The Fabric Shopping Trap // Why buying less fabric is good for your mind (and the environment)

The Fabric Shopping Trap // Why buying less fabric is good for your mind (and the environment) by thisblogisnotforyou.com

When I’m not sitting behind the sewing machine, I work full-time as a psychologist. This is why I every once in a while share a mental health-related post on this blog. Please grab a coffee and join the conversation!

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Which one of you considers themselves a hoarder? An addict?

Add the word fabric and I’m all in.

I’m definitely guilty of having a slightly unhealthy relationship with buying fabrics. I have all the cute postcards, signs and coffee mugs about how fun my fabric shopping addiction is.

Fabric shopping is amazing: I get home from a long and exhausting day at work. I could sew now to feel relaxed, empowered, fulfilled and productive and just generally good about myself. Instead I decide to flop on the couch with a glass of wine, get inspired by Instagram makers, feel bad about neglecting my hobby and then decide to check out some cute fabric online shops for a little inspiration. Browsing through endless creative possibilities I finally feel connected to my favourite pastime again, I get the happy sewing feels, I get a rush and decide to spend just a little more than I planned to spend after I decided to skip not spending anything altogether. Seeing the order hitting my inbox makes me happy. I will sew again, very soon, I promise.

The Fabric Shopping Trap // Why buying less fabric is good for your mind (and the environment) by thisblogisnotforyou.comThe Fabric Shopping Trap // Why buying less fabric is good for your mind (and the environment) by thisblogisnotforyou.comThe Fabric Shopping Trap // Why buying less fabric is good for your mind (and the environment) by thisblogisnotforyou.com

Fabric shopping – It’s a trap!

Our brain makes us feel happy when we shop. When we buy ourselves things our brain’s reward centre jumps into action and releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, that makes us feel good about what we just did and makes it more likely that we’ll do it again. Like when eating chocolate, or having sex. (Or taking drugs.)

Dopamine isn’t just released when we get a reward, but it’s also actually released in anticipation of a reward. Thus enters the joy of online shopping. It’s TWICE THE FUN! A couple of clicks and we get ourselves a double dopamine hit! First, when we order and second, when our order finally arrives in the mail. So in a way, online shopping isn’t only easily accessible it’s more exciting for our brain than shopping in person.

Finishing a project or buying fabric both triggers a dopamine response reward.

This is the reason why fabric shopping feels just as fun as sewing itself. It’s a pretty good substitute in the short term. But that’s about it. It’s a trick of the mind, and induces the feeling that we’re doing something for our hobbies, when we’re actually just lying on the couch stressed-out and scrolling through online shops. It gives us pleasure, we feel connected to our hobby without actually engaging in it. So it feels like a pretty good alternative when we can’t muster the energy to get immersed in a project.

Shopping for our hobby can feel like a pretty smart shortcut to calming our conscience, upping our mojo, feeling creative and engaged

Problem is, this only lasts for a pretty short time. Long-term – that’s not hard to guess – it doesn’t get us any of the benefits we achieve when we sew, make, create stuff. (Read more about the benefits of sewing here.) In our fast-paced lives we sometimes struggle to find the time and motivation to immerse ourselves in a slow-paced, mindful activity like sewing, embroidery or knitting. So shopping for our hobby can feel like a pretty smart shortcut to calming our conscience, upping our mojo, feeling creative and engaged.

I love fabric shopping. And I’m not saying that fabric shopping is a bad thing. But gaining pleasure from unnessecary and unsustainable fabric shopping instead of getting into action and sewing with the fabrics we already bought last time kind of defeats the purpose of sewing as a mindful and sustainable activity.

The Fabric Shopping Trap // Why buying less fabric is good for your mind (and the environment) by thisblogisnotforyou.comThe Fabric Shopping Trap // Why buying less fabric is good for your mind (and the environment) by thisblogisnotforyou.com

The Fabric Shopping Trap // Why buying less fabric is good for your mind (and the environment) by thisblogisnotforyou.com
The Fabric Shopping Trap // Why buying less fabric is good for your mind (and the environment) by thisblogisnotforyou.com

The Fabric Shopping Trap // Why buying less fabric is good for your mind (and the environment) by thisblogisnotforyou.comThe Fabric Shopping Trap // Why buying less fabric is good for your mind (and the environment) by thisblogisnotforyou.com

‘Lifetime’ stash – pleasure or pressure?

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about having a stash of five different fabrics at home. I’m talking so-called “lifetime stashes”, stashes so huge, we will never have the time to use them up while buying more fabrics in the meantime. I’m a fabric hoarder myself, let’s get this out. I buy fabrics because I like them, not because I need them urgently for a particular project. Lifetime stashes are fun. We pride ourselves with them on social media. I tell myself I’ll never have to leave the house or wait for an online order, because I always have everything I need for any project right at home with me. Does this keep me from adding to the stash? Hell, no! The sad thing is: I started to feel pressured by it. It’s not a trophy, more like a silent reproach. It’s a constant reminder of all the things I haven’t made yet.

Fabrics are not environmentally “neutral”. Polyester fabrics are one of the major sources of oceanic pollution and microplastics in our waters.

Furthermore, I turn my sustainable hobby into a hoarding business. I bought more than I will ever use (if I don’t stop buying). Fabrics are made from natural, animal or artificial fibres. They’re not environmentally “neutral”. Demand determines supply. The more fabrics we buy, the more fabrics are produced, using cottons, wool, all sorts of fibres and – sorry to break it to us – non-recyclable materials and a lot of microplastics. Polyester fabrics especially are one of the major sources of oceanic pollution and microplastics in our waters. But even natural fibres – cotton, linen, wool – are made by cutting down plants, animal farming and exploiting poorly paid workers in developmental countries.

I always took pride in the fact that I am independent from having to shop for my own clothes, that I support slow fashion and sustainability. Instead, I have been fooled by my own laziness and my brain’s reward centre into hoarding materials.

The Fabric Shopping Trap // Why buying less fabric is good for your mind (and the environment) by thisblogisnotforyou.com

Realising this, I have done two things:

First, I stopped buying fabrics. I actually haven’t bought any fabrics in almost a year now. More than a year, if I do not count the fabrics I bought as mandatory souvenirs on my last holidays – but I do. Instead, I’ve only used fabrics from my stash to sew and have been able reduce the amount of fabric in my sewing corner to some extent (probably only visible to my eyes if you ask the Mister). It feels really freeing to destash and I got inspired by the limits I set myself to up my creativity game. More often than not I feel happy going through my stash before the next project instead of feeling guilty. I try to be more conscious about fabric choices and and my own impact on the fabric industry.

Second, not being able to online shop instead of sewing, I finally had to tackle my inner conflict when I was just too lazy or tired or exhausted to sew and felt bad about it. That was interesting! Why do I feel guilty about not engaging in a self-imposed activity that is meant to promote relaxation and general well-being? I had to learn to tell myself that it’s ok to take a break from a thing I love every now and then. It doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped loving sewing and need to get stressed about it. It just means that I do not feel like sewing and not need to get stressed about it.

Since I stopped substituting sewing with fabric shopping, I haven’t actually sewn that much more. I read a lot. I knit. I took up spinning wool (it’s amazing!). It’s been a lot of fun!

The other day I wanted to make a dress and didn’t have the right kind and amount of fabric I needed at home… I made something else instead.

The Fabric Shopping Trap // Why buying less fabric is good for your mind (and the environment) by thisblogisnotforyou.com

Allowing myself to do what makes me happy and to take a break from it when it doesn’t make me happy reduced some of the time I spend sewing or taking pictures of finished projects. Instead, I’ve been really enjoying blogging some other content, posts like this one and articles about mental health.

Are you enjoying reading these? What’s your relationship with fabric shopping like?  I’d love to hear from you and get some feedback!

xx

Charlie


Happy sewing!

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38 thoughts on “The Fabric Shopping Trap // Why buying less fabric is good for your mind (and the environment)

  1. While I have never accumulated a very large stash – and I don’t want to – I can get an get an almost overwhelming urge to buy. I hate to let a good fabric get away! I love to make dresses – I wear only dresses – but I simply cannot make any more dresses unless I add onto my house. It to mention I’m now retired and need to be on the retirement budget. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    1. Thanks, Susan! I had the same problem with my handmade garments. I kept all of them for years, but there were quite a few that did not fit or I didn’t like anymore. I started to donate some of my handmade garments a while ago and now have finally room enough in my wardrobe for all the things I need to make from my stash!

  2. I feel this article has been written for me, I am exactly the same, even now I’m thinking I must hurry up and finish this reply as I want to look for some linen fabric I have to buy,

  3. I always thought I had a deep stash, but a month without shopping has shown me I “only” had a two month stash. I struggle with buying what I don’t need & may never use, but enjoy sewing 4-6 gram EFD bra for myself & my family weekly. I think I draw the line at fabric I can’t put away where it belongs. If my selves are full, I have a couple months supply. That seems like a good place for me to draw the line.

    1. So either your stash is quite moderate OR you get a lot of sewing done in a short time 🙂 I don’t find as much time for sewing as I had when I still went to uni, but now I can afford all the fabrics. So stash grows while sewing time is reduced. It should be the other way around!

  4. Wow, so much of what you’ve said resonates with me. Whilst I haven’t completely reigned myself in I am trying so very hard to use what I already have. Made a shirt the other week with left over fabric from a dress I’d done and I love it. It felt really good. And you are so right about the sustainability. Sadly, I am all too aware of the damage caused by the fabric and clothing industries and if its made from so called ‘natural animal fibres’ it is no better. Being vegan I choose not to wear materials of animal origin so it is even more important I guess to not over buy and make things I will wear for years to come. Loved your post and the photos too!

    1. Thank you Heidi! I’d be interested in what kind of materials you prefer to use being a vegan? Is it mainly plant-based fibres or artificial ones?

  5. Wow! This post resonates with me. Not only is there quite a stash but quite a pile of UFOs hanging around here. Love your little wooden side kick!

  6. Really good article: I’m enjoying this whole series. I have a small stash and most things have been bought with intention. I live in a small house and have a small income and have a fear of my hobby causing me stress! I know that my main enjoyment comes from the wearing of items, and so I prefer to sew rather than buy more fabric. I also have a bit of a self-imposed rule in that I am only allowed to fill one self with woven fabric, one with jersey and one is there for odds and ends. It seems to work at the moment!

    1. That’s a pretty good attitude towards buying and making you have! I wish I was there already, but as of now I’m still sitting between boxes and boxes full of fabrics. It’s nice to have so much to work with, but if I see anything brilliant in the shops, I have to pass 😉

  7. A great post and very timely. I too am guilty of being a buyer of fabric rather than a sewer of fabric. I have a reasonable size stash and I get a lot of enjoyment from shopping my stash. However this still doesn’t stop me from buying more fabric. It’s definitely a problem I would like to address and I think it will be small goals like not buying fabric for a month at a time that will get me where I would like to be.

  8. Great post! As a disabled sewist I can be caught in the trap of window shopping on the net when I’m unable to sew. I do find a bigger stash stresses me out though, so I’m trying to reduce it by using what I have…not easy when the ads are constant on IG!

    1. oh yes, IG is a pretty big trigger. I now try to pseudo-shop by just saving fabric posts to my wishlist, but not buying them IRL, haha.

  9. Great post–thank you. I, too, have a somewhat-too-large stash of lovely textiles. In my case, I am tied to the possibilities & disconnected from the time commitment of construction, so I have fabric to make 8 coats, but will I EVER commit 10-20 hours each to making them? Your post has inspired me to think a little differently about this–I’m no slave to a dopamine hit. I think I need to approach this from a planning perspective & imagine each textile as a part of a project package, rather than a fictious finished garment (if that makes sense) My goal has always been a beautifully fitted, well crafted wardrobe—-my stash reflects a relationship with focus & time that I need to address 🙂

    1. Very well said! The issue of dreaming up ficticous garments while shopping but not actually committing to the labourous construction process afterwards sounds familiar. After making to commitment to reduce my stash, I feel the limitiation is acutally really helping my creativity.

  10. Thank you for these thoughtful posts. I really enjoy them. In the last year I have acquired a small stash (2 shelves of an IKEA Billy bookcase), but I am a slow sewer and I feel the pressure of having spent our money and not yet made use of these fabrics. At the same time I feel the fear of “wasting” the fabric by making something I won’t wear. I am refusing to let the fear win and am starting to sew with these beauties

    1. That sounds like a reasonable stash, tho 🙂 Yes, hobbies should be fun and nothing to do with pressure or anxiety. I used to be very careful also scared I might waste precious fabrics. So I either bought cheap ones or let the good ones hang in my stash forever. I now learned that a) using cheap materials often leads to garments I don’t like to wear and b) the longer stuff sits in my stash the smaller is the fear of cutting into them. I now used up a lot of fabrics that I used to save for special projects and I wish I’d done that earlier!

  11. I’m trying really hard to ignore the emails and insta ads for new fabric. I have 2 very large storage boxes filled with fabric I’ve either been given over the years or kept “just in case” (old curtains, sheets, duvet covers), plus a smaller box filled with new fabric. Reading your blog has made me even more determined to stick to my plan of not buying. Thank you!

    1. Oh I know these “what if I need this in the future” boxes… I did a huge decluttering of my boxes last year and took out all the fabrics and remnants that have been in there for years and I still didn’t love or would use in the near future. I sold these on ebay. Recycling by selling them secondhand is also a great option for the unloved fabrics.

  12. Really though provoking article. Thank you. My stash is around 15 bolts of fabric and I feel bad that it’s just left there in a box… think I need to take a leaf out of your book and stop. Corona is not helping as I want to support local business

    1. Hi Liz! Yes I can relate to the wanting to support local businesses. I’ve been trying to stop buying yarns, too, but there’s a super small yarn shop here I would love to support. Last time I went I bought some wool I gifted to my hubbys grandma. I mean buying locally instead of ordering online is also one step forward.

    2. I feel the same Liz and have an equally sized stash. I’ve feared my favourite shops going under during corona so have grown my stash. Great article and yes I need to stop buying AND GET SEWING!

    3. I feel the same Liz and have an equally sized stash. I’ve feared my favourite shops going under during corona so have grown my stash. Great article and yes I need to stop buying AND GET SEWING!

  13. Ohhhh, I so relate! I realized a few years ago I had some unhealthy fabric buying behaviors. It’s an ongoing process to change them. I’m really happy with the results though. I just felt overwhelmed and guilty by all the project intentions with the fabric buys. I realized I wanted to feel free more than I wanted to have lots of pretty fabrics. This year I decided to confront the stash. I’m using what I have. No fabric stashing. I can get new fabric ONLY if it is for a cut-ready project. I’ve stuck with that. I also gave away some pieces. I found it helpful to ‘fabric therapy’ – where I acknowledged the intentions / motivations / desires behind the purchase, process them, and decide it’s okay to let them go.

  14. Touché about browsing online fabric shops when I’m too tired to sew!
    I currently have this rule of thumb that I can only buy new fabric once I’ve used as many pieces as in my last order (it doesn’t need to be the exact pieces from that order though). And in the meantime new fabric that catches my eye goes on the wishlist… It’s been working so far (but can sometimes be slightly frustrating).

  15. I have the opposite issue: I get deep and abiding satisfaction from not buying something. I enjoy filling up a cart, and I enjoy even more not buying it. And then I don’t have the zipper I need. It definitely made it challenging to stock up for stay-at-home, even for things like groceries. Anything can be a problem if you take it far enough! XD

  16. Ooh, this is interesting. I do not think my stash is particularly out of hand, YET. I like to use as many different fabrics in each quilt as I possibly can, yet that doesn’t mean I randomly throw just any fabrics together. So the stash is an artistic necessity for my creative style. If I see a fabulous print that I want to play with, I’ll buy a fat quarter or a half yard of it and when I use up the last little bits of it, I’m sad and wish I’d bought just a little bit more. So, interestingly, art quilter David Taylor did a presentation at our guild a few months ago, and he talked about his ENORMOUS fabric stash, with no guilt whatsoever. He does these amazingly realistic applique quilts made from the tiniest slivers of fabric in order to get the exact look he wants, capturing light and shadows masterfully, and he said that you just cannot do the kind of work he does without an extensive stash of fabrics to work from. He might have hundreds of different fabrics in a single quilt. But what interested me most about him was that he made no apologies whatsoever for the size of his stash — he sees himself as an artist and the fabric is his medium, period. I wonder how gender factors into the guilt that so many women have about how much fabric they buy, whether they’ll use it all up, if they are being “wasteful” or “productive” in their hobbies. My dad never felt guilty about how many golf clubs he owned, or about the environmental effects of the pesticides used on the golf courses he was supporting, or anything like that. He worked hard to support his family, and felt that he had earned and deserved to spend some money and time on a pastime for himself that got him out in the sunshine, clearing his head, challenging him, etc.
    Although I don’t think my fabric stash is out of hand, what you said about the dopamine hit from shopping DID resonate with me, however! I know what you mean about the rush of ordering something new and then receiving it in the mail, especially during this pandemic where the delivery truck pulling up has become the highlight of the whole week: “ooh, my SOCKS are coming tomorrow! I can hardly stand it!!” 🙂

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