A few years ago, I had a rude awakening while cleaning my cupboard: I didn’t wear three-fourth of my belongings. Being a waste and sustainability practitioner, I could clearly see how much I had and how little I needed.
While I’ve always been conscious enough to use secondhand furniture and locally sourced home décor items, when it came to clothes, I just couldn’t embrace the “lifestyle of less”. Going to the mall, buying things I didn’t want—it was my way to get through tough days, which were many.
Days before that fateful cupboard cleaning morning, I saw The True Cost, an eye-opening documentary by Andrew Morgan that poses a critical question: who pays the true cost of the fashion trends and over-consumptive behaviour that we follow?
Environment, certainly. According to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), emissions from textile manufacturing alone are projected to skyrocket by 60% by 2030. As per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions every year, while it is estimated to use around 1.5 trillion litres of water annually.
So, how did I shift?
It definitely wasn’t easy, but I was determined. I had to change. I had to be mindful of my choices. The first step was easy: swap clothes with a friend. We were swapping before also, but now I made it a conscious choice.
If you live in Delhi, it’s hard to avoid malls. Sometimes you go to window-shop, to meet a friend, or for a stroll. I always went to shop. But after my promise to myself to change, I came up with a strategy: I would put things that I liked in the shopping basket but by the time I reached the counter, I would question myself: “Do I really need another pair of socks or T-shirt?” By doing so, I would end up paying for the most needed item. Often, I had nothing to buy by the time I reached the counter.
The third step was to cut down on the temptation to shop. I started filling my life with experiences over clothes and jewellery, and it really helped. In my past travels, I have chosen to learn, get a book, deep-dive, snorkel, climb a mountain, live in a village, learn a language. It did really change my outlook of what’s worth and what’s not.
Fourth was choosing home-grown brands over fast fashion labels. Over the past three years, I have supported many individual brands. Thanks to Instagram, local brands have a better outreach and you can easily communicate with the supplier and it is a great feeling to wear a garment after knowing its creator.
Since 2019, I have completely cut down on shopping. I have realised that I have what I need. This has helped me relook at my wardrobe. In the past five meetings with relatives and friends, for instance, I have worn my favourite polka dot skirt in five different ways. No one noticed it was the same. No one cares even if they noticed. It’s not a big deal to repeat clothes; it never was. It was all in my head. I have also started gifting experiences to friends and family instead of clothes and accessories, or something handmade.
Lastly, I upcycle my clothes—they adorn my sofa as cushion covers, table mats, even a rope for hanging clothes.
Living a lifestyle of less is easy, but not so when for years you’ve allowed yourself to be seduced by banners and hoardings of lifestyle brands and lived a life of excess.
Living with less is a choice and a difficult one to make. But I’m much happier now; it’s a shift of weight in some sense. And whoever said retail is therapy was wrong. It’s the lifestyle of less that is therapeutic.
Swati Singh Sambyal is a resource management researcher and expert. She is a minimalist, a poet and often blogs about her zero-waste journey on Instagram @a.circular.life and Twitter @swatissambyal.