My Year Without Buying Clothes

It started as a simple question. What would happen if I went a year without clothes shopping? I decided this last June, and since I’m a fan of not waiting until New Years to set challenges and goals, I went ahead an announced that I was done buying clothes.

I didn’t browse clearance racks at Target.

I didn’t shop online.

I didn’t spend money on clothes that would only be worn a short time – like maternity clothes.

I didn’t buy new socks or underwear.

I didn’t go to thrift stores just for fun.

I didn’t buy handbags, jewelry, or accessories.

I didn’t buy clothing for my two boys either.

What I Did:

Cleaned out my closet.

I didn’t just stop buying clothes, I reconsidered my whole wardrobe. Every article of clothing was pulled out and considered. I donated bags and bags that I no longer needed. It sounds counter-intuitive, but there’s no need to stockpile clothing for a rainy day. Chances are if you’re not wearing it now, you won’t wear it later. It can go and not be missed.

Hosted two clothing swaps.

Swaps are a win / win and they helped a lot during this shopping ban. After I cleaned out my closet, I invited several friends to do the same and we all shopped each other’s cast-offs for free. We all came away with items we would actually wear, and we had a ton of items leftover to donate! I got several of my current wardrobe staples at these swaps, including my favorite sweater, my favorite jeans, several cardigans, shirts, and a great dress. Much of my maternity wardrobe was cast-off from a friend, and some of it was borrowed from another friend. I’m thankful because these things helped me through the year a lot! I was able to pass on what I didn’t wear because of the incoming things that I could actually use.

One of the clothing swaps!

Bought running shoes.

That’s right, running shoes were the only clothing purchase I made this year, and they were technically allowed. I made an allowance at the beginning of the challenge that running shoes were allowed if the need arose. My old ones were nearly 5 years old. Still great shoes, but the miles were taking a toll on comfort, and I still wanted them to be my everyday shoes. I almost delayed this purchase for the full year, but then a coupon came in the mail for $10 off over Mother’s Day weekend. So we went to the shoe store picked these out. So far so good! But you know, there was no thrill of shopping high. It was merely a good deal that we researched and planned. When the time was right, we got the shoes. It’s so different from how I used to shop!

The ONE clothing purchase since last June.

I repaired things.

I’m not an expert seamstress, but I know how to fix buttons and patch small holes. By trying to take better care of my clothes, I was able to keep wearing things that were many years old. I think everyone should have a simple sewing kit and know how to use it for little things. Even if you donate your clothes somewhere, why donate things in need of repair? Why not fix them first?

What I Learned:

It’s totally doable.

What I had was more than enough. Even with pregnancy, having a baby, and going through all 4 seasons, I didn’t want for almost anything! There were some wants that popped up here and there, but no true needs. I might have liked a couple more bras and another pair of black boots. But the honest truth is that I didn’t need them. I did just fine without. I know I saved money because I “couldn’t” buy these things. And now that I’m allowed to, I no longer want them.

Shopping is merely a habit.

…And it’s a habit that can be broken! By not going out to the store and unsubscribing from from online ads and sales, I was able to break the habit of unconscious spending. When I do run across something I like, I’m allowed to think “hey, I like that” without needing to have one just like it. There are other great hobbies out there other than shopping. Like any habit or addiction, it took a little time to break and get over the initial withdrawal. You have to stick with it.

Clothes are a bad investment.

We have an accumulation problem in the US. We accumulate things faster than we use them up or wear them out. This leads to wasted resources and wasted money. My local Goodwill is completely filled to the brim with clothing donations. Many charities have more given to them than they even have space to hold. Yet most of us don’t bat an eye. We get rid of perfectly good clothing. We keep buying new clothing with no regard to the waste it creates. Clothing wasn’t meant to be disposable. I read that most Americans could go 5 years without buying clothes other than shoes. What does this say about our tendency to rapidly turnover our closets with every season and trend? With the exception of some pricy brand-name items, clothes are worth almost nothing to re-sell. Since people buy clothes so quickly and then run out of space (like I did!) there’s almost always free gently-used clothing if you know where to look and aren’t picky. It makes sense to not buy new in the first place.

Kids can do it too.

This ban included both my sons also! It was possible because of the generosity of friends. Everything was handed down, and I’m extremely thankful. My boys are prepared not just for this season, but for the next two or three clothing sizes! I’ll probably invest in some shoes, but they really only need one good pair of shoes at a time because they grow so fast.  I’m not that finicky about how my boys look, which helps us save money. I let Malachi pick his own outfits most of the time, so his ensembles aren’t exactly Pinterest-worthy, but he’s happy and comfortable, which is what matters most to me.

Handsome in their hand-me-downs.

Shopping isn’t therapy.

If you do enjoy shopping, that’s fine. But even if no shopping ban is in your future, I ask that you maybe consider the motivation behind your habit. Are you shopping out of boredom, like I was, or is the addictive thrill to blame? I saw a billboard recently for an outlet mall that said “Better than therapy.” It made me sad. Are they serious? Shopping for new shoes will never fix our underlying problems – if anything it will numb the pain of the real hurt. Do yourself a big favor and don’t go into debt because your habit numbs bigger issues. Get real therapy if you need it and face those problems head-on. Retail therapy is expensive, wasteful, and it’s not a real solution. Rather I suggest you spend time truly investing in yourself – in your physical, mental, and spiritual health – not simply in adornment.

Self-expression is a luxury.

If you aren’t too concerned with your own “personal style” you can pretty much get by with free and unwanted items like I did this year. Shopping friends cast-offs rather than a store provided limited options…but I still had lots to choose from! Personal preferences can take a backseat sometimes. It is possible to stop buying clothes and still be true to your own personal style. You already picked out the clothes that are in your closet right now. You also get to choose from free choices that come your way, saying yes to what you like and passing on what isn’t for you. I never felt that I had to compromise my personal style for the sake of thrift. A big part of personal style isn’t the clothes themselves, but how you wear them and accessorize. Right now “anything goes” is kind of the look anyway. No one will even know if your plain white t-shirt is from this year or last year if you took care of it. My favorite winter coat is from 2009 and still going strong because it’s a classic style. Buying new things every season is truly a luxury rather than a necessity. I still enjoyed putting outfits together based on the choices I had, and I still felt like I could express myself. If anything, my clothes became more me. They were a better expression of who I was because I wore them often and customized some of them over time.

I accessorize often with just a baby. 😉

New Clothing Can’t Fix Low Self-Esteem.

I’ve discovered that how I feel about myself and my body post-2nd-baby has nothing to do with the clothes I’m wearing. Sure, some outfits are more flattering than others. I definitely still love dresses and activewear more than T-shirts and sweatpants. But it all comes down to my own self-esteem, not the clothes themselves. If I’m confident in who I am as a person and comfortable in my own skin, it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve worn the same outfit. I can still look in the mirror and feel good about who I am. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see someone who keeps up with all the latest fashions, but I do see someone who is strong, feminine, comfortable, healthy, and growing wiser everyday. Those are the things I want to see. There’s an idea that being at the head of the fashion trends will change how people perceive you. This comes from low self-esteem and negative self-image. I admit I’ve had this before in my life. As I’ve grown up, I’m no longer held hostage by perceived notions of what people think. I encourage everyone to take hold of that freedom. Dress for yourself and no one else. Wear what makes you feel beautiful – not what you think will make you be accepted. It’s a pretty striking difference. There’s no need to conform, even to your friends. You don’t have to look like those cliques from Mean Girls at the mall who all dress the same. Embrace what makes you different. Surround yourself with many types of people. Be true to your preferences even if they aren’t in style at all. In every situation it should be you, your personality, and your ideas that people notice most – not your designer sunglasses, expensive jewelry, or latest whatever.

I will shop differently.

Now that I’m allowed to buy things again, there’s nothing that I’m going to run out and get. I think that’s proof of the success of this ban. Rather than give you a long list of things I resisted and now get to buy, I’m here to tell you that I’m content with what I have. It was a little hard at first, but it got easier. Those desires to expand my wardrobe actually went away. Now when I do shop I’ll use the same principles I learned during Buy Nothing Month.

I’ll delay purchases as long as I can and research and evaluate if I really need them.

If I do replace something, I’ll actually get rid of the old one rather than just let it crowd my drawer “just in case.”

I’ll still have clothing swaps at least once a year to keep my closet clear of things I no longer wear and to serve as an alternative to shopping.

I’ll not buy any new clothing that’s too cheap to be good. I saw an ad recently in the mail for $4 shorts at Walmart. Getting $4 shorts at Goodwill is one thing, but at a big box store I’d question the quality and the ethicality of those $4 shorts.

I’ll also set limits on myself. My personal rule is I want all my clothes to fit in my closet and dresser comfortably. The actual numbers will depend on your lifestyle. That might mean just two pairs of jeans, or it might mean fewer dresses. How many swimsuits do you really need if you’re not a swimmer? Or running outfits unless you’re a runner? The number and types of clothing will be different for everyone, but there should be a limit of some sort.

Biking in a running outfit and work gloves…gasp!

What About You?

This is your formal invitation to create your own shopping ban. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person and I think I really benefitted from this drastic approach. Let me know if you’d like to try a clothes shopping ban of your own for a month, six months, or even a year, and I’ll do my best to cheer you on! Here’s some tips I’ve already written about starting your own shopping ban. As you can probably tell from this post, I’ve learned a lot and I’ll forever view clothes differently as a result!


Add yours →

  1. I agree that shopping bans can be an awesome way to form new habits. One thing I’m torn about with the whole wardrobe thing is whether to hang on to my professional wardrobe. I’ve saved a “capsule” amount of this clothing because I really don’t want to shop for it again one day, and I am that dorky person who will wear my hopefully classic pieces if/when I return to work 10 years after babies. But then sometimes that seems like hoarding. I have the space, though, so I feel it’s hurting nothing.

    • Through My Lens June 27, 2016 — 9:02 pm

      Yeah that’s a tough call. This is where my frugality and my minimalist dreams conflict. I’m with you – I think I’d rather hang onto the best pieces than buy it again! Frugality for the win!

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