How much do you buy — and toss?

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I admit it…one of my favorite Toronto stores always gets a visit

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Her name is all the rage, again — the Japanese expert on de-cluttering, Marie Kondo, and her motto: If something you own doesn’t spark joy, toss it!

As someone both frugal and sharing a small-ish apartment with not very many closets, this is an issue of both limited income and limited places to put things. So, typically, we don’t buy a lot of additional stuff and, routinely, take castoffs to local thrift or consignment shops or to Goodwill.

Every time I drop off at Goodwill I’m stunned by the mountains of stuff I see being donated; having lived in Mexico and visited developing countries where even the basics are considered luxuries offers me valuable perspective.

We live in a small town in suburban New York and drive everywhere, including to any store, so most weeks I only buy gas and groceries and a meal out. Maybe a nail polish or a lipstick.

 

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I do look at lots of things on-line, but rarely succumb. I recently bought three — a lot for me! — sweaters on sale from my favorite retailer, a Canadian company called Aritizia. But my shopping sprees are so rare that my credit card company software gets alerted as a result; I use only one credit card, American Express.

I almost never buy “fast fashion”; too cheaply made, not my size or style and, most essential, environmentally ruinous.

In lean times, and even in better ones, I haunt a few favorite consignment shops, both for home goods and clothing and tend to keep things for a long time — still wearing a pair of (designer) Italian monk-straps (then new) bought in 1996.

A classic style, made of top-quality materials well cared for is a great investment as long as it still fits you well; I’m still using a down jacket I scored for $50 in 2004.

And, yes, I love new things and last summer spent (madness!) a mortgage payment on a brand-new, on-sale Tod’s suede handbag. I had just gotten a breast cancer diagnosis and it was my birthday and I said the hell with it! (Our mortgage is not that big.)

I recently read that Americans throw away (!) 81 pounds of clothing a year.

 

This is insane.

So it’s a challenge, especially as I do treasure lovely things and adore fashion and really love to look stylish. I shop like a Frenchwoman, buying only a few items each season, being very thoughtful about each. I stick to neutrals — black, gray, cream, brown, navy — and add fun with my accessories.

For our home, we buy, similarly, the best quality we can find, and keep using it for decades, like our Wedgwood white daily china and the heavy crystal goblets we bought at an antique show.

I confess to two layers of boxes in the garage about six feet high and a small storage locker,  holding a mix of luggage, out-of-season clothing, sports equipment and professional needs like photography lights and books.

To avoid acquiring objects I:

1) buy the most expensive possible, which limits it!

2) regularly toss out anything we’re not using.

3) focus on enjoying experiences — travel, museums, concerts, meals, nature — more than things.

 

Do you buy — and toss out — a lot of stuff?

Have your shopping habits changed?

29 thoughts on “How much do you buy — and toss?

  1. I don’t keep clothes that don’t fit, no matter how optimistic I may be about getting back into them. Style isn’t a great concern for me either, unless it’s a suit or a cool pair of shoes. I like to think of it as kind of a Corbusian machine aesthetic “A pair of pants is a machine for keeping my butt under wraps”. If it looks good, that’s icing on the cake, but it’s got to be good quality for its purpose. That goes for the suit, which will still go out of style, I know, but it better not even pop a stitch until it does, as well as the shoes.

      1. Do please understand that I have a very deep appreciation for good design and that extends to fashion. I get that being a snappy dresser is important to some. It once was to me and I still like to dress to the Nines (Get it? HAH!) every now and then, but it’s not a priority for my work or any other part of my everyday life. I’m generally pretty reclusive so whatever I put on is OK most of the time, but my wife won’t put up with me going out in holey old clothes, even to the grocery store, where you have to really be trying hard to out shabby-chic some of that clientele.
        I cleared out a bunch of bookshelf space today. I got a few new ones, not as many as I took in, but I’ve still got going on a hundred bucks worth of store credit I don’t know what I’m going to do with. My wife is a librarian and she works with kids quite a bit so I may investigate the possibility of buying a whole slew of kids’ books just to give away. One thing I simply can not do is throw away a book, unless it’s waterlogged or something like that. Having said that, I must admit that I have read some books that tempted me to read them in the shower.
        OK that’s about enough of that. Good post, I enjoyed reading it, as well as all the comments.

      2. I grew up with a very snappy dresser of a Dad (who can also be extremely slobby when he feels like it) and my husband cleans up well. I love seeing him in a smart outfit — he does that Frenchman thing of a muffler or cotton scarf with a blazer or jacket and it looks great on him.

        I love dressing up but not all the time. Working alone at home 90% of the time means I rarely bother to dress well at all, so I have to make plans to meet people in public to do it.

        It’s a subject I think we all have feelings about!

      3. I agree. That would be a really interesting post with tons of cool comments regarding personal style. If you write it I will comment, as will many others I am certain. I will write it if you don’t feel like it but no one will see it like they will if it’s here, so for maximum impact (and fun) it should be here.

  2. My shopping habits continued to change. As I get older and wiser. As I try to pare down. As I realize that items at higher cost-as long as they are higher quality-or always a better bet if I can afford them. I hope in years to come I can look at my closet and less often regret a purchase that I now see did not bring joy.

    1. A lack of disposable income in my lean years made this a necessity — so when I do have “extra” money I think…”Oh, I can buy something new!” I bought a pair of boots at full price recently at Saks and am still in shock. They are terrific and I will get a lot of wear from them, but still.

      Frugality is a virtue but can also become a cage,

  3. i have been donating/paring down for a while now. when i buy, i tend to choose nice quality things that aren’t trendy, but more classic and that i hope to keep for a long time and get lots of use out of over time. i think both of these habits have increased the older i’ve gotten.

    1. I suspect we all do that — I cared a lot more about being trendy in my 20s (but also when working in a highly competitive newsroom and city.) Now I work alone at home and so rarely have to meet anyone face to face for a meeting that I can’t justify a lot of nice new clothes. I really enjoy the ones I have.

  4. When I retired and we moved from our home in Greater Vancouver to a smaller community on Vancouver Island, we downsized our furniture quite a bit. Although our new island house was only 275 square feet less than our mainland home, we ended up giving a lot of our unneeded furniture away. Our new home was a more open concept with a great room that combined the family room, kitchen, and dining area and as a result we had an extra couch and easy chair. No office was needed so we made the smaller bedroom of the three that we had into a den, which meant that we could get rid of the two desks and three filing cabinets that I had used in my home office as I worked from home. The bedroom furniture from the third bedroom was no longer needed either. We found an organization that assists refugee families set up when they arrive in Canada, and gave it all to them to distribute. Now that I have been retired for 18 months, I need to start working on my clothes and giving more of what I don’t need to the Salvation Army! I no longer need a dozen dress shirts and six suits that were never worn that much anyway the last few years of my working life. I’m sure I’ll find even more once I get to it!

    1. Your whole house — your full-time residence — is 275 square feet? Wow. I am in awe; our living room is 250 square feet.

      But I have lived very happily in studio apartments as well, and know that a few pieces of well-designed/adaptable furniture are such a great option. NO FILING CABINETS!

      I love benches with under-seat storage and small moveable tables or stools for multi-purpose use.

      Which island are you on? They are so beautiful!

      1. Hah! You made me read over my reply twice to see what I had written incorrectly, Caitlin! I always read over my replies at least three times before I hit send, so I thought I had screwed up! The new house is only 275 square feet “less” than the old house! We are in Parksville on Vancouver Island (about 2 hours north of Victoria or about 20 minutes north of Nanaimo), so pretty much in the middle of the island. The weather is better here (no snow this winter yet!) and less rain as well. Lots of retirees move here from all over Canada and we get quite a few Arizona “summerbirds” who come here to escape their summer heat!

      2. By the way, don’t admonish me for over use of the apostrophe in the reply to your reply, I didn’t proof read it the usual three times before I hit send … haha

      3. OMG … back to bed for me … I called an exclamation mark an apostrophe … (shakes head and shuts down the computer). Have a great rest of your day, Caitlin.

      4. Got it! I picture you in a VERY small place on Gabriola!

        My mother is in a nursing home in Victoria but we are estranged so I haven’t been back since 2011 and not sure if I will.

        I get the “summerbirds” thing for sure, having been to Arizona. Jose is from Santa Fe and has dreamed of retiring there…I would really miss being closer to Ontario friends and near water. Although I do love New Mexico; have been there a few times.

  5. carolyn

    We have decided to take the next few years to clean out and prepare our 5 bedroom home for sale as our kids are grown and my health no longer allows me to keep up with it. My husband is now doing all the cleaning and with his travel it’s difficult on both of us. What I’m finding is a great deal of our children’s toys, clothes, etc. which we will be giving to them now that they have homes with storage, which neither had until last summer. Joy! I lost about 50 pounds due to meds a few years ago and my wardrobe had a total makeover, which was wonderful, I mostly live in skinny jeans, t shirts and cardigans all year round. It’s wonderful. Now to the sentimental stuff…I’m not a pack rat, but by default have become the repository of my family heirlooms, such as they are! Ironically, the other night one of my cats knocked down and broke a limited edition plate that was given to us as a wedding gift 33 years ago. Initially I started looking for a replacement on eBay, then I thought, “Do I really need more stuff? It brought me joy for 33 years, the memory will bring me joy for more. A replacement will just be someone else’s stuff.” That was right after thinking, “The plate broke, the marriage is over!” LOL When I told my husband it broke, he asked if the marriage was over…we do think alike sometimes!

    1. That is a LOT of cleaning out — and good for you! We have no children or close relatives (physically) so it’s all up to us to dump this stuff, sell it, give it away and make sure that what we keep is stuff we want, need and will use.

      We do acquire new things here and there, but typically these are replacements for things that have worn out, not just piles of new stuff…like an outdoor rug for the balcony or workout clothes that simply, after a lot of wash and wear, do wear out.

      Living in a smaller place has certainly made this much much simpler!

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  7. Jan Jasper

    A surprisingly interesting subject! I’ve always loved clothes. I used to buy new things often, then I decided to stop because I already have more than enough, and barely enough closet space, also I’m mostly at home these days. I almost never get rid of a piece of clothing until I’ve worn it to death. I’ve always loved estate sales, auctions, and thrift shops so I ended up with a ridiculously large amount of things like lace tablecloths and doilies – I’d buy just because it was pretty and cheap. Well, you can imagine where that led….a couple years ago, dismayed at all my clutter, I started going through everything in my house – and I found that I had enough antique linens for a small town. My late husband was a bit of a hoarder and my mother was a collector, which didn’t help. So I decided to do a major paring-down and for the past few years I’ve made multiple donations to GoodwIll, Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity. It’s not just that I don’t like the clutter. Also, I know the time may come when I may not able to manage living in this house any more, and if I had to do this cleaning out after a health setback, it would be impossible. I don’t have kids so it’s up to me. I’m paring down now, when I’m strong enough to carry heavy boxes down the stairs. There’s a wonderful organization in central New Jersey called Furniture Assist that helps needy people set up a new household after an emergency – their clients have lost their homes due to domestic violence or a fire. So they accept donations of furniture, dishes, curtains, etc. I’ve made several donations to Furniture Assist – my local Goodwill and Salvation Army do not accept furniture. I’m sort of obsessed with keeping things out of the landfills so I go to great lengths to find “homes” for anything still usable

    1. I boxed up about 4 boxes of books 2 years ago when we got new bedroom bookshelves with the intent of selling them but haven’t. Clothes and other stuff is easier to part with.

      I collected vintage textiles for a few years and now want to get rid of all of it; have been following a dealer on Insta (albeit in the UK) and might be able to unload some of it to her. Not the easiest stuff to sell.

  8. When I went freelance almost 6 years ago, I began to invest less and less in to ‘work clothes’. Until now I’ve coasted on what I had, but just last week I had a day of meetings with a corporate client, including an interview for the annual report with the CEO, and found I had nothing to wear — at least nothing that made me feel both confident and comfortable, a combination I need to perform well. (An old outfit from a Canadian shopping trip saved the day). Thankfully the sales are on in France, and I’ve vowed to update my winter wardrobe for work. We do have a charity shop in our village, which I donate to regularly. But it doesn’t have the kind of pieces that I can really wear; every time I’ve bought something there I’ve ended up taking it back!

    1. So true. I invested in two full-price dresses from my fave shop Aritzia, bought in Montreal 2 years ago, and wear them a lot — midi-length, long sleeved with large cuffs, heavy knit, one mustard, one black, with a dramatic neckline that’s not weird. I layer cardigans and crewnecks over them and get a lot of use out of them.

      Making a fashion faux pas is probably inevitable! I hate when I do it.

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