Hongkongers must learn some self-control when shopping for clothes

Peter Kammerer says it is tough to resist temptation in a consumer-driven society, but only keeping clothes we need and enjoy will benefit all, especially the environment

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 January, 2017, 7:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 January, 2017, 5:25pm

Shopping with one particular friend is torture. We’ll go from shop to shop comparing, checking the price, contrasting and double-checking. No matter whether it’s clothing, furniture or a bathroom fitting, the style, colour and size have to be just right. There won’t be a purchase until perfection is found.

This is not the shopper Hong Kong retailers want. Their ideal is someone who is driven by fashion and the seasons, the sort of person who sees an advertised item and wants it now. A quick sale and everyone’s happy. Well, everyone except the environment.

My friend pays attention to trends. But she’s also mindful of recycling, so only buys when she needs to and gives whatever is no longer of use to the needy. Clothes are put in the bins provided for the Community Used Clothes Recycling Bank Scheme.

Like her, I used last Wednesday – the traditional time three days before the start of the Lunar New Year – to spring clean, to go through belongings and dispose of the excess.

Government figures show that 110,000 tonnes of textile waste were sent to landfills in 2015, with only four per cent being recycled. There’s natural wear and tear, but also a lot of waste from thoughtless or impulsive buying.

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A survey by the environmental group Greenpeace has found that we each spend about HK$800 a month on clothes, with the result that wardrobes are bulging. It determined from questioning 1,000 people that, on average, women have 109 items of clothing and men 77, and nearly one-fifth of the items are seldom or never worn.

We’ve got to resist those ‘buy, buy’ offers of two for one and discounts for spending a little more

Research reveals that someone living in a climate like ours realistically needs, depending on gender, between 30 and 40 items of clothing. My wardrobe fits that sparse ideal: eight work and five casual shirts; two pairs of work trousers, a casual pair and two pairs of jeans; four jackets; five T-shirts and three pairs of shorts; a pair of shoes for work, one for casual wear and two for the gym, for a total of 34. Not being able to see, this is more than enough clothing to handle and take care of.

Are Hongkongers really spending HK$25 billion a year on clothes?

I’ve peeked into the closets of family and friends over the years and found myself the exception rather than the rule. Last year, during a regular home visit, I had a heated conversation with my mother about her clothing; there was so much that all spare space in her three-bedroom house was taken up with it.

Frustrated that, for each visit, I was literally living out of a suitcase, I did a stocktake and counted up 163 items. Heartlessly, I confronted the hoarder and convinced her that someone in their 80s should be passing on clothes they no longer wear to the poor.

The collection was pared down to 60; at times there were tears, at others shock when a pile formed of items that had been bought and never worn and no longer fitted, but in the end, there were smiles with the realisation that others would benefit.

A local drama company was especially happy with my late sister’s dresses, of 1970s vintage and perfect for upcoming performances.

This is the approach preached by cleaning consultant Marie Kondo in her popular book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese art of decluttering and organising .

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It’s a thin volume with a simple message: empty all your cupboards and stack everything in the middle of the room, then sort and organise it with an eye on keeping only that which “sparks joy”.

But, in a consumer-driven society such as ours, that’s only part of the problem. With so much advertising in our faces and shops everywhere, self-control is even more important.

We’ve got to resist those “buy, buy” offers of two for one and discounts for spending a little more.

Retailers wouldn’t be making as much, but we shouldn’t let their greed get in the way of the benefits.

Less demand means decreased pollution and waste from textile factories, our landfills won’t be as burdened, we will be able to save more, and, our homes won’t be so cluttered.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post