Will stay-at-home orders mitigate our materialism?


Like most teenagers, I love fashion and try to stay up to date on trends. Once the pandemic hit and people started staying inside and remaining socially distant, however, I quickly learned that I can re-wear my favorite sweater as many times as I want, and that I need only one or two pairs of comfortable pants.

I found myself reaching for the same outfit daily, and I learned that — unless that sweatshirt has oil stains on it from last night’s pizza — I do not need, or want, more than a few outfits.

For decades, humans have sold themselves on a materialistic mindset, buying into fast fashion, always wanting the new and improved consumer product. Not only is this mindset economically unsustainable for many, but constantly producing consumer goods is detrimental to the environment and international labor standards.

Throughout this pandemic and the resulting economic decline, millions have lost their jobs and face stay-at-home orders. When staying home, humans are learning to live with less — less clothing and food, and fewer activities — and their mindset of owning things is rapidly changing.

Is staying at home enough to change the consumer impulse permanently?

Before staying at home, retail sales were high, and people were continuously buying. People would walk by stores selling the latest product, enticed by its newness. They would go home and change into countless outfits, fretting re-wearing anything too soon, or posting in the same outfit on Instagram.

One people were told to stay home, however, the new shirt, pants or sneakers just purchased began getting less use. In fact, everyone realized that they only need a few shirts, a sweatshirt, and a sturdy pair of sweatpants and slippers to survive.

Even though people can still shop online, sales have drastically decreased. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, sales fell nearly 9 percent in only one month, including all retail purchases and restaurant sales. People started recognizing that they do not need as much stuff to survive and be happy.

While people get used to the “less is more” lifestyle, not only do their pockets thank them, but so does the environment.

Retail production has the ability to slow down during the pandemic, benefitting not only the environment, but also the factory workers. Fast fashion — a term used to describe producing new designs at a rapid pace, and quickly disposing of them to keep on trend — is an unsustainable practice that degrades the environment, and allows for immoral labor practices.

According to Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, the fashion industry produces 92 million tons of waste and uses 79 trillion liters of water annually. To try and maintain the high speed of production necessary to meet consumer demands, large companies — such as Zara, H&M and Forever 21 — require production rates that are nearly impossible to reach.

In one year alone, rather than having the standard four seasons, fast fashion had 52 micro-seasons. These workers — mostly women — face all forms of abuse while working: emotional, sexual and physical. To combat this issue, consumers must ensure that their clothing has a long shelf life, and that they are being manufactured at a slower, more responsible pace.

Because of COVID-19 and the economic recession, the industry has seen fewer sales, meaning the quantity and speed of production in the fashion industry has slowed, allowing the Earth to catch up to the demands of humans.

The question remains: Is quarantine enough to mitigate the materialistic, consumer mindset? Will humans find themselves craving the same quantity at the same pace?

Realistically, once the stay-at-home orders lift, many people will not have the means to return to the pace of a fast, consumer lifestyle, as many have lost jobs due to the economic implications of the virus. While some might return to fast fashion, others might consider the worth of their objects, and question whether the new product will add value to their lives.

Stuck at home, people realize what materials add worth and happiness to their everyday routines, leading them to question whether buying the latest, greatest object will truly improve their lives.

The author is a senior at Riverdale Country School, where she is editor for the school’s newspaper, The Riverdale Review.

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Lila King,