and selling old clothes in some of my previous posts. I truly do think it is one of the most effective (and rewarding) ways you can extend the lifespan of your clothes.

Keep an eye out for local clothing swap events or organize on among your circle of friends.

Regardless of whether you identify as a minimalist or maximalist, what’s important to understand is that sustainability is about how well you use what you already own.

It’s not just about buying less, but also about wasting less. So no, Ms. Marie Kondo, I disagree when you say that my shirt has reached the end of its life just because its button fell off.

Watch me care, repair, and re-wear!

(On 50 years of Earth Day – join us in making India’s largest climate action manifesto #FiftyForFifty. Connect with us and tell what action are you taking for climate action?)

(Karishma is the creator of The Baksa Project: an online space that’s a potpourri of upcycling projects and stories about nostalgic and conscious personal style. The fashion industry has a bad rap for being superficial, and that is primarily because people have a very limiting view of what it entails. There’s much more to it than the seasonal trends glossies spell out for you. Karishma hopes to bring to light some of that through her project. Contact her on Instagram: The Baksa Project. Website: thebaksaproject.in)

Related Written Stories