The Meaning of Mending

On my journey of minimalism, I have discovered a myriad of creative and sustainable ways of living. Often misunderstood by critics, minimalism is not about owning a particular number of items or eliminating joy. It is about simplicity, intentionality, and responsibility. It is about questioning everything and choosing meaning. And now, for me, it is about mending.

As a young girl, my mother taught me the value of investing in quality, using things gently, making do when possible, and repairing or repurposing rather than tossing. This mindset is often reserved for those forced by circumstance to live sustainably, but with increased opportunity we must remember the value of living slowly and mindfully. In a sense, we must create artificial limitations based in ethics.

While the age of convenience may present an illusion of abundance, the reality is that we can no longer afford to ignore the detrimental effects of our disposable culture. Our world is hurting, and through the practice of mending we can begin to heal the planet, inspire our creativity, and empower the makers.

••• The Why •••

By consuming and eventually mending high-quality, ethically-made goods, we are building a culture of integrity rather than greed; we are supporting creative and sustainable solutions rather than forcefully delegating our problems; and we are fueling our human need to innovate, to make, to survive.

While I fully believe in the concepts of minimalism (and have sometimes dreamt of my possessions going up in flames so not a thing could weigh me down), there are times I am concerned with the extreme devaluing of physical objects. To me, one of the most beautiful aspects of humanity is our creativity and craftsmanship, and our ability to tell a story through both aesthetic and utilitarian objects.

Of course, not all minimalists devalue objects to the point of asceticism. In fact, most find that decluttering allows them to more fully appreciate the objects that resonate with them. When everything you own has a purpose and inspires joy—even the most functional among them—I believe it creates a connection between maker and consumer. And when we use these objects well, when we love them enough to mend the wear, we are merging the story of maker and consumer and eliminating toxic waste and exploitation in the process.

To better understand the impacts of the clothing industry specifically and the importance of slow fashion, I encourage you to check out the following resources:

The reality of the clothing industry is undoubtedly depressing, but remember that the tiniest of positive actions become gloriously ginormous snowballs.

••• The How •••

Another misconception about minimalists is that we are immune to the collection and hoarding of goods. Like so many, I enjoy the anticipation of acquiring things, but I have also become anxious about the process of shopping now that I am aware of the psychological, social, and environmental impacts of mindless consumption.

By giving myself a set of ethical shopping guidelines, I am not only able to reduce my anxiety around consumption, but I am also able to empower the makers, fuel my creativity, generate a lighter footprint, and tell a story. Quite simply, my commitment to minimalism allows for more conscious consumerism and vice versa.

With the focus of clothing in mind, here are 5 ideas for improving your own impact:

  1. Declutter so you can better care for the clothes you love.
  2. Wear your clothes gently and for their intended purpose.
  3. Buy less so you can invest in high-quality, ethically-made clothes.
  4. Shop secondhand to divert waste from the landfill.
  5. Mend your clothes for longevity and creativity.

What is the story behind your most lovingly worn piece of clothing?

2 comments

  1. This is a perfect post for you! Any time I see you we always end up talking about material things and how our modern western culture thrives on buying all of the new and trendy things. We end up hording things we don’t actually need. Since I move every 2-3 years for work, it does help make me stop and think about what I buy because I’ll have to move it relatively soon. You are always encouraging people to be more mindful of consumption and investigate the ethics behind stores and the industry overall. This alone can help you limit your consumption because few companies actually adhere to ethical standards.

    One of my most worn and meaningful pieces of clothing is a Switchfoot shirt from their first concert I went to. It is worn but now softer and I don’t want to ever get rid of it. I have thought about making it or having it made into a pillow case for a throw pillow? Some people make blankets out of t-shirts, which is another cool idea. Switchfoot actually has a song about running from a wild fire consuming your house and realizing you grab the most meaningful few possessions and people and just run. As they are hypothetically running from a wild fire consuming their entire house and life, they realize they people and few things in the car are really all that matters to them. One line says, “you possess your possessions and they possess you, but if the house burns down tonight, I’ve got everything I need right here by my side”. I think of you every time I hear that line because you talk about this every time I see you. If and when you put too much value in having the latest things, making that almost your identity and selfishly hording them, they begin to possess you instead.

    1. Like you, moving as often as I do has definitely helped in keeping the things I own to that which matters most. Of course, it has taken many moves and many purges to get where I am, and still there are things I could likely let go of. Traveling light is another great way to be reminded of how little we actually need to survive and be happy.

      And yes, you are so right that by only supporting companies that align with your ethics, you will by default limit your overall consumption.

      I am not surprised by your most worn and meaningful piece of clothing! Shall I share that I have a Ricky Martin t-shirt from 17 years ago that I, too, need to upcycle? 🙂 I like your idea of making a throw pillow cover, and I would definitely recommend upcycling it into something that will require limited future washings, as that does degrade the fibers. I’ve thought of upcycling my favorite old t-shirts into shoe bags for traveling. I’ve even seen some people frame t-shirts. But for you, I think my vote would be the throw pillow cover!

      Wow, what a neat song! Thank you for sharing that with me. And I like that you’ve connected it to the many conversations we’ve had about minimalism, conscious consumerism, and creating a meaningful life. The verse you shared reminds me of a quote from The Minimalists: “Love people, use things. The opposite never works.”

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