Friday, April 26, 2019

Wendell Berry and Us (Fashion Revolution Week, Final Post)

"Care in small matters makes us trustworthy in greater. When we come to be trusted with the property of others, whether in money or material, we are on our guard against wastefulness, carelessness, extravagance, because integrity requires that we should take care of and make the most of whatever property is put into our hands..." Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 177-178
"At present, too ignorant to know how ignorant we are, we believe that we are free to impose our will upon the land with the utmost power and speed to gain the largest profit in the shortest time...The woods is left a shambles, for nobody thought of the forest rather than the trees." ~~ Wendell Berry, "A Forest Conversation," in Our Only World 
For Christians, the idea of being entrusted with another's property is integral to our understanding of stewardship. God made it all. He gives it to us...trusts us to care for it, not (as Mason says elsewhere) to throw battery acid into the watch workings.

There's also the proverb about borrowing the earth from our grandchildren. Caring for what belongs to others also means honouring the past and thinking of the future. What do we want to hand down, and I don't mean just ecology-wise?
"Any conversation at home between grandparents and grandchildren is potentially the beginning of a local culture, even of a sustaining local culture, however it might be cut short and wasted." ~~ Wendell Berry
Do we want to pass down the values of big ideas and small things, and not just growth for its own sake? Then we have to live like that ourselves. To repeat something from a previous year's Fashion Revolution post: it's never too late to plant some pizza seeds.
"To learn to meet our needs without continuous violence against one another and our only world would require an immense intellectual and practical effort, requiring the help of every human being perhaps to the end of human time.
"This would be work worthy of the name 'human.' It would be fascinating and lovely." ~~ Wendell Berry
So what does this mean when we buy socks?
"The logger who is free of financial anxiety can stop and think." 
"We...must think of reverence, humility, affection, familiarity, neighborliness, cooperation, thrift, appropriateness, local loyalty. These terms return us to the best of our heritage. They bring us home." ~~ Wendell Berry

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Our Duty to Buy Stuff (Charlotte Mason and Fashion Revolution Week)

"What we want is––not the best thing that can be had at the lowest possible price––but a thing suitable for our purpose, at a price which we can afford to pay and know to be just.
 "Looked at from this point of view, the whole matter is simplified; we are no longer perpetually running round, harassing ourselves and wearing out other people in the search after bargains. Every purchase becomes a simple, straightforward duty. We feel it to be a matter of integrity to deal with tradesmen of our own neighbourhood, so far as they can supply us. If they fail to do so, we are at liberty to go further afield; but in this case, we soon fix upon the distant tradesman who can supply our needs, and escape the snare of bargain-hunting." Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 176-177
13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.14 She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. ~~ Proverbs 31:13-16, 18

Does Proverbs 31 prove that we have a justifiable need to buyeth things? The condition, though, seems to be "wisely."

In the previous passages from Charlotte Mason's Ourselves, she focused on the issue of debt; here she is concerned with wasted time and effort. You've done the dollar math, she says; now figure out your other costs. Even being disorganized in planning, not having bought what you should have realized you were going to need (or not being able to find it in a mess) costs something. Ordering a bargain item of poor quality (Proverbs 31:18) costs return postage, and delay while you search for something better, and even (as Mason says) creates hassle for other people.

In this age of technology, we have useful shopping tools at our disposal. We can not only locate a "distant tradesman" who has exactly what we need, but we can read customer reviews of those products. We can also, ironically, find out about and order from farmers and craftspeople who produce goods almost in our own backyards. Provided we use the tools wisely, shopping both "afield" and locally has never been easier. (As many have found, too easy.)

We're also encouraged to maximize what we do have (verse 16) and use it for God's glory. If we buy land, the goal is to plant on it, and share the harvest with others. If we buy craft supplies (verse 13), we don't let them gather dust.

How does that apply to the area of clothing and fast fashion? We choose carefully, think about how we'll wear the shoes or the pants, think about whether it's the right time to buy. We read the fine print in the description, study the size charts and the reviews, figure out our price point. But then we ask one more question about the item we're considering: "Who Made My Clothes?"

If we have a feeling that we wouldn't like the answer, we'd better say no. 

This series will continue tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Happy Integrity of Getting Dressed (Charlotte Mason and Fashion Revolution Week)

Apologies: this is Wednesday's post, coming to you a little early.

"Honesty.––'My duty towards my neighbour is––to keep my hands from picking and stealing'; so says the Church Catechism, and this is the common acceptation of the word honesty. We should, of course, all scorn to take what belongs to another person, and feel ourselves safe so far, anyway, as this charge goes....[But] one caution we must bear in mind.––we may not spend what we have not got...The schoolboy who gets 'tick' [credit] or borrows from his schoolmates grows into the man who is behind-hand with his accounts, and that means, not only an injury to the persons who have supplied him with their goods, but a grave injury to himself. He becomes so harassed and worried with the pressure of debts here and debts there, that he has no room in his mind for thoughts that are worth while. His loss of integrity is a leak which sinks his whole character...That beautiful whole which we call integrity is marred by sins of negligence." Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 174-176
There's no free lunch...or free t-shirt. The earth pays, in water consumption, factory pollution, and eventual disposal. Fabric makers and clothing sewists pay, especially if they are very young, in missed opportunities for education, and by entrapment in an economic system that does not pay them fairly or respect them as persons. Consumers pay, probably not the true cost, but just enough to keep them anxious about credit card bills and guilty about the mess in their closets. They pay by staying just as trapped by the same system of too much but never enough: as Charlotte Mason says, harassed, worried, and pressured. This is not a happy scenario.

But what is enough? As Cal Newport says in Digital Minimalism, it can be hard to get a clear picture of what you need (in any part of life) until you've tried living with only the essentials. Courtney Carver's Project 333 is one strategy for a clothing rethink, as is going on a buying fast like Lee Simpson. The point of both is not so much to save money as to increase gratitude, spur creativity, and bring us back to what used to be normal life. (Not shopping as entertainment, and not having a new outfit for every occasion.)

How can we keep from being, morally and literally, "behind-hand with our accounts?" How can we shop and dress in a way that creates more happiness? I don't think there is just one answer. The principle might be integrity, but the practice is going to look different for everybody.

For me this week, happy shopping looked like an off-white cotton-ramie sweater from the thrift store. The sweater appears to be hand-crocheted, but it has a commercial care label in it (the brand label has been cut out), which says Made in China. It seems unfathomable that a single crocheter would put that much time and skill into hand-making a sweater like this--and then, probably, another one, and another one. My hands would hurt after making just one sleeve (I hate crocheting with thread). If someone out there knows more about commercial needlework, please enlighten me. (Do robots crochet?) As it is, though, it makes me want to hold up a #FashionRevolution sign asking "Who Made My Clothes?" 

The sweater was not a bare necessity, but it was bought with a purpose: I needed a neutral top to go with a recently-thrifted summer skirt which appears to have been home-sewn. (The person either forgot to sew the skirt hem or it came out afterwards: I have to fix that before I can wear it.)

The bonus: it will go with a lot of other things, like this shirt jacket.
And scarves (of course).
I feel happy about giving a second life to what appears to be somebody's hard work. I'm happy that it fits in well with my other clothes. I'm happy that I could buy it at a thrift-store price and support M.C.C.  And I'm very happy that now I have more "room in my mind for thoughts that are worth while." I need all of that I can get.

This series will continue tomorrow.

Through Our Fingers, and Nothing Done (Charlotte Mason and Fashion Revolution Week)

"It is astonishing how much time there is in a day, and how many things we can get in if we have a mind. It is also astonishing how a day, a week, or a year may slip through our fingers, and nothing done. We say we have done no harm, that we have not meant to do wrong. We have simply let ourselves drift." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, p. 173
I first posted about Fashion Revolution Week in 2016, so this is my fourth attempt at making sense of what has happened and what is still happening. Have the problems of fast fashion changed at all in three or in the six years since the Rana Plaza factory collapse? Are working conditions better or worse? Are the rivers in Asia any less polluted? Has this winter's tidying-up fad made people any more thoughtful about how or where they find their clothes?

My take on the ethical wardrobe has been attempted (to use a current Charlotte Mason thought) "however imperfectly." Mall trips and visits to new clothing stores are pretty rare for me. The majority of my clothes were bought used, mostly from the thrift store where I volunteer, occasionally from a consignment store. I have a couple of pieces from sustainable clothing brands, and some fair-trade jewelry.  But the discount food-clothing-everything store beside our building is also a source of temptation, especially when you look past the blingy stuff and see that they do have decent-quality shirts, sneakers, socks, and even purses (one of my most-used favourites came from there, and you probably couldn't tell which one). And as I've posted before, both my pairs of comfortable but inexpensive ankle boots came from Walmart. The cliché of buying top quality keepers vs. low-cost junk has not always held true; sometimes discount-store sneakers and boots have been exactly what I needed and have held up surprisingly well.
I wish I had a satisfies-everything answer to all of this. As Charlotte Mason says, I don't mean to do wrong when I choose a shirt or a pair of shoes. She also said you should just figure out what you need, and then go and buy it (or have it made), as locally as possible and without undue fuss. Ruminating over where clothes come from should not become either narcissistic or masochistic.

But drift happens. Maybe I need to mean a little harder to do right. Especially when rivers still turn blue, and factories still fall down.

This series will continue tomorrow.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Curb that Filly, Inclination (Charlotte Mason and Fashion Revolution Week)

"The Habit of Finishing.––What is worth beginning is worth finishing, and what is worth doing is worth doing well. Do not let yourself begin to make a dozen things, all of them tumbling about unfinished in your box. Of course there are fifty reasons for doing the new thing; but here is another case where we must curb that filly, Inclination. It is worth while to make ourselves go on with the thing we are doing until it is finished. Even so, there is the temptation to scamp in order to get at the new thing; but let us do each bit of work as perfectly as we know how, remembering that each thing we turn out is a bit of ourselves, and we must leave it whole and complete; for this is Integrity." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 171-172
"Loved clothes last." ~~ 

Can we play MadLibs with Charlotte Mason here?
"Do not let yourself [buy] a dozen things [impulsively], all of them tumbling about in your [closet]. Of course there are fifty reasons for [buying] the new thing, is worth while to make ourselves go on with the thing we are [wearing] until it is finished...Let us use each piece of [clothing] as [creatively] as we know how, remember that each [piece of clothing] we [use 
well] is a bit of ourselves..."
Between three and four years ago, I got rid of most of my clothes. In my defense, most of them were well-worn already; many were rummage-saled and thrifted, and some had been handed to me by someone who bought multiples of anything (usually black) on sale. Disposing of them did not cause me a great deal of pain, except for the bepuzzlement of figuring out what I was going to replace them with. When I did start re-thrifting a wardrobe, it became, we'll say, very fluid: a lot came in, and a lot went out again. I'm working at curbing that filly, Inclination; I still bring home new clothes, but I'm choosing them more carefully and keeping them longer.
It's only this year that I've been able to look at what I have and realize that I've been wearing some of the same clothes for the past three years, with no plans yet to get rid of them. We're starting to have a history together. (Some of you can probably do way better than that, but I had to start somewhere.)
Fall, 2016

This series will continue tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Charlotte Mason was a minimalist decorator?

"It is worth while to remember that space is the most precious and also the most pleasing thing in a house or room; and that even a small room becomes spacious if it is not crowded with useless objects." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, p. 177

(Guessing that she was not a fan of Victorian decorating!)

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Intentional Thrifter had a coupon

It was a good day to be back at the thrift store! It's Volunteer Appreciation Week, and each volunteer was given a discount coupon. Here's what I found:

A poetry book, with CD, for Lydia
A spring dress for me (better with a belt)
A shiny necklace
And a copy of Dorothy Wordsworth's journals. (Not sure what she would have made of the poetry book.)