It’s that time of the month where I document my #NoNewClothes journey, which in times of COVID has proven to be easier than I had imagined, but nonetheless has provided a lot of time and space for reflection on the topic.


The limitations of our social calendars due to lockdowns in the US has meant that 70% of my clothes have not been worn in the last 7 months. On the rare occasion that I do get to dress up, it feels like I am wearing something for the first time, and I feel pride and even affection for the clothes that I currently own.


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Unfollowing all fashion brands and accounts has also increased my happiness by 300% as I realize that a lot of the negativity I used to feel came from seeing other people in new outfits and thinking that what I had was not enough or no longer a trend.

It’s also led to me to contemplate the meaning (or lack thereof) of trends in a world where people are losing their lives or facing hunger insecurity as a result of Covid-19. Hopefully as the vaccines role out and people resume their lives, those of us that have had meaningful realizations about our habits of overconsumption can remain strong in our resolve and not fall back into old habits.

I say this mostly to myself as I have caught myself fantasizing about certain things that I would like to get when this year is over. Although, in fairness, these have been items I have lost and would like to replace, and when I do think about buying new-to-me pieces, I have been envisioning finding them secondhand on Poshmark or EBay.

I will admit that I had to buy a pair of sandals during a visit to Mexico. I lost my favorite pair this year, then my backups got lost in the mail when I had them shipped (not wanting to buy new ones), and so I had no choice. But I at least opted for some woven jute sandals that appeared to be made by artisans and not just factory-produced and made of toxic leather. At least that’s what I told myself!

And for my trip to Kenya this month, realizing that I needed some appropriate pants for roaming national parks and encountering wild animals, I found some awesome vintage Boy Scout pants at a street market. And it turns out I already owned everything else I needed to be stylish and practical on that trip without needing to purchase anything new. That part felt good. A year ago I would have gone on an online safari shopping rampage and ordered ridiculous things that I would most likely never wear again. So it was good to reaffirm to myself that I had everything I needed, and I gave myself extra points for only packing two pairs of shoes. This minimalism thing is really growing on me.


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While in Kenya I witnessed the shocking impact of our overconsumption firsthand.  Hawkers selling piles and piles of cheap discarded clothes, shipped from US donation stores that are overcapacity and overflowing with our unwanted garments. It broke my heart to see so many of the beautiful and dignified Kenyan people forced to wear our crappy old Gap and Old Navy garments because the second hand trade has totally decimated their local garment industry. This is not “charity,” Kenyans have been clothing themselves with dignity and beauty for centuries without the need for our discarded cheaply made clothing. It is a disrespect to their traditional ways of dressing to send them the worst of our clothing donation dumps. So next time you drop something off at a donation site thinking you are doing a good deed, please thing again.

Over 70% of what you donate will be shipped to countries in Africa and Haiti. The flip side is that there are now huge local economies that rely on the second hand clothing trade — but that doesn’t mean that it is a fair and dignified economy, and I yearn for a new future where half the world doesn’t need to survive on our cheaply made castaways.

I will leave you with a quote from Braiding Sweetgrass, our book of the month on our membership platform Ritual Community, and one that I highly recommend. Robin Wall Kimmerer talks about Windigo, the legendary monster of the Anishinaabe people. According to the writer, Steve Pitts, “A Windigo was a human whose selfishness has overpowered their self-control to the point that satisfaction was no longer possible.” I will pause there to confirm that is exactly how I felt as I was gripped in the clutches of overconsumption. No amount of new clothes or shoes were ever enough! And rather than feel more popular or desired, it left me feeling increasingly isolated and lonely. Kimmerer writes, “We’ve accepted banishment even from ourselves when we spend our beautiful, utterly singular lives on making more money, to buy more things that feed but never satisfy. It is the Windigo way that tricks us into believing that belonging will fill our hunger, when it is belonging we crave.”

As always, I hope this month’s column has been helpful in your journey and welcome reading your comments below.

Read More #NoNewClothes diaries from Nat Kelley

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  1. Thank you for enlightening about where donated clothes end up. I have heard only a little on the topic and your anecdotes were very informing.

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