Love the clothes you’re with (with apologies to Stephen Stills)

Love the clothes you’re with (with apologies to Stephen Stills)

I am 39. And I have travelled extensively, lived and worked in 6 different countries on 4 continents, moved home 27 times. I’ve worked in an office, in the city, as a consultant, from home, as a freelancer and as an artist. And over the years I’ve developed and discarded a few penchants – shoes, summer dresses, maxi dresses, handbags, and long, flowing tops that look like a cross between a kaftan, a summer cover-up and a very short dress…

I tell you this to introduce my wardrobe to you. For around 21 years, I have been buying clothes. Sure, I regularly clean out my closet and give things away, but I still have the dress that I bought at Oppie Koppie when my mad boyfriend hired a Reefer container filled with ice, convinced that he could sell the ice at the festival and make a killing (the Reefer blew the fuses and we ended up with a truck of cold water, but that’s another stories)..

And the first suit my dad bought me when we went shopping together in South Africa before I moved to London. And the suits I had made in Cambodia. And my mom’s 21st dress. And the super-expensive dress that I bought when I sold my house. And. And. And.

The start of a project

Recently I was reading about Courney Carver and her “Project 333“. In a nutshell, the idea is to wear only 33 items of clothing (plus a few accessories, excluding underwear and workout gear – she has an outline of how it works here), and initially I was super-excited to try it. Then I spoke to my husband and he just laughed. Apparently, I only wear about 10 items of clothing most of the time anyway – again and again. Working from home means that there isn’t much need to put on a suit or my stilettos, and living up the slope of a mountain in a city of cobbled streets where I walk and cooler weather than I’d have in South Africa, where I’d drive, means that all my beautiful dresses and shoes stay beautiful in the closet.

“Why don’t you do the reverse?” he said. “Start wearing MORE of your clothes!”

Thus my project of “loving the clothes I’m with” began.

BEFORE

The first step in the project involved going through my closet, giving away a few things (not many items, though, as we moved in September and I’ve been through this process quite recently as a result), packing away things that I am unlikely to wear in the next few months for various reasons (too smart, too small etc.), and making a point of using all of the clothes and bags in my wardrobe over the next 3-6 months.

AFTER

The result is that my closet is much emptier, with space not only for the two boxes of dresses that are in hibernation, but also for some material that I’ve kept for sewing and for all my winter jackets that usually clutter up the hallway. Every time I look at my closet (which I do just for fun, throughout the day), I feel happier. Calmer, too. An additional side benefit is that I might actually be able to keep it neat and tidy!

I am hoping that this is part 1 of a two-part project, the second part being to wear a different item of clothing every day for a year (or for as long as I can with the clothes I have), in particular to give every dress is my wardrobe a fair viewing. This latter project depends on whether I can lose 10-16kgs to actually get into them as I mentioned above, so I expect that this will take longer than a month or two!

Why “use” rather than “get rid of”?

Admittedly, my wardrobe does not look like the title picture for this post. And as much as I’d love it to look that beautiful, the reality is that I have spent time and money on my wardrobe over the years, and the material and clothes have cost valuable resources and labour. Throwing everything away (or giving it away – where things may still end up at the back of a wardrobe or in a rubbish heap) doesn’t mean that my footprint is lighter or that I am being more earth-friendly or sustainable. I love most of my clothes and want to wear them. Which I think is a good thing. Instead of buying more stuff, I have the opportunity to really wear what I have, and give that I have a fair few outfits, I can probably appear to have a brand new wardrobe without buying anything new for a long time.

Onwards…

One small step to creating a more sustainable, sustaining and simpler life. Onwards!

Can I offer you some plastic with your tea?

Can I offer you some plastic with your tea?

I drink tea. Lots of it. Sometimes 10-15 cups a day. Austrian tea doesn’t do it for me – far too weak. US tea was equally disappointing. Five Roses in South Africa is a satisfyingly strong cup, but my all-time favourite has to be Tetley.

In addition to drinking tea, I rather like to grow things. Mainly chillies (they are so pretty!), but also tomatoes, herbs, grapes, courgettes, whatever has seeds and can be planted, really. So imagine my delight when I read somewhere that tea is a great addition to soil. From that moment on, I was chopping up tea bags and mixing them into my plant soil, feeling terribly virtuous that I wasn’t adding to the bio waste bin more than needed.

Imagine, too, my surprise when a few months later, I discovered that my teabags simply weren’t breaking down. It was at that point that I consulted Google on the subject and realised that not all teabags are biodegradable! As I drink Tetley teabags – 1-2 catering packs of 1100 each to save on individual packing – I was interested in what they had to say, which was this:

The material used to make the actual tea bag is a mixture of mainly cellulose fibres and a small amount of polypropylene fibres to give the heat seal. Under normal composting conditions the cellulose fibres will break down, as will the tea, leaving the very small polypropylene fibres which are normally so small they are not seen. It does however take a reasonable amount of time to do this and really needs to be placed into a ‘proper’, established compost heap.

If it has not broken down it may be because:

  • It has not been left long enough
  • It hasn’t spent enough time at the centre of the heap where the temperature is higher
  • It has been put on the garden, not on a compost heap
  • It hasn’t been mixed with enough vegetable or organic matter
  • The worm population is not high enough

What this essentially means is that I have been drinking vast quantities plastic for years! Or if not plastic, hot liquid in which plastic has been allowed to stew for a bit…  For years, I have unwittingly been adding plastic to the bio waste. And for the last few months, I have been trying to nurture my beloved plants with a mixture of tea and plastic. In reality, my plants won’t be much affected as I didn’t use that many tea bags and I can scoop out the teabag skeletons and throw them away with minimal negative effects, but as for the rest…

Huh? What’s polypropylene?

The Environmental Working Group in the US classes polypropylene as “low to moderate hazard” but there have been reports of polypropylene containers leaching chemicals which have “potent effects on enzymes and proteins“.

Teabags would only add a low amount of that “low to moderate hazard” to a compost heap or to plants, although I think that if possible it’s best to avoid it altogether. Given how much tea I consume, however, and given that I pour boiling water over my teabags, I am putting a particular “stress” on the plastic which means that the polypropylene  is more likely to leach chemicals. Lovely…

My solution

I could research all the options out there, finding companies who make teabags that are fully biodegradable with no plastic, but I don’t have the time for that. There are some lovely people who have already done this if you’re interested, including the lovely Lindsay Miles who wrote about this here. Add to that my new-found knowledge that I am probably wasting around 13 square metres of paper each year whilst I’m drinking my plastic-filled tea, it seems that teabags are simply not the way to go at all.

Instead, whilst I’m finishing off the last of my Tetley teabag supply over the next month or two, I shall be looking for loose-leaf alternatives. That’s less plastic for me, less for my plants, less for the planet, less that will find its way into the ocean and less paper use, too. So lots of wins.

We’ll have to see about the taste though – a story for the future!

In the meanwhile, here are a few useful, related articles that might be of interest.