Growing up, I remember my family and I going to the mall. It might’ve been our local mall, or, a larger, grander mall that required us to drive a longer distance, but I always looked forward to each of these trips. Some trips, we were on a mission, racing in and out for the few items on our list, but other times, we would just leisurely stroll around the mall, wandering into and out of our favorite stores, just browsing.
On these such trips, these were always my mom’s words to the sales people looking to help us, “we’re just browsing.” And we were. There was nothing in particular that we were looking to buy. It was more about just spending a few hours together. Though these sorts of trips didn’t happen often since my mom worked full time, while also studying for her Master’s degree, and raising her family, when they did happen, we all looked forward to them.
Something I’ve been thinking about recently is why? Why did we so look forward to these few hours spent on a weekend, doing nothing else, but meandering around a mall? What was it that we achieved with these trips? A sense of peace or rest from the craziness of everyday life? An escape from the real world. A chance to just suspend reality for a few hours and enjoy looking at nice things. Or was it done for time spent together as a family, and if so, looking back now, would we have better achieved a sense of satisfaction and family bonding by doing some other activity?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. However, what I do know is that as a culture, we’ve taken what was a “once in a blue moon” activity, and turned it into how we spend our time every weekend. That is, with one major difference. Gone are the days of “just browsing” like my family was, and my Mom was not trying to dismiss some annoying sales person. She really meant we were just browsing. Hardly did we return from these trips laden down with packages and new finds.
And yet today, that is exactly what we do.
Not only do we spend our precious little free time wandering around an indoor, or more often these days, outdoor shopping mall, but we then spend our hard earned money on some new find of the week. We return from each trip with some new, “must have”, “can’t live without”, “is THE perfect thing I’ve been looking for…..(that is, until next week’s trip) that is going to make me happy and my life perfect!”
But, it never does, and even worse, is that the marketing and advertising giants of our country know that our feelings of happiness and satisfaction over obtaining that new item, won’t last. So, they’ve gotten smart and engineered an entire industry called, “fast fashion” that quickly produces new items, at rock-bottom prices, for the masses to enjoy.
My question is, “at what price?” What is the unseen price that we’re paying for our weekly trips to the local shopping mall to spend some “quality” time with our families, friends or significant others?
A TRULY EYE-OPENING DOCUMENTARY
I recently watched a documentary called The True Cost that explored some of the “costs” we face with our shopping habits. What I learned is that while we’re enjoying another $10 shirt that we so loved in the store, but will find a replacement for next month, while we decide we must have the same shirt someone showed off on a YouTube video in her/ his mall stash, WE are having a major impact on the world.
By shopping at places that adhere to the idea of fast fashion, we’re supporting factories in other countries with deplorable conditions for their workers that can even be dangerous. We’re supporting the challenges cotton farmers face, both in other countries, and our own. And, we are supporting the effects that pesticides and fertilizers are having on the innocent men, women and children in the areas where the genetically modified cotton is farmed.
To me, people are people. Why do I feel that I must have a new pair of pants, at the expense of someone else’s working, or worse yet, health conditions? When this reality is presented to me, it becomes an easy choice. I absolutely do not want to support these types of practices. Yet, at the same time, choosing to support fair trade companies, for me, isn’t the only answer, because the store I shop at, isn’t the only issue.
Not only do I need to stop supporting these practices, but perhaps more important is to get to the the bigger issue of what is driving this constant need for more? What is it I’m/we’re looking for, or feel that we’re missing, and will get, by owning a certain item, and please, feel free to insert whatever is your “ thing” in the blank. It could be clothes, golf clubs, cars, furniture, the “what” doesn’t matter. So if you’re reading this, and thinking, “well I have no attachment to clothes.” Maybe not, but how about electronics? Do you always have to have the next gadget, as soon as it comes out? If we are truthful with ourselves, I think most of us can admit that we all have some “item” we are always looking for a better version of. What I want to know, for myself, in light of my new knowledge is WHY do I do this?
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY?
In The True Cost documentary, Dr. Tim Kaiser, a Psychology Professor at Knox College in Illinois, explained that after hundreds of research studies, performed over two decades, what has been found is that our identification with things, stuff, material items is actually hurting us. He states, “the more people are focused on those materialistic values, the more that they say money and image and status and possessions are important to them, the less happy they are. The more depressed they are. The more anxious they are…..all of these psychological problems go up, as materialistic values go up.” (Dr. Tim Kaiser as stated in The True Cost Documentary Ross & Morgan 2015).
When the research so clearly stares us in the face, I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who’s thinking, “that is definitely not what I want OR what I want to pass along to my children.”
IT’S TIME TO MAKE A CHANGE AND TAKE A STAND
When I / we consider all of this data from the effects that fast fashion is having on the world, to the effects that it’s having on our own health, it seems crystal clear that a change has to happen. It’s time to stop being influenced by the glossy ads, the Instagram pictures, the photos of celebrities splashed EVERYWHERE touting who they’re wearing.
What if we decided to take a stand, today? For the sake of not only our health, and well-being, but others around the world as well?
What if we decided to choose differently?
What if we made the decision to stop comparing ourselves with others?
What if we turned away from the culture in our country of always wanting more, and instead, treated our clothes like our refrigerator, our washer and dryer or our car, where when we buy an item, it’s not to enjoy until we see the next best thing, it’s so that the shirt or pants or shoes will serve a function for us until they no longer are functional.
What if we stopped, took a breath, looked at our closets and realized,
“WE HAVE ENOUGH!”
I think part of the reason I love the cleaning out process using Marie Kondo’s method, is because of the sense of peace, and simplicity, a clear, uncluttered space gives me. I love when everything is used and serves a purpose and there is no excess around. For me, in this type of environment, I do my best thinking, planning, and really, living. It feels as if a weight, the weight of excess, has been lifted off me, and the world feels light, cheerful and full of hope.
If I’m going to live a life filled only with the things I love, then what is pivotal to that journey, is turning away from all the choices that are out there, AND the marketing that dictates I must have this shoe or that shirt in order to feel complete.
It must include getting rid of the excess, and finally seeing clothes for what they are: a functional thing that keeps my body covered, rather than, the thing that stands for me.
Because at the end of the day, I’d rather make my mark on this world, another way.
Ross, M., & Morgan, A. (2015). The True Cost. United States: Untold Creative & Live is My Movie Entertainment.
Kondo, Marie. The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2014. Print.