I love this time of year. It's not just because Christmas is an important holiday in the Christian calendar, but also because it never fails to give me pause for reflection and think about ideas for the coming twelve months. I know that not everyone gets into goal setting and resolutions, but I have learned - after trying to go without setting intentions - that it makes me pretty miserable to skip out and call January 1 just another day.
Christmas has become such an interesting cultural phenomenon. I wonder if we'll ever be able to stop this crazy train? There are so many emotions packed into this season: joy, wonder, idealism, excitement, sadness, loneliness, nostalgia, frustration, stress, anger. Plus, its the end of a calendar year and the beginning of a new one. It's this huge culmination of feeling, consumption, history, and the future all wrapped into one. It has impact whether or not you are even a believer.
So the other day, while we were between the last co-op classes for the semester for Eve, we were looking around at some shops and trying to find something for Eve to give to Maia. We grew ever more frustrated as we just couldn't find something that, within her limited budget, Eve wanted to give her sister.
There's a lot that goes into this, of course:
Eve doesn't have a job yet and as a teen, doesn't always budget ahead for Christmas with her small allowance, so when December rolls around, she doesn't have a great deal of money to spend. Not a big deal, and totally understandable, but she's been frustrated as she's gotten older and wants to give gifts herself. She'll have a job by next Christmas, though, so this shouldn't be a problem for her next year.
Maia does have a job and, as she lives at home and doesn't own a car, she doesn't have a lot of costly expenses yet. She'll actually be paying for health insurance for herself this year and will have some other school expenses coming up, but these past couple of years have left her with a good deal of "disposable income," and she pretty much can afford whatever it is that she wants.
So, the idea that because it is this time of year, Eve is expected to essentially find something to give to the "girl who has everything," just doesn't feel right. Don't get me wrong. Eve and I love Christmas. It's not that Eve doesn't want to give her sister a gift, but its just that the messages are so loaded against her if she doesn't or if she can't. And it's also that it's supposed to be "special," you know? Because it's a Christmas gift, the cultural message is that it's supposed to be kind of remarkable in some way. No Little House on the Prairie penny candy, or hand-monogrammed handkerchief is acceptable (though I'd take the hankie any day).
But a note of thanksgiving here: my girls adore each other and if one couldn't give the other a gift for the holiday, it would be fine - as it would be with the rest of my extended family. I really am blessed with a great bunch. But it's the message - that mad, ad-machine that just drives me crazy.
So here we were, looking around and I suggested we go into the nearby mall to walk around to see if anything struck her fancy. Eve reluctantly agreed saying, "But there's nothing but clothes in there, Mom." And she was right! Here in Minnesota, we have the famed, "Mall of America" which has quite an assortment of stores (but still TONS) of clothes. But the smaller malls seem to have lost a lot of their variety. Now, I'm not nostalgic at ALL about malls of yesteryear, but I do remember that there used to be book stores, toy stores, game stores, hair salons, movie theaters, etc. in malls. This mall, though, has very little of variety now. There is an Apple store, cosmetic/bath stores (Bath and Body Works, Sephora, Lush), Claire's jewelry, but most of the rest were store after store of clothes.
Most of my clothing is second hand. I would have to say 85 to 90% of the clothing I own is thrifted and I have been doing this happily for years. I haven't ever issued myself a challenge to make sure that I don't shop elsewhere, but I had been thinking about it for the upcoming year just to stretch myself and my creativity. But there are so many more reasons why this is a good idea and some of these were illuminated for me when Eve made the point about all the clothes in the mall.
First of all, as we walked around, I wondered, "What if all the clothes in this mall were piled up? How high would that pile be? How much would it weigh? How many people could it clothe and do we even need that much?" And this wasn't even the Mall of America! It boggles the mind to think of all the clothing and other merchandise that is in that place!
And then I did just a tiny bit of research. From one webpage, The Council for Textile Recycling, I learned these statistics
The U.S. EPA estimates that textile waste occupies nearly 5% of all landfill space.
the EPA estimates that the textile recycling industry recycles
approximately 3.8 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste (PCTW)
each year, this only accounts for approximately 15% of all PCTW, leaving 85% in our landfills.
The average US citizen throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles annually.
From The Atlantic, I learned that, "Americans now buy five times as much clothing as they did in 1980."
That is truly bizarre to me.
There are so many reasons why we are where we are with this issue, and a lot more has been written about it than I can touch. But it's enough for me to take a step back and at least think about what I am doing. There are various movements happening in response to over-consumption and a number of them deal with clothing specifically. Minimalism is a growing movement. Capsule wardrobes are very popular. And many, many people know about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Even if we aren't all doing something about it, many of us know we just have too much.
Given my proclivity for reflection this time of year, I have often come up with a word-of-the-year. It's even a tag in my sidebar! :) A friend of mine asked me if I was going to have a word this year and at that point I had been mulling over some of these ideas and challenges in my mind. We have some expenses coming up. Like I have over the many years that I have been a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, I am prepared, once again, to make cuts to our budget in order to attempt to stay debt-free on our one income. I am so close to finishing school and in the spring, job hunting will begin in earnest. But in the meantime, I still have an internship and a second semester of both homeschooling and my own schooling to complete. So, partly out of necessity, I am practicing more creative, frugal habits.
But I also find that I enjoy things so much more when they have meaning behind them. So, when I knit a garment, it has memories and lessons attached to it. When I make an item of clothing or alter a piece I wouldn't otherwise use, I like it more. I like when I can mend something and I like when I think of a new way to figure out a problem without buying something to solve it for me right away. And I like practicing contentment.
My word-of-the-year is actually going to be an acronym: SSASS - "Simple, Sustainable, and Significantly Slow," because these are the habits I aim to cultivate in this new year. And I plan to have fun with it, so that's where the sass comes in. :)
I hope I'll have and take the time to blog about this too. It always helps to have company along the way any time you face a challenge. Yes, it's a way to be accountable, but writing also helps me clarify my thoughts and telling a story often enhances the journey. I hope to be able to do that. Thankfully, there is a great support network out there online: YouTube channels, Facebook groups, bloggers. Others doing things a little differently and telling their stories. It's all pretty fascinating and a great group of creative people. I'm all for creativity and a little bit of sass too! It should prove to be an interesting and fun challenge and year!