And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. (Matthew 6: 27-28)
As team leader of JPIT, I felt strangely morally obligated to respond to all of the Living Lent challenges. My family has given up meat (harder for the children than it was for me); we have virtually stopped using the car (easy for us as we live near good public transport links); I’m going round switching off lights and plugs to save energy; and I’m realising just how hard it is to get rid of single use plastic from my life.
But the challenge I decided to embrace as my own was to buy nothing new.
I made an exception for food and drink, and for essential toiletries. Otherwise, it’s been a case of borrow, mend, buy second hand or do without.
I’ve done fairly well so far. I’ve mended children’s clothes rather than throwing them away. I made a good job of some tights, though I did baulk at this particular sock.
I’ve borrowed baking tins from friends instead of increasing the pile of tins in my kitchen drawers.
Sometimes I’ve done without. I’ve been fortunate – nothing significant of mine has failed or broken.
And then I’ve bought a new dress from the charity shop – was this out of the spirit of buying no new things? Maybe, but it certainly extends the life of garments which are often part of the fast fashion cycle. And this is where I know I am guilty. I’m no fashionista, but I do like clothes, and have a real weakness for a new dress (especially if it has pockets!).
But the fashion industry is estimated to contribute 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production. Consumers in the United Kingdom have an estimated $46.7 billion worth of unworn clothes in their wardrobes. 20,000 litres of water is needed to produce the equivalent of a single t-shirt and pair of jeans. We are addicted to a fashion industry that uses up resources and contributes to a carbon emissions, a merry-go-round of buy, wear, and discard.
So what have I learned from the experience of trying to buy nothing new?
Well I think I’ve certainly become more thrifty in my habits. But, I have also realised how privileged I am. I have a wardrobe of clothes to wear and a house full of things. I’ve not felt the desperation of not being able to replace something broken or lacking. I’m reminded of times when politicians have promised to live on the equivalent of benefits for a week – they begin with a cupboard full of staple foods and don’t have to try to replace the washing machine or buy new shoes for the children.
Temporary deprivation is fine when you have the buffer of plenty. I would find this Lenten challenge truly challenging if I embraced it for six months or even a year. So, the relative ease of this challenge has made me confront my privilege in a country where 4 million children are living in poverty.
Secondly, I have been surprised – and pleased – by the sense of release and freedom I’ve felt. As soon as leaflets come through the door offering me money off my favourite clothes, I can just rip them up as I know I’m not buying anything. I can walk passed shops without even being tempted to browse. There is a freedom from a fear of missing out.
I hope that getting off the merry-go-round of consumerism, if only partially, has released me to notice the things that I would usually miss: the people in the streets rather than the shop window; the conversation with my daughter rather than the special offers. Perhaps, in fact, this challenge has led to learning more about noticing God.
Rachel Lampardis Team Leader of the Joint Public Issues Team. She has worked for the Methodist Church as Secretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairs since 2000. She was a Commissioner with the Gambling Commission, responsible for regulating the gambling industry in the public interest, for 9 years. She was the Vice-President of the Methodist Conference 2016/17.