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Confessions of a Cloth-O-Holic
I am a self-diagnosed cloth-o-holic in recovery. I love beautiful things. I loved beautiful clothes and liked to surround myself with silks, cashmere and rich colors. I had earrings and bracelets to go with every outfit. Then I got a spiritual wake up call. Everything in my apartment got covered in mold and I had to dispose of practically everything I ever owned.

I tend to gain and lose weight regularly so I always had several sizes of clothing for every occasion in my closet. I had Winter clothes, Summer clothes, clothes for the Fall/Spring, casual clothes, business attire, formal wear, Indian Sarees for weddings, formal Punjabis, Indian satsang clothes, workout clothes, night clothes and a variety of coats, jackets, gloves, scarves and hats. I had shoes for different occasions and every season as well as sports equipment such as snowshoes, scuba gear and swimwear.

Collecting these many possessions had been easy. With stores like Gap, Old Navy, Target, H&M, department stores, Amazon and the many Indian and Western vendors on it, I was able to quickly grow my collection. When I was growing up overseas, how well you dressed was a symbol of your status, a sign of whether one was successful or not. In my collection were gorgeous one-of-a-kind saris handed down from my mother, the likes that can no longer be bought today. There were outfits that she had lovingly bought for me or gotten stitched overseas in my favorite colors. Each outfit in my closet had a story associated with it.

Whenever I went to an Amma program, as soon as darshan started, I would do my pranams to Amma, get a token and then head straight to the Amma shop to see what new items had arrived in the clothing section. It was an obsession. I would promise myself that I was not going to buy anymore outfits but inevitably I would find myself on the last night of the tour cramming yet another outfit into my already full suitcase.

I used to justify my "habit" by telling myself that since I occasionally donated clothes to thrift stores or charities, it was okay. As I started emptying my closet, the sheer volume of clothing I owned started to become a burden. The literal and energetic weight of what I had accumulated and how attached I was to these items began to dawn on me.

The irony of the situation is that I had been researching the clothing industry for a GreenFriends article when this situation arose in my life. The more I learnt about the clothing industry, the more I knew that I was contributing to the pollution of the planet and the wasting of precious resources. I also realized that the emphasis on how I looked on the outside distracted me from deeper spiritual growth. As Amma has said, the body is just a bag of bones and excreta. Trying to dress the body to be more attractive stemmed from a deep need to be seen and accepted by those around me. Everywhere we look, we are constantly being bombarded by messages that the solution to all of our problems is the next beauty product, procedure or latest fashionable outfit.

Here are some facts I learnt about the clothing industry:

  • It takes approx. 850 gallons of water to produce the cotton needed for one t-shirt - the equivalent of three years’ worth of drinking water. (World Wildife Foundation)

  • It takes over 2000 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce just one pair of jeans. (Treehugger.com)

  • Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture

  • It’s estimated that around 20% of industrial water pollution in the world comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles, and about 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used to turn raw materials into textiles. (Conscious Challenge)

  • Microfibers, tiny bits of plastic about the size of a grain of rice, are a source of pollution from synthetic clothing such as fleece jackets. Washing a typical polyester fleece can release thousands of microfibers that can travel to the local water treatment plant, where they can slip by filters and enter rivers, lakes, and oceans. Microfiber pollution has been found in rain, inside fish and even in beer. (Is Your Fleece Jacket Polluting the Oceans? | KQED)

  • Around 85% of all textiles thrown away in the US – roughly 13 million tons in 2017 – are either dumped into landfills or burned. The average American has been estimated to throw away 80 lbs of clothes each year. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200710-why-clothes-are-so-hard-to-recycle)

  • Much of the donated clothing in North America is not used for the benefit of local charities as people believe. It is instead sold in bulk to Africa and other third world countries. Due to the decline in the quality of materials used to make the clothes, not all of the items can be sold. The unsold items end up being trashed or burned which causes more pollution. The import of cheap used clothes also thwarts the local textile industries and tailors. Several of these countries tried to ban these imports but faced pressure from US lobby groups. It is important to understand the impact of our choices on not just the planet but also on developing nations and their citizens around the world. (https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/december-2017-march-2018/protectionist-ban-imported-used-clothing)

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What steps can you take to reduce your consumption of the natural resources needed for clothing?

"People should realize their dharma (duty). So many things are unnecessarily wasted in this world. Too many cars, too much food, too much energy being used. Conservation means conserve one's energy first. The consciousness that you are, realize that and awaken to the truth. Just as we observe traffic rules, Nature also has rules, and they are subtle rules. This is what spirituality teaches, take what you need and share the rest with others who have nothing. Just as we fasten the seat belt while driving in a car or an airplane, it is time to fasten your seat belt. Plant as many trees that you can, take care of nature, pray, serve and take care of others."

-Amma

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

REDUCE
  • Use less items. Learn to be satisfied with less. You need less than you think you do. I currently own two sets of night clothes, two sets of casual clothes, two layers for warmth and a winter coat. Given COVID and working from home, I have no need for satsang, formal or professional clothes for the time being.
  • Buy items that can be sustained over time

REUSE

  • Swap clothing with friends, family and neighbors
  • Repair existing clothing

RECYCLE

  • Donate to thrift shops or shelters
  • Educate yourself on the clothing industry

My life has gotten very simple. No longer burdened by possessions, I am able to feel an energetic freedom that I may only have experienced after finishing college. I am very careful about buying anything now and will only buy it if I absolutely need it and cannot rent or borrow it. While I did not plan to become a minimalist overnight, I am grateful to Amma for saving me from my addiction to clothing and material possessions.

I hope my story gives you pause to think about your life, how you consume goods and how you can simplify your habits to better align with your spiritual goals. May you be more with less.

Anonymous (Name withheld at the request of the author)

Read My First Vegetable Garden from the Winter 2020 newsletter >>

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