This article is an excerpt from The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life.
A few months after I started my minimalism journey, a headline on my computer caught my attention: “Top 10 Colors Define a Season of Change.”
According to the article, “the Fall ’08 palette is best described as a season of change and is defined by rich, elegant hues that offer a vibrant selection. New York’s fashion designers emphasize cooler blues, greens and purples in the top five tones used in their collections, followed by variations of warm red, orange and yellow.”
I wondered, Who gets to decide what the must-have colors are going to be for fall 2008? I mean, is there a committee somewhere that makes these kinds of decisions? Does it just so happen that a large number of people are enthusiastically drawn to the same colors at the same time? Or is there something else happening here? Is this an orchestrated effort?
It occurred to me that, if I were running the fashion industry, it would be helpful for me to change the in-fashion colors and styles often. This way, people would have to buy new clothes to keep up with the trends, which would result in more money flowing into my industry. All parts of the supply chain would benefit: designers, manufacturers, retailers, and anyone else who makes a living off the selling of clothes.
This is just what’s happening. If the fashion industry wasn’t intentionally telling us that our old clothes were out of style, we’d probably stop buying their product. After all, we already have enough clothes in our closet to last quite some time.
The US apparel industry today is a $12 billion business, and the average American family spends $1,700 on clothes annually. On average, that’s 3.5 percent of a family’s expenses—arguably not much—but what’s more significant is whether that money is spent on need or waste. The answer, largely, is waste. Americans throw away 13 million tons of textiles each year, accounting for 9 percent of total nonrecycled waste.
It hasn’t always been like that. Our appetite for clothing is demonstrably growing. According to Forbes, “In 1930, the average American woman owned nine outfits. In 2015 that figure was 30 outfits—one for every day of the month.” The same trend is occurring in Britain, where in 2006 “women bought twice as many clothes as they had just ten years earlier.” The Daily Mail reports that the average woman in the United Kingdom has twenty-two items in her closet that she will never wear but refuses to throw out.
Among its other drawbacks, the practice of overbuying clothes is expensive. About half of US women have between $1,000 and $5,000 worth of clothing and shoes in their closets. The fashion magazine that reported these numbers also said, “A lucky 9 percent report having apparel and accessories that total over $10,000.” Lucky? Well, that’s one way to look at it. These same women also have over $10,000 less in their savings accounts.
Incredibly to me, one study revealed “women have fashion on the brain 91 times in a given day—that’s more than four times the amount that men think about sex.”
I don’t mean to pick on women. Men make too much of fashion and hang on to too many clothes as well. (I should know, because when I became a minimalist, I got rid of an embarrassing number of my own items of clothing.) Ties dating back to the previous decade, if not century. Dress clothes that we might wear if we have the right sort of business meeting. Shoes for more occasions than we’ll ever actually encounter. Men can be clothes hoarders just as much as women.
So I have to ask:
“Is all this clothes buying and storing benefiting our lives in any way?”
In his well-known book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz argued that it is not. He said, “Freedom and autonomy are critical to our well-being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has had before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.”
His argument, stated throughout the book and reproduced in studies, is that more choice does not mean better living.
As choice increases, so does paralysis of decision. Ever stare into a full closet of clothes and still have no idea what to wear? As options increase, so does the sense of bewilderment and frustration. Additionally, an abundance of choice often results in less satisfaction and sometimes poorer decisions.
It would seem from everything we’ve been told that more clothes hanging in our closets would lead to a happier life. But psychologically and scientifically, that is simply not the case. In fact, often, more choice leads to less happiness—the paradox of choice. Not to mention the unending frustration of having to keep up with ever-changing trends.
Maybe getting our money makes the leaders of the fashion industry happy. But buying excessive quantities of their products isn’t doing the same for us.
This article is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of The Minimalist Home.
Personally, I like being in fashion and having name brands but hate the price tag. You can clearance shop, thredup, goodwill etc. I got 100 handbag at goodwill for 6 and 100 dollar clarks shoes for 12 at goodwill both brand new. name brand shirts, jeans etc. I have gotten my son nike running pants, under armour etc there as well look brand new. You CAN like fashion and the environment just have to put a bit more work into it. (p.s. my tshirts for work I get on sale for a dolllar, wear them until they are dead and then they become pajamas until they are holey and falling apart
My kids- I am 69- give me things that don’t fit or they don’t like. I have some nice new shirts from the thrift shop or a rummage sale. I get all my jewelry second hand. I wear the same colors and styles every year. My husband gets a new sport coat every 4 or 5 years in a classic style. Navy blue, gray, Harris tweed are always good. I have two pairs of dressy slacks, 3 pairs of jeans and one pair of light weight summer slacks. I have 3 dressy cardigans. I never wear pastels. I feel sorry for people who follow celebrities and trends. They could save their money and retire early. We did.
There was a time when I followed fashions. I wish I still had all the money I spent on that. For several years now I have been a Quaker by convincement, and I now keep and wear my clothes until they are threadbare, and beyond threadbare, before deciding to discard them or replace them. Colors only have to look good on me, and my best colors do not change from year to year. It is very calming to have fewer clothes in my closet, and to have a somewhat narrow palette. It also helps to sort of make peace with the mirror (and the scale) and just resolve to stay about the same size so that new clothes are not often required.
Courtnee White says
I have thought so many of the same things that your quoted in this excerpt from your book. I am encouraged to see that the research supports that “MORE CHOICE” does not lead to more happiness and freedom because that it exactly how I feel. Now the greatest challenge is SWIM AGAINST THE TIDE and actually LIVE FREE from all the pressure to fit in and go with the flow. #fightingforfreedom
What is the proper way to dispose of worn out clothing?
If it is a natural material (cotton, linnen) it can be shredded and added to your compost (that’s what I do). Or made into cleaning rags.
For polyester/ lycra etc I don’t know either. Maybe someone else has any ideas?
I don’t know where you are located but some cities/towns have organizations that will take clothing in any condition. They will donate what can still be worn and recycle the rest. There are also online resources that accept such items.
In my city, some retailers like North Face and H&M will take clothing and shoes for recycling. Nike will take athletic shoes for recycling into athletic court material. Madewell will take jeans for recycling into housing insulation. I’ve read some controversial things about whether H&M is actually recycling their clothes. So I mostly take mine to the North Face and Nike.
I worked for a color forecaster many years ago and, ironically, she never followed the trends. Her wardrobe choices inspired mine. Like her I stick to classic styles and only the colors that look good on me, (cool tones.) All of my pants, skirts, shoes, and bags are black so they match any top which means I can put together more varied outfits with fewer pieces. My jewelry is simple and almost every piece can go with any outfit. I try to buy the best quality I can afford and take good care of my wardrobe so it lasts as long as possible. Another important thing she taught me was proper fit. It’s worth finding a good tailor to make a key piece look as if it’s custom made for your body.
Excellent article. I have been shopping my closet for years. When I do purchase something I pass on my clothing to family members and they love their “Jill me downs”. I’m not a label person, I dress for comfort. I love minimalist wardrobes and usually just purchase something that I need to replace from my closet that no longer fits, or feels comfortable. I recycle everything, except under ware! But accessories, shoes, purses, etc. all go to a good cause. At 70, there isn’t a lot that I need, or want, or have to have…..I’ve started long ago to clear the clutter and my life is so much easier. I’ve friends who hoard, and OMG, their lives are a total mess…..I’ve given them articles and such on the subject, but now I let them be, and hopefully they will find a way to pair down their STUFF and start really living…..Love your info and always enjoy reading and hearing what you have to share.
Pak Meng Cham says
One can extend the question to “The hottest toys for Christmas”, “The hottest Electronics for Christmas”, the list goes on and on.
I used to wonder how do the toy manufacturers know what toy will be the hottest for Christmas before the holiday season even started. How would they know what toys to order from their suppliers from overseas? They don’t know. They placed their orders with their best bet and then make their marketing campaign around it.
I strongly recommend trying Project 333. It changed the way I dress and buy clothes.
Thank you, thank you, thank you Ola! For months now I’ve been looking for guidance in creating a capsule wardrobe, and this seems to be just what I need.
Thank you Joshua for this timely post. All week I’ve been lamenting over my closet. You are so right about “paralysis of decision”. Have you seen how many choices of yogurt there are in the grocery store?!?
Have you done a post on food and/or eating that I’ve missed? As we’ve minimized, we took an inventory of what we were eating and decided we could do with less. My husband and I have both lost about 30 pounds. (Hence some of my closet frustration.) Is that pretty common when you begin minimizing…..that it carries over to other areas of life?
One more thing…..You confirmed what I’ve thought for some time about committees choosing a color palette for the year. Have you ever noticed that every store seems to have the same colors? I believe it happens in the home decor and car industries as well.