Monday, May 30, 2011

Clothing Swap Party Rules: Host Your Own!

One of the best ways to minimize expense and contributions to the growing piles of clothes in the landfills is to host a clothing swap party, or clothing exchange.   A clothing swap party is an informal get-together where people bring good quality clothes, shoes and accessories in wearable condition and agree to barter them one for one.  Host a clothing swap and everyone walks away with something they didn't have before without spending a cent out of pocket. So here are a few clothing swap party rules:

  • Everything should be washed, dry and in good repair.  If it is a dressy item, it should be ironed.  Small repair items like missing buttons are okay, and sometimes people will even swap things with broken zippers, but please don't bring items that are permanently out of shape, that have shot elastic, are stained or unrepairable, or that you wouldn't wear yourself.  I realize everyone has different standards, but I think we all understand what raggedy clothes look like.  Please don't bring those.
  • Shoes are fine, as long as they are clean and in good repair.  No nicked heels or shoes smelling badly, or stretched out.  Again, if you would purchase the items a certain condition then that is the condition they should be in for the swap.
  • Things like bathing suits, undergarments and socks are worn close to the body and there may be a limited market for these items in your group.  Some people are even squeamish about shoes, so please understand this going in so you don't end up offended.
  • High end items, and high quality items, often hold value well and are particularly prized at clothing swaps.
  • Make sure to clean out any pockets or pocketbooks before swapping.   It simplifies things later on.  If you have forgotten and left your library card in a raincoat you bartered to someone, it might be difficult to get it back.
  • Everyone has the right of refusal and it is not personal.   Please resist the temptation to 'sell' your stuff.  Just like browsing a store, the customer (swapper) has every right to not choose something belonging to another.  If you organize the swap well, everyone should find at something they like in another person's things.   
  • It's also okay to NOT do a one-to-one barter.  If someone likes something of yours and you don't mind giving it to that person, that's fine.  However, one-to-one barters should take precedence, in order to keep things as even as possible.  It depends on what your goal is for attending the swap.  If you just want to get rid of things, then that's okay.  If you want things back to take home, that are 'new to you', then bartering is a better method.
  • Items left over from the swap, unless the owners wish to take them back, can then be donated to a local charity shop or donation center.
It is pretty easy to organize a swap party if you follow these basic clothing swap rules.  Send out some invitations and  feel free to have fun.  Put out some sparkling water, juice and healthy snacks.  Some soft music on a CD player or IPod also helps break the ice.  I recommend inviting about 6-8 friends over and be sure to let them know what kind of clothing swap: men's, women's, childrens'.   Will there be accessories (belts, purses, shoes, scarves) included? Hosting a clothes swapping party is certainly an eco-friendly, productive and cheerful way of spending a weekend afternoon!   I love to swap my stuff!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Green Living Principles: Quality Over Quantity

One of the most important things I have discovered on my green living journey is the importance of quality over quantity. This idea plays into many aspects of green living, including simplicity, gentleness on the Earth and handling such driving forces as rabid consumerism. Quality over quantity is a cornerstone of green living principles.

For many people, “quality over quantity” applies in various ways. I have discovered, in terms of food, I prefer an approach that is less about how cheap and easy to make the food is, and whether or not the food is of good quality and is an investment in my health. Quality over quantity, in this sense, means going slightly against my frugal nature, at least on the surface, and embracing an added short term expense to minimize a long term one. I believe, and have learned, that investing in my health now by way of modifying my diet to include organic and humanely-raised animal products will benefit me with lower health care costs as I get older. In the end, it is more frugal to take care of the body I have than try to fix it later on down the line.

I have also found quality over quantity applies in relationships with people.  I choose to spend time with people who enhance and fulfill my life, who support me and what I am trying to do and in whose company I feel loved, secure and cared for.  I find that so important that I honestly don't have much time for those who do not.

The easiest to understand, though, is “quality over quantity” in the consumer marketplace. How many people buy a cheap, plastic vacuum and eventually have to take it to a landfill because it no longer works, or the plastic cracks, sometimes within five years of ownership? Yes, the vacuum cost $59.99 at WalMart and was quite affordable; it probably met certain manufacturing standards and seemed like a really good buy initially – But, as time went on, it just wasn't a high quality durable good and its function seemed to decline...As a person experimenting with a green lifestyle, this has been a huge frustration for me. My frugal nature routinely encouraged me to buy the least expensive item out there, like the cheapest vacuum cleaner, and that vacuum cleaner would never last long so I would have to toss it out and buy a new one. Is this really frugal? Or would I be better served spending a bit more on a higher quality product that had real durability, and was fixable (if it broke down)? After surveying the landscape to see the cheap quality of everything from toasters to automobiles, I decided the latter was the better course.  As a consumer, I can only vote with my wallet.  It's time I stopped wasting my power.

Making that decision enabled me to also possess fewer items, overall, as I learned to apply the principle to items such as clothing and shoes. I used to have many, inexpensive and 'trendy' clothes items and shoes that were, almost literally, disposable. This was one area where I definitely did not embrace “quality over quantity”. Additionally, I was also encouraging my daughter to live this way. Sure, we often bought clothes at consignment shops or at clearance sales, so they weren't expensive. But were they of good quality, and could they take the wear and tear? Not to mention we often bought inexpensive shoes as places like WalMart, Payless or Target. Was it any surprise these shoes only lasted a season? In retrospect, it was probably not the wisest expenditure of money. In my experience, not many American consumers question the quality of the items they buy, they just buy them; and forget about the origins of their clothes, or the sweatshop conditions of those who laboured to make them. It often doesn't enter into the consciousness of everyday people.

Over time, I have pared down my wardrobe to essentials. I actively had to choose quality over quantity in this area. After all, I like clothes and shoes. A lot. So, essentials for me included putting a limit on shoes and sticking to that limit. I have a shoe organizer on the back of my door that holds 12 pairs of shoes. For some people, 12 pairs is bottom of the barrel, but I found that was a number I could live with; it gives me three pairs of dress shoes, two pairs of tennis shoes and seven pairs of casual shoes. It's hardly self-deprivation, and I am enjoying the freedom that comes with only having 12 pairs to clean, or polish, and care for. I am actually looking forward to reducing that number, as well, over time.  Since I also chose the most well-made shoes to keep, I expect they will have a fair amount of durability and will need to be replaced less often. For clothing, I elected to only keep those items I will actively wear; if I couldn't remember when I last wore it, it was donated to charity. Again, this activity produced a natural retention level and I was able to halve my required amount of closet space and hangers. I kept a couple of items that I wouldn't wear everyday, but which I could foresee a use: a cocktail dress, a business suit, a heavy coat; the rest, all gone. I repeated the process with books, CDs, jewelry and accessories. Now I have things around me that I truly like and enjoy, that will be used, and that add to my life instead of take away from it. If, for some reason, that no longer applies, I have committed to responsibly disposing of the item, either through charitable donation or sustainable practices.  That's green living 101.

I appreciate minimalists, the minimalist lifestyle and what they are trying to do, but I also find some of their behaviours more extreme.  That kind of extreme frugality has its appeal, but I'd warrant it is limited.  appreciate having items of beauty around me, such as art objects, or cushions, sometimes even if they don't have an actual purpose beyond comfort or decoration. I don't need 50 hand-crafted pieces of pottery, however. Six are plenty enough.

It feels kind of freeing, actually, to fall off treadmill of consumerism. Other than replacing items that wear out, I don't feel the need to be at the shopping mall and can easily avoid places that use sweatshop labour, or cheap materials, or which have bad environmental practices. I can be more choosy and discerning as a consumer. I can point my money in a direction to support those businesses with sustainable practices, who pay a decent wage to their workers. While I may never embrace the minimalist movement, I can be mindful and deliberate, instead of mindless and ignorant. I can choose to fill my time with writing, outings with my family, exploring natural parks and truly living life. And It feels pretty good.