Monday, July 8, 2013

Take a picture, it'll last longer

I'm not a collector of "stuff." I'm messy, sure. My desk is piled high with paper, and my car is littered with the evidence of recent runs and half-completed to-do lists. But despite these tendencies, I don't actually surround myself with clutter. My husband, dog, and I live in a small one-bedroom condo with limited storage space, and in no way do I yearn for more. It's certainly not a spartan existence - I have kitchen cupboards full of cookware, shelves of books, and pieces of art that I love. But I don't have enough space to accumulate too much more than I need, and I like it that way.

We share one small closet, and while I'll admit that I do encroach a bit onto his side, I'm no clothes horse. I love interesting, colorful clothes and am intrigued by fashion, but unfortunately (or fortunately, maybe) I really hate shopping, so there's not actually much of interest in there. With one exception: the disproportionate number of t-shirts. A runner for over a quarter of a century now, it's hard to even guess how many race t-shirts I've acquired in my lifetime. My normal routine is to wear them a few times on a run or to the gym, and then if I don't really love how they feel (and I usually don't), I donate them to my local thrift shop before they become too ragged or sweat-stained for someone else to be able to use them. Of course, there have been many special runs through the years, the t-shirts from which I've hung onto for sentimental reasons, and so a collection has inadvertently developed over time.

The running shirts that I was able to grab quickly from my closet, for demonstrative
purposes. There are probably actually twice as many packed away in there.

I've never given much thought to any of this. Like most runners, I dig eagerly into the bag to see what the t-shirt looks like when I pick up my race packet. But no matter how much I like it, I rarely feel compelled to hang onto it. I donate it to charity and assume that it moves on to serve some other purpose, not realizing that I'm actually contributing to a serious global problem.

I recently read an interesting article: The Afterlife of Cheap Clothes (2012). I recommend that you give it a read, but in case you don't, here's the bottom line: Our consumption of inexpensive clothing has created a glut of textile waste that overburdens our domestic charities, who cannot process and sell the volume of donated clothing they receive. Some of it gets recycled, and the rest is shipped and sold overseas to markets that no longer have a strong demand for our cheaply-made throwaways. Even the poorest of the poor don't want or need this stuff. So what if we just stopped making it?

There have been a few races I've entered where I've been given a choice to decline the t-shirt, and pay a lower entry fee (which I always do). I'd love to see more race directors providing us with this option, and more runners thinking twice about acquiring more things that they don't need. We have our finish times, our race memories and stories, and probably some photos. That seems like plenty. I'm not looking to start a revolution here, but I will start voicing this preference to the organizers of the events in which I participate. I will start trying to get the most out of the t-shirts that I do get stuck with, and buying fewer new running shirts. And most difficult of all, I will try my hardest to resist that $7 tank top that I don't really need (even though it's really cute) the next time I'm distracted by the women's clothing section at Target. Because I really only went in there for toothpaste anyway.


  1. I hardly wear any of mine shirts. They are mostly cotton shirts down here in Texas, which is pretty much impossible to wear outside during the Summer.

    My friend's friend does t-shirt quilts at I'm thinking about doing this with most of my t-shirts.

    I wished they would allow us to reduce teh cost for no shirt or have variety. I like getting shorts or a hat or some socks. Granted I would wear more tank tops if they had those provided.

    1. These quilts are so cute! I'm thinking about something productive I could do with the race shirts I already have. I love the quilt idea, but then I don't think I'd want to use the quilt once it was made! Maybe if I had it made into a quilt and then donated THAT to an organization that could use it??

      I agree, socks and tanks would be great. But eventually I'd accumulate too many of those, too. =)

  2. Ahh this post resonates with me! I didn't grab my free shirt at a fun race I did recently (Ridiculous Obstacle Challenge) because I don't need any more t-shirts and it was cotton, not a tech t. I do wear some of my race shirts (usually the long sleeved ones in the winter) but not many since I prefer tanks. I like the option of paying less for no shirt or maybe I'll reconsider even picking mine up, although that doesn't really solve the waste problem since it'll still get donated anyway.

    1. I'm with you - if it's long-sleeved or a tech material, I'm more likely to wear it. But even still, only a few times, because soon enough another one will come along, and then off to the charity thrift shop it goes!

      I often skip the shirt when it's offered, but I realized recently that the problem is that I don't tell the race organizers that I'm going to do so ... so they still get made (and then donated, recycled, shipped overseas, etc.). The making of all of these shirts is at the heart of the matter. And clearly, lots of runners do want and love them, so I don't expect for anyone to stop making them anytime soon. But I think that if those of us who don't want them just start saying so, then maybe eventually fewer will be produced. And that would be good!