Am I overthinking what a sustainable lifestyle looks like?

Am I overthinking what a sustainable lifestyle looks like?

6 min read

There are many fashion sustainability gurus online, especially on YouTube, and their well-rounded perspective makes them seem close to infallible. But more than that, the amount of advice that they have, from simple to elaborate, almost leaves an unspoken question: “and what is your excuse?” This question is not intentional, though. I think it arises from deep insecurities that some of us face when confronted with an example of consistent sustainable lifestyle. It’s not about the sustainability community being judgemental – in fact, many writers and creators share their own mistakes and problems with their audience. Instead, it is the voice of the inner-critic which silences the small victories and makes every misstep seem catastrophic. And this critic will never be satisfied with any explanation that you might have for yourself. While I do not want to assume that everyone has encountered that voice on their sustainability journey, I think that most people certainly do.

I decided that the only way to deal with the critic was to confront it and to find its roots. Being a bad sustainability example, I get to analyse which advice did not work for me, and which was frankly damaging. Looking back at my imperfect journey, I realise that a lot of my mistakes came from high expectations rather than unforgivable weaknesses. So, I will try to give some less conventional advice for those who need to shut the critic down:

Avoid taking drastic steps from the get-go

A lot of people get into fashion sustainability through its intersection with minimalism. Massive declutter videos are extremely inspiring, as well as neat overviews of capsule wardrobes. However, these things can be extremely misleading. Let me tell you how my last declutter went: I gave myself a certain number of items that I had to narrow down my belongings to, reorganised the storage, and prepared a massive box of things for charity. After that, I gave myself a promise to stay away from fast fashion and developed an elaborate system of when I am allowed to make a new purchase. And I broke that promise pretty much immediately. My grand plan was not sustainable for me as a person. I tried the capsule wardrobe – with, unsurprisingly, the same result. As I realised from these unsuccessful attempts, such big lifestyle changes can surely help to realise some persisting non-sustainable habits, but they can equally reinforce them. A purge through the wardrobe, in my case, was followed by a trip back to the shop for just one more pair of jeans which was supposed to complete my new minimalistic fantasy. It was nice to feel like I was starting my fashion journey from a clean slate but the size of my wardrobe was not the biggest problem that I had to face in order to become more sustainably-oriented. If anything, the hard “deep dive” approach made me do some unnecessary and wasteful things which I would have avoided if I did nothing at all.

Be conscious of the aesthetic appeal

Just to be clear: by the aesthetic appeal I do not mean the aesthetic qualities of the clothes themselves. Rather, I am talking about carefully curated digital content by sustainability experts. The latest example of that would be all the “how to style one thing in a hundred of ways” tutorials. As I look at a scarf morphing from a braless top into a bandana, I can’t help but feel that I am doing something wrong. I have some t-shirts that only go with one pair of trousers and some of my dressers don’t really look good with any of my blazers. Of course, it is an admirable goal to try and minimise such “outstand-ish” items in your wardrobe but that does not work for everyone. I find it hard to maintain one colour scheme or one style throughout all the things that I own, which is usually the biggest takeaway from the sustainability experts – but that is ok. I am not a stylist and it is not my job to turn my wardrobe into an inspiring Pinterest moodboard. Most people who professionally talk about sustainability online have turned their lifestyle into their career – it takes them a lot of time, resources, and dedication to create visually appealing content which is sustainable at the same time. So, this advice is not universal but maybe if you find yourself in the same boat as me, try to switch to textual content instead. It will alleviate a lot of stress about trying to be sustainable and over-organised at the same time.

Make your own rules!

This last bit of advice follows on from the previous two. I’ve mentioned some things that I advise you avoid, so what would be my advice on what to do instead? Take time to figure out your strengths and your weaknesses and make your own rules. Make them as personal as you want and don’t worry about not going far enough. Maybe you want to stick to owning a certain number of items or making a maximum of one purchase every month. Maybe you want to get into the second-hand market or sewing things yourself. The rules do not have to be ideal because once you start figuring out your journey you can always adjust it. For a long time I did not accept anything short of perfection in my attempts towards establishing a sustainable wardrobe but that did not make me perfect, only stressed and unhappy. If from the very beginning you give yourself a fair chance to be weak sometimes, a small misstep won’t push you over the edge.

Written by Jane Pakhomova.

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