Journey of a Fashionable Minimalist – Episode 2: Everything as a hand-me-down or a bargain
This post is part of a 12-part series called Journey of a Fashionable Minimalist, telling in part my decluttering and minimalism journey, as someone who has always been interested and invested in expressing herself through outfits and accessories, and other related things I’ve learned through minimalism. A new episode is posted monthly. Read all posts in the series.
We left episode 1, Hoarding, where it all began, on a cliffhanger note, with me wondering why I had clothes that were given to me without me knowing. You know what we call those? Hand-me-downs. But before I dive into hand-me-downs, we need to talk about the other reason why my room was so full of stuff.
Who doesn’t love a good bargain? We all love getting a good deal on something that is worth more than what we pay, but there is an upper limit.
When it comes to bargains, we think we’re “saving money”, when the reality is that we’re still spending it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re spending $10 on 20 toilet paper rolls that is normally $13, a dress that’s been marked down from $300 to $100, or a used iPhone Xs that retails for $1200 new but you got a bargain for $800 – you’re not saving $3, $200, $400.
You’re spending money and nothing is theoretically saved.
I’ve tried to change my mindset around this, because as much as we love a bargain, thinking we are saving money is a trap. If you happen to buy everything on sale, the potential addiction to “saving money” is not going to work in your favour. These days I am still conscious of the fact that I’m getting a good deal. But I ask myself, instead of thinking about how much I’ve “saved” – is the amount I’m spending low enough for me to warrant purchasing it? Is the item going to be a low cost per use after I spend this money? That is, an I going to use it enough for it to be worth its money, regardless of the good deal?
The bargain is a bonus – just that. A bonus.
My parents loved a good bargain, and I don’t blame them! But soon enough they began to see that their affinity for bargains was turning into an obsession. This obsession resulted in purchases that accumulated to spending a lot of money.
My mother ended up purchasing a lot of clothes for herself, and for me. At the time, I absolutely didn’t mind. I had not yet found my personal style, nor did I have a lot of interest in clothes, and my mother – who has good taste in clothes – was someone I trusted to choose clothes that I would like. My mother would later take me shopping with her to choose and try on clothes that she was happy to buy for me.
Even though my parents liked a good bargain and bought many things cheaply, they didn’t like to waste, either. Clothes I wore at home were the opposite of what I wore outside the house; they were often worn until there were holes or until they were tearing at the seams. There simply couldn’t be any clothing wasted. Clothes had holes and were used as cleaning rags before anyone even thought of donating – we were taught to see garments until the end of their lifetimes.
The only exception was if the clothes didn’t fit, were too small for example. Oh, and when I talk about bargains and clothing, normally you buy something that fits, right? But I remember my mum buying clothes at least two sizes bigger, with the intention of altering them (she was quite good on the sewing machine) so that they would fit her. But sometimes she didn’t ever get around to doing it. I’d also routinely feel horrified when she purchased clothes that were too big for me, claiming I would grow into them. At the time, the last thing I wanted was to gain weight just to fit in some clothes!
So now I come to the hand-me-downs and a foray into second-hand town. I buy second-hand and used clothing now, but I purchase what I like. The hand-me-downs I accumulated when I was younger were pieces of clothing owned by my cousins and family members. I felt an obligation to keep them, because I felt it would be doing a disservice or show I was ungrateful if I revealed that I didn’t like it anymore. Like gifts we feel compelled to keep even though we don’t like them – these clothes gave me the same feeling. They were handed to me, but you can imagine that I didn’t have a choice and they weren’t passed on to me because someone thought I’d actually like them. It’s a bit strange when you think about it. And that’s the thing with minimalist gift-giving – it reminds us that gifts are a result of the gift-giving process – which is what we should be thinking about instead. It’s all about the gesture and not the physical item.
It was because of these hand-me-downs, and my mum buying clothes at a discounted price, that I ended up having an egregious collection of clothes, and I hung onto all of them, even pieces I didn’t like.
I’ve since found minimalism, and have a different mindset when it comes to gift-receiving. But before then, I pushed clothing I didn’t like to the back of my drawers and closet, to the ends of my clothing racks, so I didn’t have to see them or worry about them. Because I had so many clothes, it was apposite* that the things I didn’t like were easy to hide amongst them.
And easy to forget about.
I was almost 18 when I bought clothes on my own and without my mum paying, or even without her “supervision”. The experience of buying clothes was so new to me that I didn’t know where to start. There were so many clothes I wanted during my mid-teens that my mum didn’t let me buy – she assessed the quality and deemed them unfit for wear, or she herself didn’t like the style and decided she didn’t like how it looked on me. I don’t believe my mum dictated what I wore, but to some extent I didn’t feel that I could express myself the way I truly wanted.
One item of clothing I did want, and specifically remember blogging about in 2006, was a white t-shirt with retro-style multicoloured text reading “Take me dancing tonight”. I love the song Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (the song that line is from), and at the time I was a dancer, so I thought it suited me very well. My mum didn’t like the shirt and thought it was cheap-looking and didn’t want to spend $10 on it. I was very disappointed.
My streetwear-punk style began to evolve around this time, and when it came to purchasing my own clothes, I was kind of over some of the stuff I used to want. Enough time had passed that made me realise I didn’t want something as much as I initially did.
I distinctly remember some of the first items of clothing that I bought. One of them was a red and black plaid double breasted cropped jacket, which I saw on the mannequin in the store, worn over a plain black dress. I loved the look so much. The clothing line was inspired by the Alice in Wonderland movie that was in cinemas at the time. I loved the shit out of that jacket. It oozed exactly the style of clothes I wore at the time.
The jacket cost me $50, and I remember buying two shirts around the same time: a black one in a large men’s size with the words “2 young to die” on it in a muted hot pink, and a grey slightly cropped sleeveless shirt with a squirrel print. Those shirts were in some kind of “3 for $10” deal. I loved graphic tees and I think they formed the bulk of my wardrobe in my late teens.
It was hard for me to spend the $50. Very hard. For me, at the time, that was a lot of money. Now I will easily spend $50, and it sucks, but more on that in a later episode.
All these items of clothing lasted me such a long time, and I owned them for years. In fact, the jacket was in a Fashion Friday post from 2014, and I wore the squirrel shirt in 2016 when I went to Europe. The “2 young to die” shirt had its run as a pyjama/at-home shirt.
I am embarrassed to admit that these days it’s rare that I keep an item of clothing for much longer than a year or two. Through telling this part of my story, along with Episode 1, I wanted to illustrate that buying second-hand is not necessarily for “poor” people. As I mentioned in that first episode, my parents were not poor, they were quite well off, but they spent their money as wisely as they could. Even now, as someone who ears fairly good money, I purchase second-hand, but for reasons that are related to the value and appeal of clothing that isn’t fast fashion, and, reducing waste.
As for all the clothes I forgot about and stuffed at the backs of my drawers and wardrobe… there would soon come a time where I would discover something that would make me remember them again.
I’d be lying if I said this something didn’t change my life.
* apposite, adj.: well suited for the purpose; appropriate; apt. This is a different word from “ironic” (which is often misused) or “coincidental”.
Stay tuned next month to read episode 3, where I discovered something that changed my life. It’s likely you already know what that might be. 🌱😌
🗒 There are 12 parts in this series, and one will be posted on the second Friday of every month until December.