A year of nothing new? by Stephanie Wescott

Image by freestocks.org on Unsplash

If an object you now control is bound up in your future plans or in your anticipation of your future self, and it is partly these plans for your own continuity that make you a person, then your ‘personhood’ depends on the realisation of these expectations.

—Margaret Radin, Reinterpreting Property.

 My first part-time job was at my local Target. My hourly rate was somewhere between $10-15 per hour, which at the time was a gleaming, shiny sum—untold freedom was promised in those numbers. 

I received my first pay, around $130, a small fortune for an almost 14-year-old in 2004. I spent it all immediately, not a thought to scrupulous saving, some away for a rainy day, on a two-piece One Teaspoon top. The top half, striped and long-sleeved with nifty thumb holes, and a long black singlet underneath. A strange thought, now, a 14-year-old spending their entire first payslip on an indie designer brand from a local boutique.

 The proceeding years were spent in a feverish obsession with clothing. I felt a need to be surrounded by them, having them on show in my room hanging in loud extroversion on a feature rack, a new thing for this and for that, never the same twice. And never second-hand, except for when making old, colourful skirts dresses belted below the bust was the go.

 Mounds of debt and gluttonous consumption later, and a 25-year-old me feels the stirrings of change. A few years responding to the need to be unburdened by the mountainous collections of things, and I’m left with a tidy, minimalist collection of function. Abiding by a range of minimalist mantras, quality over quantity, repairing if it breaks, and investing in function, I am smugly clutter-less, but still feel the lure of new and unneeded bits and pieces often. Remember this thing you looked at briefly? The Iconic’s gentle nudges show me again the linen black shirt I was finding ways to convince myself I needed. Occasionally I slip, and a new thing is found hanging up, vindicated. 

 2019/20 and the manifestations of the climate crisis play on my conscience in a way that makes me look to my consumption with a sharp eye. While I know and accept the argument about the futility of a focus on lifestyle, and how this swings our focus from the most potent culprits, but a once-over of our own life could surely add up if we all do it. And, as my research tells me, it is surely worth looking at our relationship to fast fashion, with textile production being one of the most polluting industries, producing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, more than international flights[1].  

 We live in a culture defined by its consumption. It is as if because we can, we think we ought to, and for many, to consume is to apply a salve to the empty spaces in our lives. Consumption is pursued as an antidote to our shared trauma, the assault of the pace of our lives, the violence and horrors of urgent and unrelenting existential threats. Resisting the compulsion takes, first of all, a contemplation of what an alternative model might look like, and a reframing of how our resources, time, money, energy, might be invested elsewhere. 

Much of consumption culture runs on a story of self-loathing. To pursue betterment is an eternal preoccupation, because there will always be something newer promising more. If we reject the premise of marketing culture, that you always need more, because you need to be more, we can begin to accept the idea of making do. Perhaps inner contentment can be attained. Perhaps we can accept ourselves as whole and complete without another addition to a particular collection.

And so, a resolution, although the concept sits uneasily, but a promise to the world over a promise to the self seems the right kind of thing to do for now. I asked myself in the early days of this year if I could go the full 12 without buying anything new; clothes, shoes, or this and that. Some exceptions for my household (an upgrade, which is quite bare in its blooming size) and for toiletries (although for these I pledge no waste and no single use). 

This pledge has made me consider accountability, and to whom I might be held to account. Of course there is the self, but then, how easy it is to forgive! Of course I could be accountable to friends, but even then, finding creative ways to justify our vices is a shared sport. And so, perhaps I will check back in here every now and then. A few photos of slip-ups if there are any (there will be). 

[1] A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017).