The Less Blog

An attempt to make space in life for the good stuff.

Taking A Moment To Look at What I Buy

money for sensible things

If we’re going to focus this month on buying less, it makes sense to start with a fair assessment of what I currently buy.

Most of our household budget is set firmly in place. Rent, utilities, car expenses, giving to church and charity, savings, healthcare costs are all worked out through set costs and a discussion between Jono and I at the beginning of the financial year.

My week-to-week monetary responsibilities include the following:

$10: My own personal spending. If I want to go out with friends or buy something for myself (clothes, books, haircuts), this is my money. It used to be $20 a week, but I have so overblown my portion of the budget over the last few months that now, in order to get back on track for the rest of the year, I’m scaling back to $10 for the next couple of months.

$40: Spending on the kids. It seems like a lot but it includes lessons for things, clothing, school supplies, stuff for their bedroom, haircuts, outings, whatever.

$110: to spend on food and family entertainment. This means whatever I can save on food, we can spend going out on dates, to concerts, eating out as a family and so on.

$10 (a roll of quarters): To spend on laundry.

Last week these were my expenses:

$15 – taking the kids out for lunch, $20 – back to school supplies for the kids ($5 left in their budget)

$7.50 – hooks from Container Store ($2.50 left in my budget)

$139.50 – food (over by $13.50 at the supermarket… and then I made a last minute trip to Chipotle. 😦 )

$10 – laundry ($0 left in that budget)

From the outset, it’s pretty clear where I need to spend less: on food. In particular, impulse takeaway food, but also at the grocery store. I also need to work out how to manage my own limited spending money such that I’m not spending it all on hooks.

I often feel like the portions of the budget I control from week to week aren’t that significant, but in thinking it over I’ve realized something important: they’re the only portions of our budget where we can save extra money. Which means that they aren’t frivolous at all, but incredibly important. I wonder – by buying less, how much can I actually save this month for our family?

Take a moment now, if you can:
What does your weekly budget entail?
What did you spend money on last week?
What could you do with that money if this month you bought less?

(Image: Purse from Etsy)


It’s The End Of The Month…Where To Now?

calendar kids room

It’s the end of the month, my month of less factory made clothes. What have I learnt?

First, that fashion is not worth hurting someone else. It’s wonderful to be able to express myself through clothing, but when it comes in conflict my desire to put the needs of others before my own, fashion needs to step aside.

It’s completely possible to stop relying on factory-made clothes for me and my family. There are so many options for finding perfectly good, used clothes in the world: our local thrift stores, consignment sales, eBay, Etsy, ThredUp – why do I need to buy new? My friend Aimee even sent me a link to fair trade underwear! ( if you’re interested). I feel confident now to stop buying at the mall and online, and instead save a bunch of stuff from landfill and reuse it for my family. I’m still not entirely sure this is the best way forward for the people of Bangladesh, but for now I can’t send my money into the pockets of people who oppress the poor.

Sometimes I forget to make the most of the things I already own. When I was digging through my closet for the post on “loving what you already have”, I realized “there’s a lot of great stuff in here I hardly wear!” Which leads to…

It’s possible to wear “fair” clothing but still be bound by consumerism. I haven’t really posted about this over the course of the month, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about the last couple of days.

Like I said at the beginning of this blog, I do enjoy fashion. I enjoy the expressive, creative, visual and tactile aspects of it. But fashion gets tainted easily, both when the clothing we wear is made unethically, but also when it is driven by a desire to buy, acquire, buy something new, buy something better.

Just because I’ve been buying my clothing this month at thrift stores doesn’t mean I have felt free from the drive to consume. I’ve still thought a lot about, written a lot about, buying stuff. “If only I had something new to wear today,” I’ve thought. “This room would look so much better if I just had…” “I’m so dying to get that…” “The kids would so love that…” Does anyone else out there feel that those thoughts go through their mind way more than they wish they did?

So for September, I’m going to shift the focus of this blog just slightly onto Buying Less. I’m not perfect at doing that, so I’m going to enlist the help of a couple of friends who are great at it. I’ll share my portion of the household budget with you, and track how I spend it (or, hopefully, don’t spend it). And I’d love to hear your thoughts too: How can I help you buy less? How have you learnt to overcome the drive to consume in your life?

As always, thanks for reading
x Al

(Image: Apartment Therapy)

Factory-Made Alternative #4: ThredUp (plus a $20 voucher for you!)

thredup booklet

ThredUp: the place I finally found some decent-condition second hand clothes for my 5 year old son!

What is ThredUp?

An online consignment store. Anyone can clean out their closet by mailing in bags of their used/barely used/never used clothes. As they sell online: a small amount of money goes to you, and a bunch goes to them.

What’s available on ThredUp?

Women’s clothes, shoes and handbags. Kids clothes!! A lot of designer and more trendy brands. No Target, Carters, Walmart stuff. Mostly fairly recent designs. Mostly almost new through to “still has tags and hasn’t been worn”.

Have I used the site?

Yes! I purchased a box of clothes from the site earlier this month. I bought a few things for Ralph and a few things for Ivy (pictured below). Here’s what I found were the pros and cons of using this as a source for used clothing.


(Ivy’s clothes: aqua cardigan, spotty leggings, Boden tulle skirt, and Zara corduroy skirt)


Loads of fantastic quality kids clothing.

All my favorite brands: Mini Boden, Boden, Modcloth, Zara, Anthropologie, Gap, H&M… Every single one.

Second-hand boys clothing in good condition.

Free shipping for purchases over $70.

Can pay using your Amazon account. So easy.

Amazing packaging. As though you’re buying from a boutique store.

Clearly labelled condition reports: some clothes are marked down due to pilling, fading etc. All are labelled as such.

Super large photographs. Just click on the picture of the item for an enlarged photo so you can inspect each item for yourself.

Returns are free within 14 days if you choose to have refund in the form of store credit.

No need to sift through mountains of junk in thrift stores, or to leave home.


(Ralph’s clothing: Mini Boden short sleeved shirt, stripy tee, fuzzy sweater, black Levi’s jeans)


You do incur an $8.99 return shipping charge if you wish to have the amount refunded to your bank account.

No mens clothing. (Argh, this would be so amazing)

It can be a little overwhelming how much there is. Also, sizes are listed according to their size on the tag for that particular brand – so a 5 for one shirt may be larger, or smaller, than a 5 in a different brand. I group these together because I think the way to overcome both is search for brands you know and know what size your kid (or you!) will be in that brand.

The cost. This is the major one. Clothes on ThredUp are probably twice as expensive than if they were in a thrift store. Basically, you’re paying for the fact that these are higher quality, well kept, top brand clothes. If these are the kinds of clothes you would normally buy: ThredUp is for you. But if you’re happy with Target, Carters etc you might find these items too expensive. Still: I wonder if ThredUp could be a source for you for a special occasion outfit?

Interested in checking it out? Click here for a $20 off coupon when signing up to the site. Now, I’ve tried my best to suss this out and as far as I can see, there is no minimum purchase to use the coupon so…find something for $20 and (I’m pretty sure) it will only end up costing you the $5.99 shipping fee. Also: if you use the voucher I’ll get one in response so…thanks in advance from Ralph and Ivy ;-). I’ve done some treasure hunting of my own and found a few amazing things you could get for your kids:

thredup girls clothing

(From top left to bottom right)

1. Zara Skirt Size 7-8: $11.99
2. Gymboree Dress Size 9: $10.99
3. Baby Gap Vest Size 2: $11.49
4. Zara Jeans Size 7-8: $15.49
5. H&M Fur Vest Size 5-6: $11.49
6. Mini Boden Special Occasion Dress Size 3-4: $28.99 (Yes, $9 over the $20 but it’s blue velvet.)

boys clothing

1. Crewcuts Shorts Size 6: $13.49
2. Zara Tuxedo Vest Size 9/10: $15.49
3. Hanna Anderson T-Shirt 18-24mo: $15.49
4. Gap Green Windbreaker Size XS: $16.99
5. Crewcuts Button Down Shirt Size 10: $16.49
6. Gap Jeans Size 6: $15.49

Of course, your sense of style may be nothing at all like mine. Anyway, for one or two cool items for $6, I do think it’s worth taking a look.

And if you’re interested in hearing someone’s experience consigning clothing to the site, check out this blog post on decluttering clothing at Wayward Daisy.

(Images: 1: Wayward Daisy, 2-5: Alison Gerber)

What A Blue Wool Cape Taught Me About Provision


I really, really wanted this blue wool cape. It’s from American Apparel. It was $170, I mean, an insane amount of money. I was saving up my pocket money, $20 a week.

And then: it went on sale! I had the money! Perfect. I put in my order, I couldn’t wait. Until…I received an email from the store. “We regret to inform you the cape is out of stock. Would you like to order something else?” I couldn’t believe it. I was so sad. I couldn’t believe they’d accidentally left it in stock on their website. I feel absolutely deflated.

But that weekend, like many Saturdays, I popped in to the Give and Take, that old raquet-ball court on campus filled with used goodies that students donate. Everything is free. We give freely and take freely. I love treasure hunting in there, and its presence nearby keeps my closet from getting too cluttered.

That Saturday, I could barely believe it, right there before my eyes was a blue wool cape. I mean, seriously, what were the chances? It was fabulous: heavy and warm, reversible, blue and brown with a little zip. A collar to pop. It was exactly what I’d dreamed of. It was better than the American Apparel cape. And for $0, it was mine.

In that glorious moment of swishing the cape around my shoulders, I know it sounds crazy, but I really felt that this cape was a gift from God. Sometimes I get so worried about how I’ll look or whether I’ll have the right clothes for some upcoming occasion, or – for the sake of this project – whether I really will find what I need if I can’t rely on regular means of acquiring clothes. But there, in the Give and Take, I was given a physical, practical example of Jesus’ words from the sermon on the mount:

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow: they do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”

(Image: American Apparel)

Factory Made Alternative #3: Loving The Clothing You Already Have

clothes i love 1

Sometimes the best remedy to not knowing what to buy is to buy nothing. And I really do think the best way to feel content in buying nothing is to celebrate what you already have.

So today’s post is about that: loving the clothes you already own. I went through my wardrobe and picked out some of my personal favorites to show you. Those pieces I love, that I look forward to wearing, that are “me.”

First: nautical sweater. Ohhh it’s hard to describe the joy I felt when I stumbled upon this, during my visit to this weird hospital thrift store I found in Philadelphia, while exploring the city on my own. The sweater was less than $5. It has boats, waves and seashell buttons. I mean, whoever designed this really went all out on the theme.

clothes i love 2

Next, skunk brooch. It is from Etsy, and is so wonderfully made: a nice heavy wood piece with teeny sewing details. Whenever I wear it it reminds me of my treasured friend Aimee, who has one just like it that’s a fox. I always wanted one, then treated myself to it upon finishing my first semester of Hebrew. I could wear this with everything.

clothes i love 3

Third: this grey wool coat I found at the Give and Take. It’s so warm, it’s like a blanket, and I feel so proud that I repaired it to it’s current state. It had buttons falling off, the pockets were half ripped off. Now look at it! And I love love love the contrast color inside the sleeves. (Sorry about the photos, I think my camera is dying? Or the lens is dirty?)

clothes i love 4

Fourth: my black and white Doc Martin brogues. I bought these basically unworn for less than $5 on eBay. I wish I wore them more often but I am paranoid about them getting dirty. I kind of just love that they exist. Note to self: remember to wear these in the Fall.


clothes i love 5

Last, this bunny ring. Jono bought me this for Christmas and I love it so much. I almost never wear rings, but this one I wear. It’s big and pink and brass and fantastic.

So, there’s a few of my favorite things tucked away in my wardrobe. In fishing them out I realized a few things about myself and my own favorites:

  1. I love clothes that have a story behind their acquisition/creation. “Easy gets” at the mall or online don’t rate for me. Rescued treasures or special gifts are where it’s at.
  2. I don’t wear my favorite things enough. Maybe I think I’ve got to “save them up”. But that’s crazy, right?
  3. I wish there was more killer and less filler in my wardrobe. Wouldn’t it be nice to see only your favorite items rather than a whole lot of junk?

Now it’s your turn! Get into your closet and find a couple of wardrobe favorites. Share them with me! I love it when people show me their favorite bag or scarf or skirt that’s totally “them.” Either reply here or post your photos on my Facebook page. Let’s delight together in buying nothing, celebrating what we’re already blessed to call our own.

(Photo credits: Alison Gerber)

Less Factory-Made Clothes For Me…But What About For My Kids?

kids at sand castles

So I face a dilemma. As I explore the topic of less factory-made clothes this month, my plan was to abstain from buying said clothes as I do so. That just seemed to make sense. It’s not so hard for me: I don’t really need anything. I could probably go a year without buying anything at all and be perfectly alright.

But then there’s Ivy. What a style queen, right? She can’t go a year without any new clothes, because she’s shot up at least one full size in the last month. Ralph, too, needs new pants badly. I looked at his clothes from last Fall – he was wearing size 3. Now he’s at least a 5.

So I actually need to buy something. But do I go the second-hand, free, fair-trade, hand-made, slow-clothes lane for them too? Or are they exempt?

After chatting about this with Jonathan we decided that it would be okay to buy the kids some new clothes for back to school from our usual clothing sources.

But you know what? As I was holding the clothes, I just couldn’t get the image of kids sewing clothes for my kids out of my mind. 

old navy children

Yeah, no.

So I’m sending most of what I ordered back. I should say, most. A couple of pieces I did keep. A pair of pants, some tops. I wish I could say I am a perfect 100% ethical clothing consumer but I admit it is really hard to do that when you need to get something. Argh.

So, soul-searching time. I think it’s key to ask the question: why am I happy to buy fast-fashion clothing for my kids but not for me?

  1. It looks nicer. They’re both starting new schools this year. And, call me a crazy Mom, but I want them to look cool. I want them to fit in, and not be the “second-hand-clothing kid”. I want them to have nice new clothes for that first-day-at-school photo. True confessions.
  2. It’s easier. I have tried to rely more on second-hand clothing for the kids in the past. But in order to get them “looking nicer”? It’s hard work. It means regular thrift store visits. It means storing good-condition clothes you have come across there or received as hand-me-downs, maybe for a year or more. For Winter coats it means bidding on eBay for what seems like a month. And it is really hard to find boys things in good condition. I don’t know how they get so worn out – it’s like they rub sandpaper all over their body whenever they aren’t with us.

When I look at both of these points, they really are the same reasons that head over to the mall when I need something rather than taking the time to source something better. They are also the same reasons that I have deemed invalid for myself – because when I weigh the human and environmental costs of buying sweat-shop clothing against “It looks nicer” and “It’s easier” …well…that’s like putting a large and endangered elephant on the scales beside a very selfish mouse.

So, back to eBay for me. And planning what clothes the kids will need. And scouring the give and take. And storing stuff. It’s not easier, but it is better. It’s thinking beyond my own family to them and the world they are living in. And perhaps in doing so I’ll find another opportunity to “train up a child in the way he should go.”

(Photo credit: 1. Claire Harrison. 2. Al Jazeera America.)

An Ode To The Give And Take


It’s hard for me to talk about factory-made clothing alternatives and not talk about this humble abode, the building you see pictured above. It seems pretty shoddy from the outside, but it really is one of the greatest places on earth.

This building is what’s known around these parts as the “Give and Take”. What was once our graduate school’s raquet-ball court, it is now the home for anything anybody on campus has “outboxed” from their home. Clothes, toys, bedding, home decor, jars of baby food, packets of diapers that are no longer the correct size…everything is in this place. Once I found a remnant of 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Fabric inside there. Everything.

The rules are simple:

  1. Drop off what you don’t want or are no longer using.
  2. Take whatever you’d like.

It’s for everyone who lives on campus. There’s no cost. There’s no requirement like “bring three things in order to take three things.” You’d think, with everything free, the place would be empty, but it’s not! In fact, it’s the opposite. People seem to love the giving part more than the taking part. That’s incredible to me, it’s like some kind of graduate-school utopia. The insides of this shoddy old building are just bulging with goodies.

There have been so many times the Give and Take has saved me. When we first moved here from overseas, we had nothing. The Give and Take provided our first dishes, cups and cutlery. It meant we could eat off something. The day we needed so many more towels than the four we owned to mop up the pool of water that had somehow collected inside our 20-year-old car – The Give and Take saved the day again. The Give and Take has been the source of Halloween costumes, surprise gifts, new outfits for a Saturday night date. It has made the Christmas present pile more mountainous, and left the wallet a little more full. It’s what I call “God’s deposit box”. It’s opening hours are probably also the only time you will see me running up a hill.

I wish everywhere in the world could have a Give and Take like mine. A place where everything was recycled and everything was free. Wouldn’t that be a lovely dream? In the meantime, I offer to the Give and Take my humble thanks: by means of all the goodies I’ve cleaned out of my closet and home. May they bring the delight to one of my neighbors that my neighbor’s discarded bits and bobs have brought to me.

(This article is edited and reposted from its original, also written by me, found here. Photograph my own.)

Factory-Made Alternative #2: Etsy



Isn’t Etsy awesome? Apart from this: there are increasingly more sellers on there who are actually selling new, sweat-shop-factory made clothes on the site. ARGH. Like many others, I wish very much that Etsy would enforce stricter policies with regards to the origins of their products. But they haven’t. After many petitions, they still haven’t. Because Etsy makes a whole lot of money through commissions off sales from the site, and who would want, then, to restrict sales?

(For more on the problems Etsy is facing, you can read a pretty thorough article here, and this blog here.)

So then, Etsy is a mixed bag. It is both paradise and the worst kind of shopping mall. Through which you will have to navigate until the world of craftspeople think of something better. So then, how best to determine when you’re buying from an actual person making the clothing in their home/studio or from a factory? Here a few guidelines:

  1. When you search the item, check if there are exact replicas of that item also on Etsy. If so, this is a pretty dead giveaway that someone is either ripping off someone else’s design, or all sellers are buying from one cheap, common, factory source. For example, a search for “aztec leggings” results in this. They are all the same leggings.aztec leggings
  2. Think very carefully: is it even possible that this item could be handmade in the way they describe? You should know that things handmade are going to look kind of handmade. A home knitted scarf does not look like a scarf you would buy from Gap. A hand-crafted silver ring will not look like a ring from the jeweler downtown. Look at those leggings – there is no way they are hand-knitted. At the least: machine knitted. Use your brain.
  3. Is it incredibly cheap? Look at the price. Handmade clothing should be more expensive than clothes from Forever 21. Because this is the real cost of making something and paying the maker a real wage for doing so. This isn’t always the best indicator, because the seller could be marking up prices. Take price into consideration with all of the other factors.
  4. Ask: where is it coming from? Like price, this might be a give-away, it might not. Items listed as coming from China or India may indeed be from individual craftspeople. But if their inventory is full of things that don’t appear handmade…proceed with caution.
  5. Look at reviews online. Look at the reviews for the item you’re considering purchasing, but also search the store name online to see if anyone has complained in the wider web that all is not what it seems when it comes to this particular store.
  6. Ask: can this be made to custom specifications? If an item can be custom made, or if the maker is offering services custom-making items for you, chances are pretty good it’s handmade. If not, this could be an indication that the seller and the maker are not the same person.

Now, onto the good stuff. I would love to make a list of Etsy sellers we know are legit, who make great quality fashion-goods you can trust and feel proud to support. Have you ever bought anything off Etsy that you’ve totally loved? Share a link to the store below and I’ll add it in my round-up of great Etsy sellers, coming soon!

Why not just give up on fashion all together? Or, on the differences between Val and Al.

val o

Here is my precious friend Val. Val and I are so similar in lots of ways. We’re both passionate about ministry, we both love preaching, board games, we’re both competitive. We both love to read…and write. We both love a good giggle. We both treasure our families. We’re both Aussies!

But we’re pretty different in some ways too. One evening when I was over at her house she handed me a bag full of makeup. “I’m not going to wear it anymore,” she tells me. When we took a trip to the hairdressers together, she had no specific directions except “cut it in a bob.” She regularly wears her hand-me-down skirts and her husband’s sweaters.

Val is gorgeous. But she’s not all about fashion. I mean, I have seen her dressed up and looking amazing – I just doubt it would be in her top 10 favorite things to do. But it is in mine.

Val and I both care about what the fashion industry does to people. We’re both not okay with oppressing others for our benefit. But Val’s response then, for the most part, is to forget about fashion and just to wear whatever is available and ethical. Should my response be the same?

I think there is another similarity between Val and I that is important here: we both need to wear something. We’re not nudists! Every day we’ve gotta get up and put on clothes. And as we get dressed, there are actually two questions on the table:

  1. Do I care about what I wear today, style-wise?
  2. Do I care about what I wear today, ethics-wise?

Val and I answer question 1 very differently. But we answer question 2 the same.

For Val, as she gets dressed, question 1 and 2 are never in conflict, because question 1 is a non-event. But for me, where I run into problems, is when the answer to question 1 becomes more important than the one to question 2.

I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to care about fashion – as long as I can find ways for it to not be in conflict with my care for the world and those who live in it. Because when I care about how I look more than how others are treated in the world, then I am going against Philippians 2:3’s charge to “think of others as more significant than yourselves.” Caring about fashion is a me-pursuit. Caring about where my clothes come from is an others-pursuit.

So I’ll continue to search out some alternative ways to be fashionable but to put the well-beings of others first. And for those times I can’t find anything ethical to wear? I’ll remember Val, perfectly happy, giggling and smiling in hand-me-down sweaters and skirts.

An Overview Of The Problem: John Oliver on Fast Fashion


A few week’s back, John Oliver highlighted the perils of fast fashion on his comedy/current affairs program “Last Week Tonight.” Did you know the average American buys 64 new items of clothing a year? How can we afford to do that? And what are the consequences of that? Take a look at what he had to say below.

(Warning: this clip contains some pretty extreme language. Please don’t feel pressured to watch if you’re sensitive to that. From 6 minutes in til 14 mins is a good overview of how this plays out at Gap and it is fairly coarse-language free.)