When was the last time that you really looked in your closet? Did it take a pandemic for you to go through it and toss out or donate things that you never wore or haven’t worn in, forever? Well, that’s a start. But here’s something more to ponder.
In 2018, the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI) and their student collective called Dirty Laundry, developed the Closet Mass Index (CMI) (borrowing its name from Body Mass Index – BMI) based upon the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Dirty Laundry’s mission is to change the educational environment and the fashion industry, by initiating a dialogue and collective action centered around sustainability and the impact that our individual purchases have on the environment.
According to Dirty Laundry, “most clothes are bought in the spur of the moment: you fall in love with an item, perhaps without realizing that you already have 3 or 4 pieces alike. It becomes difficult to make conscious decisions when you don’t know what really is in your closet.”
Whether you have a small closet or a walk-in, have your ever thought about the items in your closet in terms of categories? For example:
- How many are new
- How many are unworn
- How many were gifted (hand-me-downs, swapped items)
- How many are secondhand
- How many were mended
- How many were made locally
- How many were made on your continent
- How many were made overseas
This is the idea behind AMFI’s Closet Mass Index. By using their worksheet to take stock of what’s in your closet by category, the CMI provides insight into the ‘health’ of your closet. According to Dirty Laundry, “It is a tool for measuring its volume in a qualitative way. The word qualitative is key here, since it’s not just about knowing the number of items, but also their origins, their journey into your closet and ultimately your own buying behavior.”
Dirty Laundry’s worksheet and the exercise of categorizing what’s currently in your closet is referred to as ‘7 Easy Steps’ (see list below). Once you have sorted your closet items into categories and completed the count, you will be able to ‘reflect’ on the contents and ask yourself a series of questions that will help you explore: your preferences, any future purchases and provide you with an accounting so that you can focus on your moral responsibility to the planet.
Which is the newest? Which is the oldest? When were they bought? Which are the favorites? How many were made: locally? On your continent? Overseas? What changes do you want to see in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years?
Where do you get most of your clothes? Which materials do you prefer? Do you see a pattern in the items you do not wear? What is your main trigger for buying (price, style….)? What do you do with the clothing you do not wear/want anymore?
As you can see, Dirty Laundry’s CMI worksheet refers to ‘jumpers’ (British English), which in American English are sweaters. So, I took the liberty of creating my own CMI that’s geared toward the American women’s wardrobe. On the worksheet below, I replaced Jumpers with Sweaters/ Sweatshirts, I added ‘Bottoms’, which encompasses Jeans, Pants, Shorts, Sweatpants and Leggings, and I added an additional category for Sports/Exercise clothing.
My Own Reflections: Beyond the Closet
After sorting, categorizing and counting the items in my own closet, the CMI exercise gave me a perspective as to my buying habits and the impact of ownership of these items. In the end, my reflections tended to be more philosophical.
Maybe, due to COVID (it’s just been that type of year), I found that I learned so much by looking into my closet. I came up with the following questions and realizations:
- How had COVID changed my closet? For one, all of those work blouses would have to wait another day.
- I could count on one hand how many garments were made in the U.S. and those that were, were not made recently. I asked myself, what did that mean for U.S. garment workers?
- How many of the clothes in my closet were seasonal and how many were year around? Should I recycle those that were only seasonal? Were they even recyclable?
- How many days per year could something be worn? Should this be an important consideration when buying a garment?
- I learned that my sports and exercise clothing contained a lot of Lycra, which make them harder or potentially impossible to recycle based on current methods. The questions became: how many of my garments are 100% of one material and how many were blends? It is known that blends are harder to recycle or upcycle. I asked myself, how do we improve the recyclability of blended garments?
- I did some research and found out that the BBC had a good article on how hard it is to recycle clothing. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200710-why-clothes-are-so-hard-to-recycle. This reminded me that I definitely needed to change my purchasing options in the future.
- I sadly discovered garments that I had never even worn and yet I kept them in my closet regardless.
- I also found items like my son’s vest from when he was a ring bearer. He is married now himself and it was clearly the sentimental side of a mom hanging on to something that someone else could possibly use.
- There were other non-clothing items in my closet, but could they be recycled? Objects like plastic hangers, suitcases, and bike helmets. Things with a combination of materials. What should I do with them?
- I also pondered the need for walk-in closets at all, and what the impact of having one is to the architecture of housing and therefore to the heating/cooling costs of buildings? What does possessing a walk-in closet mean for the expected rate of garment consumption?
- I learned that building operations account for 28 percent of carbon dioxide emissions annually, per the United Nations Environment Program. What percentage of floor space in housing are closets? How much energy does it take to keep our clothes comfortable? I found these links very helpful https://architecture2030.org/buildings_problem_why/
I was empowered to make changes in my life as a result of this exercise and therefore want to encourage everyone to take the CMI challenge. I can assure you…you’ll be very happy you did! Maybe you’ll even want to make it your New Year’s Resolution?
Other Closet Solutions
For those of you who are handy with a sewing machine (which everyone who’s reading this UoF blogpost probably is), Dirty Laundry suggests that you take an accounting of how many pieces in your closet that you can:
For more on how to upcycling and recycling, be sure to check out UoF’s new Sustainability Series by Noor Bchara, founder of Upcycle Design School. Learn how to become a more sustainably-minded global citizen.
Together we can reduce our carbon footprint and I think that’s the best New Year’s Resolution of ALL!
So, tell us…what does your closet have to say about YOU?
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