Building an Ethical Closet

Thanks to COVID19 you may be cooped up at home for a little while. I found this post buried in my drafts and thought it was the perfect time to post for anyone looking for some inspiration to organize.

I don’t have the wildest style when it comes to clothes but I do have some wild ethical dilemmas when I happen to browse a shopping mall. Since learning about how many clothes are produced and more recently learning about textile waste and water pollution, I’ve been increasingly aware that clothes communicate. They often form first impressions and they help define our roles, from uniforms to our faith. The money we spend communicates our priorities. What we wear and how we wear it is never neutral.

(If you have Netflix, you can watch a handful of documentaries on clothing production. Personally, I loved this episode of Patriot Act.)


What are you communicating?

My body is created as an imago dei. Clothing in scripture is used to express mourning, worship, and celebration as well as status and inheritance. God clothes Adam and Eve as they leave the garden. Exodus takes time to describe the intricate details of the priests’ clothes. In Luke, the prodigal son was immediately given the best robes and a ring upon his return. I don’t think this is an excuse to break the bank on the “best robes,” instead it means my clothing can be a reflection of a larger story.

My personal style is not formed in a vacuum. There are real people behind the jeans I pull on to my body and the shirts I reach my arms through. The patterns, fabrics, and details are designed and constructed by fellow image bearers. What I choose to purchase and wear either supports or exploits them. Ads or influencers will try to tell me what I need, but am I aware of the impact these fads have on the individuals and families working to produce these items?

When possible, I want to enjoy the clothes I wear, from the feel of the fabric, to fit, and to the ease of movement. Simply because something is on sale or in everyone else’s closet does not require me to go after it. Historically, impulse purchases have not been my friend. And quite honestly, those items wear out or get thrown out pretty quickly. Part of the fun in building a closet is the hunt! (Or the creativity to find new combinations of what you already own!) This requires some confidence and self-control to survive the waves of trendy styles. Did I mention patience?

What makes the cut?

Will I be able to wear this piece with other items I already own? Does the quality and style of this item allow me to wear it over time? For example, I’ve looked at the quality of shoes – sustainable materials, well-crafted design, and classic looks help avoid high turnover.

For what purpose does this item serve? Perhaps I need slacks for my job or a coat for the cold weather. You might even say that the accessory inspires beauty or flatters your shape in a unique way. There’s no immediate harm in a large wardrobe, but you might be surprised how satisfied you could be with a selective wardrobe. (Less to wash, less to fold?)

Am I willing and able to care properly for this item? Does this item require tailoring? Cashmere, wool, leather and other fabrics or other details may require special care that will impact your use and your budget.

Does this fit in my budget? Some pieces are investments. Some pieces are steals. (Just because the item is expensive does not mean its quality.)

What does my purchase mean for those who made this piece? Is my purchase complicit in exploitation? Or am I supporting a legitimate, ethical business or artisan? In an effort to reduce textile waste and support local businesses or charities, purchasing brand new clothes may come as plan b, if possible. If you do decide to shop brand new, look for an ethics/sourcing policy on the brand’s website. (Often located in the fine print at the bottom of the home page.) Beware of fast fashion.


Notes for the road.

  • Organize what you have. How you organize and display your clothes will also determine what you use. Use shoeboxes, hangers, shoe racks, and other household items to keep your items visible and ready. You might find something you forgot about or you might realize you have more than you need.
  • Accessories bring new life. Scarves, jewelry, bags, belts, even sunglasses (in moderation) can be a breath of fresh air for a beloved (old) cotton t-shirt and jeans. Don’t rush out to buy something else, when the solution may be right under your nose.
  • Try second hand first. I’ve had great experiences shopping for second hand items online on sites like eBay, ThredUp, and Poshmark. Shopping ethically doesn’t mean breaking the bank. Also, know your stores. You might find a better selection outside your normal commute. Consignment doesn’t always mean better, but there’s certainly a good chance you’ll find better quality more easily than your average church thrift store.
  • Know your measurements. Sizes will vary from brand to brand so don’t stick to a certain size section or rule out smaller/larger sizes simply because you’re a “6”.
  • Don’t be scared of a little maintenance. Jeans, sweaters, wool socks, oh my! Wear and tear happens and mending is a good skill to have in your back pocket to help you save a little money and avoid throwing out a perfectly good pair of jeans. A good tailor or cobbler can also make your clothes last through the years and fit properly.

Try this on.

Living Lighter: #PlasticFreeJuly

If you hadn’t heard this month is #PlasticFreeJuly.

Caring for the environment became important to me a couple of years ago as I considered how much waste our family produces. I didn’t understand too much about recycling but I knew I wanted to do my part to protect and nurture creation. Yet, the green world of “zero waste” and all things “eco-friendly” appeared to be intimidating and downright inconvenient.

#PlasticFreeJuly sounds impossible. And maybe it is at the moment! But what if — in these final days of July, or the following months — we work to slowly reduce our plastic consumption and work towards #PlasticFreeFridays or #PlasticFreeWeekends?

As a follow up to this post, here are some small steps where we’re learning to reduce unnecessary plastic or waste:

  • Food storage:
    • We’re getting better using glass food storage containers regularly, including reusing jars. Here’s a few tips on freezing food in glass jars.
    • My dear friend sent me a pack of bees wax wraps and they’ve replaced my plastic wrap use! (I still have the same small box of plastic wrap that I bought a few months after getting married almost three years ago! What?!)
  • Produce: While shopping for groceries, specifically produce, I steer clear of items wrapped in plastic that are available plastic-free, even if at another store. Sometimes I use a compostable bag or cloth bag and other times I skip the produce bag altogether.
  • Packaging:
    • Did you know you can reduce the extra packaging in your Amazon orders? Find the how-to here.
    • I recently used an old J.Crew bag for a gift bag. I took a moment to recreate it by arranging a fun collage of left over scrapbook paper and magazines over the brand name.
  • Water Waste: I try to remember to turn off the water while I brush my teeth or scrub dishes. I’m also learning about micro plastics in laundry.
  • Soap & Household Cleaners:
    • Once I ran out of disposable Swiffer Sweeper cloths we created our own reusable cloths from an old towel. Aaron cut the towel in similarly sized squares and tada! An effective, reusable, and eco-friendly solution!

I’m still learning everyday. I still buy plastic, I’m still intimidated by composting in our apartment, and I often “forget” to do things I know I should. Reducing waste and consumption is arguably better than recycling. And with one step at a time, it’s not too difficult and has a meaningful impact upon our earthly home.

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”

Wendell Berry

In my own experience, Christians haven’t been fond of climate change or even keeping track of their earthly footprint. There’s a few reasons for this, I suppose. Some believe it’s merely political, others believe the “end times” won’t allow for the earth to survive anyway, and even more have yet to consider the issue in the first place. Especially in the US, our society is highly individualistic, materialistic and consumerist. More often than not, our faith (theologically and practically) mirror these traits.

(If you’re still on the fence about your role in caring for the environment, or creation care or “ecojustice” as some like to say, this article may offer you a few points and scriptures to consider.)

How have your habits and routines been impacted by creation care?

Living Lighter: Goals for Reducing Our Waste

“Zero waste” goals are filled with good intentions, but they can also be glazed with privilege or affluence. (Here’s a helpful article.) I recognize this. My husband and I don’t have gold coins spilling from our pockets, but even as a one-income family we do have access to a variety of resources that others may not have. My hope in sharing these goals with you is that we can encourage each other to be conscious consumers, wherever you may find yourself.

Reducing waste keeps our environment clean and our ecosystem healthy. (Photo: Massimiliano Latella)

Here’s what we’ve worked on in the last year.

  • Recycling plastics. There are all different types of plastics. Some you can stick in the recycle bin, others you can’t! (Here’s a helpful breakdown.)
  • Recycling clothing. I’ve donated and shopped at thrift stores, but I recently learned you could recycle those old bras for a great cause! I sent mine here.
  • Glass alternatives.
    • Food storage. I save the glass jars and use them for either food storage, like tupperware, or other types of organization. I recently purchased these containers for lunches and leftovers.
    • Water bottles. Aaron gave me this glass one a few years ago and still use it everyday. I prefer this lid.
    • Straws. Glass straws are pretty and easy to use.
  • Grocery shopping. I try to avoid plastic packaging if possible, especially around produce. If necessary, Trader Joe’s and other super markets offer compostable produce bags. We also use fun reusable grocery bags, which makes the one-trip mission easier since the bags are stronger and usable more comfortable to carry. Even choosing paper over plastic is a smart move!
  • Swapping bathroom essentials.
    • Shampoo. We’ve swapped our shampoo bottles for bars! I thought the bar wouldn’t give me enough product or lather to really clean my thick hair, but I was wrong. I love it! I’ve been using this one for almost a year and a half. Aaron likes this one.
    • Body wash. These bars from Whole Foods are the bomb. When they go on sale, be sure to stock up!
    • Face wash. Aaron likes this stuff and this bar.
    • Toothbrushes & toothpaste. Bamboo toothbrushes have also been a hit. Did you know you can chew toothpaste? Aaron’s used these in the past, warning — these are a tad spendy. (I’ve seen others make their own toothpaste, but that’s a dare devil move if you ask me.)
  • Cloth napkins. I haven’t purchased paper napkins in almost 2 years. I can count on one hand how many rolls of paper towels I’ve used. Cloth napkins are really easy to make or find.
  • Cutting out red meat. The processing of red meat uses lots of water and land in a way that isn’t sustainable. (Read more.) This wasn’t super difficult as we hardly eat any beef. Some might also say that going vegan is even better on the environment. We’re not quite ready for that.
  • Supporting sustainable companies.
    • There are so many small and big business that can help you reduce your footprint. From big bulk stores to your neighborhood health and wellness store — you have options!
    • Have you heard of this zero-waste grocery delivery service??
    • We are also huge fans of the Buy Nothing Project.

Here are some new things we want to try this year.

  • Composting. I’m not sure how to attempt composting in our small apartment, but I’m up for trying if anyone has suggestions?
  • Water filter. Our friends have a Berkey water filter. They love it. Right now we have a Brita pitcher, which involves constant filter replacement. We don’t have a ton of space to spare, so we’ll look back into this once we move.
  • Other important bathroom swaps.  Someday we’ll swap our cotton swabs, moisturizers, and other bathroom essentials out for products that are more easily compostable and without plastic containers.
  • Beeswax food wraps. These are a great alternative to saran wrap. I don’t use plastic wrap a ton anyways, but I think it might be fun to try these (or make them!)

These changes don’t happen overnight, nor are they always consistent habits. Small steps in the right direction are key. Do you have any goals like these? I’d love to hear what has or hasn’t worked for you!