No shirt, no shoes....no-one cares. As long as I've got some.
Well, I know that's not entirely true. Plenty of people care. And plenty more people probably would when confronted with it. But do we care enough to do something? Do we care enough to change the way we live our lives - even if it's is contrary to the way our society functions?
"If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry." Luke 3:11. Do we take that seriously?
When I was reading John Smith's book, Sharpening the Cutting Edge, he described an incident when a man on the run - a criminal running from other criminals - came to his house with torn up feet because he had no shoes. John gave him a pair. And not just one pair of many, but one of only two pairs of shoes John owned.
That struck a chord with me. Just a few days before, I had been looking for something and opened a cupboard I hadn't opened in a while. In that cupboard are at least 15 pairs of shoes. I got a surprise when I opened it because I had almost forgotten they were even there.
How can one person be giving away one of two pairs of shoes to someone who has none, while I have so many I can forget I even have half of them?
I don't consider myself extremely materialistic. I would normally comfort myself in the knowledge that I'm not a shop-a-holic. That there are people far worse than me. That I'm not excessive in buying clothes, by western society's standards. That I normally only get things I need.
But I was convicted. What is my definition of need? I don't have shoes to match this outfit, so I need new ones? I'm going to a wedding and can't wear the same dress as I did to the last one, so I need a new one. I've had the clothes I currently have for years and they are out of fashion, so I need new ones....
Compare that to someone who has not a single pair of shoes, so they need some. Someone who has only one outfit of clothing that is falling apart, so they need new ones. Someone who is freezing to death on the streets, and needs warm clothes.
My excuses, while valid and acceptable in my circles of friends, sound hollow and pathetic, and downright selfish in comparison.
But what do I do about it? That was my next question. It is no use feeling convicted if that leads to no action, other than an increased sensation of guilt when I next go shopping.
Am I brave enough to refuse to go on the way I have? Will I risk being unfashionable and dated, having clothes that are old, and having people notice that I wear the same things over and over?
Those reasons sound a bit silly - why does it matter? But if we admit it to ourselves, it does. Perhaps it is because of our work, and the image we present. Or our social standing. Or the way we want others to perceive us by what we wear and what we own. The way we want to view or perceive ourselves. For some reason, buying and owning things is very important to us.
What is it that drives us? And what prevents us from seeing how superficial those things are? Or if we do see it, what prevents us from acting on it?
These are the questions that just won't go away. And so I'm taking some action.
I don't know what the best long term action to take is. Consumerism, capitalism, materialism - those are monolithic ideals to grapple with outright.
But I do strongly believe, even in the face of ingrained social structures, one person can make a difference. But it can't stop with one person. It's no good me making a change, then simply going about my life pleased with myself for being so caring.
And what good is me stopping buying clothes if the only result is simply that I have less clothes, or worse - more money to spend on other equally unnecessary things.
So what I am planning is somewhat of an experiment. An investigation. A mission.
My first step is to go 12 months without buying any clothes, shoes or accessories (handbags, jewellery, scarves etc). How will I cope with that? I suspect it will feel easy until something wears out, breaks, or doesn't fit anymore. Or until I have a wedding to go to. Or until I walk into a shop and see a pretty dress. Or simply open a magazine. How will I combat these things?
The second step is to do something good with this experiment. I estimate that I currently spend around $1000 a year on clothes. I think this may be less than average, which means some probably spend less and some far more - But is the attitude and values behind the spending that I intend to focus on. I could be in danger of spending less on clothes only to spend more on something else to compensate.
So step 2a is to investigate what to do with the money I would have normally spent on myself.
Step 2b is to investigate how to better spend the money when we do buy things - eg. Finding companies that give back, such as TOMS and hello somebody. Looking at op shops and second hand clothing options. If you have suggestions, let me know.
Step 2c is to investigate how best to give away some of my more than two shirts, a la Luke 3:11. I suspect, expect and hope that this will involve more than just getting more creative with my wardrobe, but getting more creative with my attitude.
Step 3 is to look into the attitudes behind spending,accumulating and possessing. How can we realistically live in a western society and yet follow Biblical principles? Is it possible? And if it is, is it possible without a complete overhaul of society? How can everyone live their lives with social justice in mind without having to become a hippie or a radical?
Is my experiment too extreme to be realistic? Not extreme enough to effect real change?
What will be the affect on my life? What will be the outcome in my lifestyle and my attitudes?
Step 4 is to share it. Affect wider reaching change than just my own life. So I will be blogging (www.jessiecostin.com & jc&me) and vlogging as I go. Answering some of the questions I have posed above, your questions if you have any, and no doubt coming up with far more questions than I have answers. And at the end of it producing something for others to take away from, ie a book.
So follow along if you dare... I hope to do the experiment so others don't have to. So we can all then do the actions that will actually make a difference. But I also want this to be a dialogue, not just a one woman crusade.
A quick google search will reveal that going a year without buying clothes is not a unique concept. It has been done before. So if I'm going to do it, it has to be about more than just 'shopping my wardrobe' or saving money. It has to be about more than me.
If you have any questions for me to investigate, people or companies to talk to, issues to tackle, your own experiences and stories to share - let me know.
The experiment officially begins January 1, 2012 so that I am prepared and there is a plan and method rather than a fumbled knee-jerk reaction.
But my conscience has already got the better of me, and I think, I hope, that the change in my heart has already begun.