Dear Umbra,

A friend recently said I should “walk the talk” by replacing my synthetic clothes (purchased before I saw the environmental light, as it were) with new things made entirely of organically grown fibers. I thought about this, and it seems wasteful to get rid of clothes that still fit and look nice, just to buy new clothes that I don’t really need. What to do?

Georgetown, Texas

Dearest Arvella,

Where do these people come from? Why do people think they can further their own environmental goals by being pushy and patronizing? You should “walk the talk,” sure, and your friend should take a long walk off a short pier.

Don’t be clothes-minded.

Photo: iStockphoto

Ooh — cranky! Unfairly cranky, I suppose. But I get my advice pants in a wad whenever folks are handing out advice based on a train of thought shorter than the aforementioned pier. I’m on your side, which is probably why you wrote. Yes, it is wasteful to dump clothing just because it’s not all organically grown. If you look good and the clothes fit, wear them into the ground. They currently do no harm. Alright, they could do a bit of harm if you dry clean them or use dryer sheets, but if you’re just wearing them — and not doubling the amount of clothes you purchase — you win. Reduce, as they say.

Many of the assumptions we all make about which choice is best are just wrong. I notice this again and again in researching this column. We don’t know enough, or we forget to consider one bit or another. It’s true of dishwashing, diapering, travel mugging, bagging … the whole paper vs. plastics debacle is a shining example of bad assumptions. Trees are better than oil, we all know that — trees are renewable, oil is not. But when we measure all the factors involved in paper and plastic products, the whole picture of water use, pollution, climate, wee animals, and so on, the outcomes are strikingly non-striking. There’s not such a big difference between tree versions and oil versions of the same products. On occasion, oil even wins.

Your pushy friend means well. She (or he) knows that organic fibers are better than synthetic fibers, and wants to encourage you to take action now that you’ve seen the light. But new organic clothing is not better than already-purchased synthetic clothing. From now until the ragperson comes, the only impact your current clothes will have is in the washing, whereas new clothes will carry the burden of manufacture and washing. Wash your synthetics in cold water, hang them up to dry if you can, and you’ll be walking the talk.

Clothing should be low priority, in any instance. There is no need for you to make a change in the Garment Area of Life just now. You could probably better walk the talk simply by actually walking instead of driving. Just once a week. I know, I know, will I ever stop hammering home this “focus on the big things” message? So tedious — but so necessary. See my list of Top Things You Can Do for more ideas.

I’ve written a bit about clothing choices in the past, so check the archives when replacement time does come. If you wish, of course. I don’t mean to be pushy.