The most important R of all.
I believe everything starts from the head. A thought triggers a feeling which leads to action and result. Good thought leads to good result. Control your mind, which controls your outcome. Therefore, it’s essential to set your mind right, align with good intention and attitude before starting something. Know your whys: Why are you doing this? Why change? Why bother? It will keep you focused as you remind yourself why you are doing this.
Rethink. I definitely need to rethink my consumption habits.
That was my life in Singapore. I was a shopaholic, a hoarder, and a collector. I accumulated so much stuff over the years, I had to turn one of my bedrooms into a walk-in wardrobe. Sounds like every girls’ dream to have a walk-in wardrobe filled with all your favorite things. Not quite. I often caught myself staring at this vast collection of stuff thinking ‘I have nothing to wear.’
Back then, I participated in many flea markets to sell off clothes I stopped wearing, so I could buy more. I didn’t think I was a shopaholic then. I just love to buy things and collect them. Perhaps subconsciously, I loved the sense of power and control when I could afford things and buy whatever I want, wherever I go, whenever. I worked hard and I shopped harder because I deserved every single cent of it. “I shop therefore I am.” ~ Barbara Kruger.
I felt less ‘bad’ since I got back some money from the sales at flea markets. Even though these items were sold at a loss most of the time. I was known as the flea market girl among my peers, so naturally, I was assigned to design and organize our flea market series at Zouk – Flea & Easy. It was initially started for colleagues who shared similar problems – having too many clothes and wanting to get rid of them to get new ones but have no time to participate in other markets. It was more for staff to shop from one another internally.
Words got around, members asked for spots to sell, others wanted to come shop, and it soon converted to a public affair that happened sporadically on a Sunday afternoon. A great time to catch up with everyone; old and new members, public, animals, kids, and babies are welcomed. The crowd came to drink, dance, and shop merrily under one roof. It was the coolest flea market in Singapore. It went on for more than 10 years, even after I left Zouk to manage my own business.
When I started my own retail business ‘Blackmarket’ in 2008, I ended up shopping in my shop! My partner had to beg me to stop buying and leave some goods for our customers. Whenever I had the chance to travel, my mother would also beg me not to buy anything. Yes, b.e.g. They had to beg me to stop shopping or buying for goodness sake! Come to think of it, when I only have a suitcase full of clothes with me while traveling, I have more than enough to wear. When I have a massive wardrobe filled with all of my favorite pieces, I have nothing to wear. I knew something was not quite right with the equation but didn’t think much of it. How could I when I was thinking about my business 24/7?
My 5 year retail operation folded at the end of August 2013. Same period my grandma deteriorated and passed away, which made me appreciate and value life over anything else. I was left with 7 dollars in my bank account, all the time in the world, and a lot of stuff. I was lost. Not knowing what to do next since all my life, I thought I was meant to do what I did, which is Fashion and Design. I remember squatting down in my walk-in-wardrobe, staring at my years of fashion collections thinking: So what?
So what if I have all these designers’ clothes, whether it’s branded or not, one of a kind or a super rare find, local label, or vintage? I felt like a complete loser inside. So what if I’m wearing a Margiela? I couldn’t even afford to pay for my meal! All these stuff, my pride, and joy, of which I spent so much time, energy, and money on, meant nothing to me all of a sudden. I can’t even bring myself to dress up anymore. What for? These clothes don’t define me or how I felt then.
Has my life been all about consumption and accumulation of stuff until this point? I can’t even take them with me if I die the next day! Do I want to die as a consumer? or someone who contributed something valuable to this world?
With that realization, I began selling off my possessions one by one, which helped sustain me for 6 months or so before I started working again to manage a private art gallery. It was a peaceful period of my life, working in an inspiring space with the most affable boss and friend. At the same time, I took up some personal development courses to shift and expand my mindset.
I recalled vividly sitting at my work desk in the gallery, thinking I needed change. Though my life was back in a comfortable setting, I felt I couldn’t grow in Singapore and wondered what it was like living abroad.
That innocent thought and desire led me to an opportunity to live and work on an all Asia designer’s retail project in KL which got me really excited. That was when I needed to downsize my life seriously as I knew I couldn’t possibly take everything with me. From a walk-in-wardrobe, I managed to downsize to a single rack and 2 containers of winter wear, intimate wear, and sentimental pieces, which I managed to let go eventually at a preloved store I started in KL in September 2019 – Blackmarket Preloved Store. Yes, I reuse the brand name too.
Sold most of my stuff on the Carousell app and at various flea markets. Passed on clothes to my family and friends and finally, donated the rest to the Salvation Army. I felt light immediately when my wardrobe room was cleared. Mission impossible accomplished. Even the room lit up!
My story didn’t end there. It’s not happily ever after.
When I arrived in Malaysia, the 1:3 currency exchange rate got me excited about shopping again. Everything is divided by 3! It didn’t help that my work required me to go into shops to do market research on styles and price points. I often ended up buying something because ‘It’s 70% off!’, ‘It’s a clearance sale!’, ‘New life, new wardrobe!’ That’s how I convinced myself to buy and shop again.
The all Asia designer retail concept didn’t come to fruition eventually. I ended up consulting, managing, and marketing for a unique lifestyle development in the city center. I brought in and curated thematic markets at their event space, be it home-grown creative market, secondhand flea market, or charity market. I would usually allocate some budget to support these independent brands and small businesses = me shopping and buying more stuff!
Needless to say, my ‘downsized’ one rack wardrobe in Malaysia soon ran out of hanging space. I will need to spring clean again and sell my stuff at flea markets again. This was all too familiar. Even though I’ve moved out of Singapore to start a new life in Malaysia, nothing changed. This vicious cycle will continue as long as I keep buying something. I knew I had to stop shopping entirely to break this cycle, to go minimal and light. It sure felt good before I left Singapore. Now the stress is creeping back. No!
End 2017, I chanced upon the ‘Zero Waste Malaysia’ FB group. It opened my eyes to the world of Rs other than Recycling. After reading the posts and comments from their members, I learned so much more about sustainable low waste living, using the 5Rs principles: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot. I always thought Recycling is how consumers closed the loop. Far from it! Recycling is a myth! Malaysia became one of the dumping grounds for these so-called ‘recyclable’ waste after China banned all imports of foreign trash in 2018.
At that time, they were looking for a venue to host their very first zero-waste fest. I got in touch with the founders and helped secure their event venue at the space I was managing. The festival was a huge success with a great deal of love and support from the community.
Inspired, I challenge myself to radically change my lifestyle in 2018, to aim for zero waste every day using the 5R principles. I also committed to zero shopping on new fashion items, especially fast fashion items. I had not looked back ever since. Not only have I saved so much money, but I also saved a lot of time managing and sorting my waste. It’s been so freeing!
As I continued to downsize my life, I realized I didn’t need much after all. A lot of stuff we got is what the advertising world tells you that you need. No, you don’t. Go back to basics. Less is more. This is especially true when I pack for hiking trips. I made sure I only took what I truly needed without burdening a porter for my extra load. I love hiking. I know every weight matters and how heavy that extra kilo could get the higher you go. Nature is always the best teacher. It also humbled me.
During this stay home period, I would like to encourage you to rethink, reassess, and re-evaluate what the true ‘valuables’ in your life are. Is it your expensive material possessions or your loved ones? Is your dear life all about consumption or contribution? In the game of Monopoly, no matter how well you play, winning properties, hotels, cash, land titles, and whatnot, everything goes back into the box at the end of the game. We came to this world empty-handed, and we will leave empty-handed. Then what are we here for? If it’s not to work hard and spend hard to buy into the lifestyle society tells us to? I’ll let you take this time to rethink it.
Often we get through our busy lives mindlessly, buying into quick solutions to every problem presented. Think again. Now I think before I buy, and I think before I throw. It’s fun to exercise my creativity on a whole new level. Found many Rs that have guided me along the way, and I would like to share them with you here. I will be introducing one R at a time to help you ride on your own zero waste journey with ease. Subscribe to www.SmilesLikeGreenSpirit.com and follow us on IG / FB @SmilesLikeGreenSpirit!