I suppose I can blame Marie Kondo for this one. Or maybe it was Gwyneth Paltrow and her GOOP tutorial that sent me over the edge. I hate t-shirts. Even since I’ve started decluttering, I’ve been haunted by the sheer volume of t-shirts taking up prime real estate in my
closet closets. Gulp. Sure, there was one ill-fated, fold-them-up-like-perfect-envelopes attempt to KonMari them into submission. But when I finally brought myself to unfold the cotton origami masterpieces, I found more wrinkles than I would have had I left them on the floor. You know what doesn’t spark joy? Ironing.
So there’s a simple solution here, right? Stop buying t-shirts. But almost every t-shirt I own is the direct result of participating in a work-related fundraiser or giving to a charitable organization. And I’m all for bucking the norm and setting myself apart, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do it and not look like a complete jerkface when the rest of my colleagues are rocking shirts for the local children’s hospital. What’s a woman on a mission to declutter to do?
There’s no debating this: I don’t actually want another t-shirt. In fact, I rarely wear t-shirts. If I’m going to work out, I prefer tank tops (noodle arms bringing the gun show). And if it’s the rest of my life, I’m usually too cold, I’m trying to dress professionally, or both. If the Marie Kondo criteria include happiness or utility, t-shirts bring me neither.
In addition to not wanting more stuff, I sometimes fear these tees do more harm than good. And I’m not just talking about the already-claustrophobic feel of my closet. The first problem that I see with these kinds of t-shirts is that they divert funds from the actual cause. Instead of giving $15 to the children’s hospital, food bank, or animal preserve, I’m only giving the proceeds. This model rings true for local events like neighborhood races all the way to big companies like Ivory Ella, who, as near as I can tell, has sold approximately 9 million of their t-shirts to my students in the past year and has donated $679,671.
In addition to giving less cash to the cause, I’m also really leery of how the shirts are made. If someone is selling a shirt for $10, you can pretty much bet the farm that they’re not made of ethically sourced or organic cotton. After we consider where the cotton came from, then we have to figure in the kind of labor went into making the shirts. How are the workers paid? How are they treated? Again, I’m skeptical. Of course, the alternative is that they really could be high-quality shirts priced at a screamin’ deal. But then what’s the profit margin? Lose-lose, right?
When a shirt is emblazoned with a giant elephant, logo, or catchy slogan, there’s no denying the awareness that it brings to the cause. People can’t give to a cause if they’re not aware of it. When I ordered a Save Darfur hoodie in college, I vividly remember my dad asking me, “Who?” That shirt catapulted me into conversation, shedding light on a topic not just for my dad, but for anyone who saw me wearing it.
But awareness isn’t enough. Charities also need people to part with their money. So when yellow Livestrong bracelets show up on everyone’s wrist or (RED) gear fills all the racks at GAP, something that is charitable also becomes trendy. As far as peer pressure goes, this kind is tame* but effective nonetheless. The more items that are sold, the more people feel pressured–dare I say guilted–into joining the crowd. It’s one thing to resist the Joneses when they’re buying a Mercedes they can’t afford. It’s a whole different kind of willpower to say no to a $10 silicone bracelet. While this kind of one-upmanship plays out, the charity reaps the benefits.
So what’s the solution here? I’m not sure there really is one. Of course, my preference will always be to give a cash donation or to volunteer my time for a cause. But in lieu of that, I’ll be wearing a shirt alongside my coworkers, and I’ll be feeling both uncomfortable and generous at the same time.
So Tell Me…How many charity or race t-shirts do you own? Do you have a good workaround for my t-shirt troubles?
*Just ask middle-school Penny who had to have bangs despite having the most wicked cowlick you’ve ever see just left of center on my forehead. It was a great look.