Saturday, October 17, 2009

Of Clothes and Books and Having Too Much

Last night I read that my friend Alana is going to try something new. She's been interested for a long time in simplifying her wardrobe and she's written before about her attraction to a "uniform." Then the other day she read an article about a woman who wore the same dress every day for a month. She started exploring the idea and found that several people had tried similar experiments. But I'll let her tell you about it.

Let me say up front that I have no intention of trying such a thing. I live in a very hot, humid climate, and often my clothes don't make it through a whole day, let alone more than one day. One of the women Alana linked to wrote that she washed the dress that she wore for a year "after every two or three wearings." Nothing lasts two or three wearings for me. Also, I don't have reliable enough water and/or electricity to be doing a load of laundry every single night just so that I can streamline my clothing choices. I think I would be using resources incorrectly.

And then, of course, there's the fact that I wore a school uniform for eight years of my life - four different school uniforms, in fact, including one supremely ugly one which included a tie.

However, all that said, I do find the concept fascinating. Here are some great quotes I gleaned from Alana's links:

"I challenged myself to reject the economic system that pushes over-consumption, and the bill of goods that has been sold, especially to women, about what makes a person good, attractive and interesting. Clothes are a big part of this image, and the expectation in time, effort, and financial investment is immense... [so] let's stop agreeing that the best way for women (in particular) to 'express themselves' is by purchasing new wardrobe items and putting together daily outfits." (from

"Perhaps, on a larger scale, we would waste less of the world’s resources if we were captured in wonder by the curve of a carefully crafted cup; the joyful noise of a neighborhood waking up in the morning; the blessed figure of a human being beside us at the kitchen table. We would no longer be animated by a surface curiosity, a desire to entertain ourselves when we get restless. Aliveness to reality in the active knowing of the God-given character of a thing can satisfy us. It is how we can relate to it on a human level, lovingly." (from The Dress Project.)

Wow. Clearly this goes beyond clothing.

I don't think I have a problem with owning too much clothing (though my husband might disagree), but I do buy way too many books. I should cut back on that. And I would if I lived somewhere with a nearby public library.

But it's about more than how many books I own. It's about how I read. Recently I read The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, by Sven Birkerts. Among many fascinating facts, I learned, in an essay called "The Owl has Flown," about the history of the way people read. People used to read "intensively." Up until about 1750, anyone literate who owned books would only own a few. These would be read over and over and over; they would be memorized. I don't read much this way, with the exception of the Bible, which I have read many times. Mostly I read "extensively." Birkerts describes it this way: "Newspapers, magazines, brochures, advertisements, and labels surround us everywhere - surround us, indeed, to the point of having turned our waking environment into a palimpsest of texts to be read, glanced at, or ignored. It is startling to recall the anecdote about the philosopher Erasmus pausing on a muddy thoroughfare to study a rare scrap of printed paper flickering at his feet."

I read like a starving person - gulp, gulp, gulp, and on to the next book or article or website. I have a huge pile of books I am going to read. Maybe it would benefit me to read less, but more intensively.


It's the same concept: we have so much - and that includes me, living in a third world country as I do and constantly aware of how much more I have than so many around me - that often we don't stop to appreciate and fully enjoy what we do have.

I'll be following Alana's project with interest.


Janet said...

I've been trying to train my daughters to wear their pants at least two days before throwing them in the wash. It's cool here now, and we aren't outdoors getting grimy. I've done that too, for years, but I admit it's more out of dislike for doing laundry than out of the more noble awareness you touch on here. (Janet looks shame-faced.)

You sound like our favorite professor on the subject of books. Remember his frequent book-buying-bans? :-)

I feel like I've taken to "gulping" too many books, too. I'd like to slow down and savor more; those moments of looking off into space with the book open before you are the times when it takes up residence in the mind.

Ruth said...

No need to look shame-faced! :-)

Yes, I remember! I don't have as many books as he did (and probably still does)!