Evaluating our closets with a sustainability lens

Video about Zero Waste principles (above) and Clothing Audit Podcast (below) by Julia P, Applied Learning Global Development Studies student.

by Iffany Z,

Applied Learning Global Development Studies

Read this is you have more than one plain black shirt in your closet or dresser.

Hi. I believe 100% of you continued reading.

I have a question for you: Why do you own more than 1 plain black shirt? Is it because one is a v neck and one is a high neck? Is it because one is ribbed, one is cropped, and one has a little pocket on the front? Is it because you haven’t cleaned your closet in ages?

I have been trying to address the problem of irresponsible over-consumption for awhile, and I have also been trying to promote sustainable second-hand shopping to prove how easy responsible consumption can be. This whole time, though, I did not realize that I was part of the problem I am trying to address. The problem is us and the solution is also up to us. 

A few weeks ago, I conducted a clothing audit as part of an assignment for my Global Development Studies class, probably the first one I have done in four years. Much-needed is an understatement. As I started yanking my clothing off hangers, I was exhilarated to channel my inner Marie Kondo and go full throttle. I was pulling with both hands at the same time, emptying my closet at fast as I could.

My bed became a mountain of blacks, neutrals, and a few shades of green. I surveyed what was on my bed and wondered how much I needed versus how much I actually wore versus how much I wanted versus how much I had. Staring at my clothing mountain was overwhelming. I felt guilty because I am a promoter of responsible consumption. I felt disappointed in myself for not having a more minimalist wardrobe. Moreover, I felt inspired to filter through what I actually wore and get my closet as organized as humanly possible. It was time to tackle my clothing mountain. 

Categories. Like Marie Kondo always says, break it down. Once all your clothing is out of your closet, start to categorize. First, I designated three spots on my floor and a box for my categories. On the floor was a keep pile, a school uniform pile, and an "I will upcycle this" pile. The box was my "give to my sister/give to my friends/sell on Shanghai Styles/donate" pile.

The enormous pile on my bed began to shrink as the piles on my floor grew. I forced myself to be strict and honest. Pink is not my color: box. I never wore this, but it reminds me of freshmen year: box. I have a shirt that looks like this that I wear more: box. I used to wear it all the time, but now I can’t remember the last time I wore it: box. I followed Marie Kondo’s method and could feel weight being lifted off my shoulders as I cleaned out my wardrobe. 

I sorted everything into even more categories: short sleeves, long sleeves, pants, shorts. I counted everything, folded all my pants, and hung up the remaining items in my closet. I was satisfied to have so many hangers left over but I was shocked at how many items of clothing I owned.

One thing I noticed during this process is that most my clothing is pretty old. Because I try to be conscious of my consumption, I don’t shop often. In the past year, I have bought just one item of clothing a month, usually a t-shirt. And I tend to shop second-hand a lot since I have access to Shanghai Styles inventory by just stepping into my garage. (I truly believe shopping second-hand is one of the solutions to the problem of overconsumption. Not only do you extend the life of the article of clothing, you also carry on its story.) 

Doing a clothing audit has shown me what I wear and what I hoard. It has made me more organized and it has also made me feel very content. When I put everything away in my closet, I felt accomplished and satisfied and I'm even more excited about setting a future goal: establishing a capsule wardrobe.

I encourage you to go to your closet and pull out items like duplicate black shirts. And when it comes time to consider new purchases, think about refraining from buying new items unless you know you will love them, and that you will love them for a long time.

Iffany is the founder of Shanghai Styles, a second-hand clothing platform: https://shanghaistyles.com/