March 1 marked an official year of my clothes buying ban. No clothes, shoes, accessories, or jewelry. My last purchase was some time in February of 2017, though I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was. Like my foray into a No Spend Month, I dove headfirst into this shopping ban with no preparation; one day, I just decided it was time to make it happen, and I went from there.
March 2017 – July 2017: Beginning the clothes buying ban
My initial drive to implement a clothes buying ban was to minimize my overflowing closet. I had already gone through and gotten rid of the clothes that didn’t fit / I didn’t like / just simply didn’t wear, but I still had way too much. I have a full closet to myself, plus a dresser, and both were full. I realized that in order to actually shrink the amount of stuff I owned, I would need to wear things out completely, and not bring in anything new to fill that space.
Going on vacation with a small suitcase of clothing is so freeing – the options are limited, and laundry is light. While I don’t ever expect to have that limited of a wardrobe, I’ve come to realize that a considerably smaller one would be much less stressful.
The first few months of the challenge were easy enough, but there was definitely a draw to wistfully look at new clothes and wish that I hadn’t imposed this ban on myself. I do enjoy looking good, and definitely appreciate the feeling of finding a fun new piece of clothing to wear. However, I was feeling overwhelmed with my closet, so I stuck to it and didn’t buy anything the first few months.
July – October: Settling into a routine that didn’t involve buying clothes
I started this blog in July, and first wrote about this ban back then. By that point, I had started to settle in to a routine that didn’t involve any clothes shopping – window shopping included. Where I used to occasionally step in to clothing stores for recreation (usually discount spots like TJ Maxx, Ross, or thrift stores), I stopped heading into them at all unless I had a specific goal in mind, and even that became exceedingly rare.
The more I didn’t shop, the less I wanted to shop. I hadn’t realized how much of a compulsory draw there was to these stores before I made a specific effort to counteract it. While I usually felt good about find a “good deal” and only buying something I “really loved,” I still spent countless hours and too many dollars on something that didn’t bring any real value to my life. I had a large wardrobe, filled with clothes that I liked and made me look good, so there was no real need to add anything beyond what I already owned.
Appreciating the clothes I already own
After that fleeting feeling of missing out finally dissipated after a number of months, I found myself happier with the clothing I already did own. Instead of lamenting about how I wished I had a cardigan in that color or that style, I found myself happily wearing the ones I already had with any different combination of tops and accessories and appreciating each piece as I did wear it.
By putting a lid on my closet, each piece became precious and worth wearing again and again because I had already culled the ones that didn’t make me feel good. Instead of feeling limited by the no longer endless options of new clothes, I felt freed from having to take the mental space to decide what to wear the next day. Because I liked everything in my closet, and I knew how it fit and what it looked best paired with, I no longer spent precious time staring at my clothes wondering what to wear. I simply picked an outfit that worked for the weather, and continued on my day.
November: Feeling the discomfort of not buying things
The first real point I felt the pressure of the clothes ban came more than halfway through the year, with our trip to Hawaii. I found out midway through the trip that what I thought was a light rain jacket was, in fact, a light water resistant windbreaker. I had left my regular rain jacket at home in favor of the lighter, more compact one because it fit better in my suitcase, and because Hawaii isn’t cold, just wet on one side.
The very first hard rain we walked through, my jacket got soaked through and didn’t dry for the rest of the day. Pre clothes ban, I probably would have stopped and bought a real rain jacket locally, because being soggy really isn’t so much fun. But since I was determined to do nothing of the sort, I just hung the jacket up to dry in the car and in the evenings and dealt with it the best I could. It was never cold, just unpleasant, so I worked with what I had.
December – March: finishing out the year not buying anything
After we returned from Hawaii, I put the windbreaker back in the closet and pulled out my lovely, WATERPROOF rain jacket. After a week of dealing with a not quite dry outer layer, I had new appreciation for my lovely blue coat. It may have not been the prettiest rain jacket you’ve ever seen, but it was fully functional, and that made it the wonderful.
Christmas rolled around, and my mother had been paying attention. My very favorite boots were starting to get pretty worn, and I was pretty bummed about it because I wore them more days than not. So, one of my Christmas presents was a pair of beautiful new black boots from my parents. I was thrilled. I tried them on right away… and they were uncomfortable. In the weeks that followed, they sat in my closet and I kept trying them back on again, hoping they weren’t as uncomfortable as I remembered. Unfortunately, they were, and eventually I had to let my mom know that we needed to return them because they just weren’t going to work.
It is now March and I still haven’t found a replacement pair to order as my present. All I want is to replace my old boots, and I even attempted to have the whole bottoms replaced, but so far I’ve had no luck.
The saga with my boots really showed me how much my relationship with clothes has changed in the last year. Prior to the clothes buying ban, I would have gone out and replaced them myself without a second thought. Now, even though the replacement is technically a Christmas gift, I find myself trying to find a way to replace them without buying a new pair.
I’m considering looking at consignment and thrift stores to see if I can find a comparable pair there – they won’t be brand new, or nearly as expensive, but the longer I go without new clothes the longer I want to keep it up. Fast fashion is a serious problem, and even new sustainable clothing lines aren’t as good as simply not needing to create the clothing in the first place. Once again, the frugal option is usually the most environmentally friendly one as well.
Realizing the privilege involved
1. As I mentioned above, I figured out on our trip to Hawaii that a jacket I had was not actually waterproof. It keeps water off as long as it’s a light rain, but is only mildly helpful beyond that. If my only goal was to have the smallest wardrobe possible, I’d have gotten rid of it. But, as this challenge had morphed into something to reduce my long term environmental impact as well, I have kept it as a backup so I won’t have to re buy something similar in the future.
However, this is still entirely voluntary on my part. We are saving half our incomes and have plenty to buy new clothes if the need truly arises. I also have the time to scour second hand stores to get the best deals. A much lower income, as well as much longer hours, would change our options drastically.
2. In order for my clothes to last longer, I will need to start mending the small holes when I can. For now, I have a growing pile of clothing that needs to be sewn before it can be worn again. I still have plenty of other clothing though, so this hasn’t been a priority lately. When your time and money is limited, though, your options end up as buying Walmart replacements for $5 or spending (sometimes very limited) free time mending the clothes you do own.
Making my clothes last longer
3. On a similar note, this clothing ban has incentivized me to hang dry my clothes even more often in order to have them last longer. But I do have a dryer at home and don’t have to find extra quarters for the laundromat.
When we lived in South Carolina, we didn’t have a washer and dryer in our unit so we had to drag our laundry all the way across the apartment complex. I also was making very little money, so more often than not I chose to dry our laundry in our apartment rather than pay the $2 to dry a load. When you’re making well under $10/hour, those dollars really matter.
4. While I didn’t initially include my son’s clothes in this challenge, I found myself not wanting to spend money on new ones for him as well. I have stockpiled quite a bit of the next size up from previous thrift store trips as well as hand me downs and clothing swaps, but I used to still spend $20-$50 / month on “cute things” for him that I happened to run across. Now that I don’t head into clothing stores, that doesn’t happen. Again, this is a choice. If you don’t have the money, and don’t have friends or family to send hand me downs, kids clothing becomes a serious monthly worry, for when the outgrow or wear out clothing, you have to spend some of that hard earned money to keep them clothed – but also fed.
5. I’m starting to feel a little bit of pressure to spruce up my work wardrobe. A few of my dress pants are getting a bit worn, and they’ll soon be too faded to wear to work (though perhaps dyeing them would work? Anyone have experience here?)
If I have to pare down the older pants, I will only have three pairs of work pants left. While that’s just enough to get by, I will eventually have to replace them. Occasionally I will get lucky with thrift store finds, but as I’m pretty short, I have to have them hemmed most of the time. More money or more time.
Why I had it easy
1. I still have A LOT of stuff. My closet and dresser are still mostly full. I have more t shirts than I may need for a lifetime.
2. I have a lot of nice work clothes that I bought or had gifted to me previously. I started from a wonderful, quality wardrobe that has a lot of life left in it.
3. My mother and I wear the same size, and she occasionally sends me some great hand me downs. Most notably, I just received a pair of running shoes from her because she found them in their move and realized she never wears them.
However, this challenge did stem from a desire to minimize my wardrobe, not just to stop spending money on clothing, so I’m very picky about what clothing I do accept from other people. If this was solely about not spending money, it would be really easy to end up hoarding anything offered to me. It really is no surprise that the minimalism movement did not emerge from the working poor.
What I Still Own After A Year Without Buying Clothes
- 7 pairs of jeans, 3 pairs of shorts
- 8 sweatshirts, 4 pairs sweatpants
- Numerous dresses (casual and fancy) and 2 skirts
- 5 pairs of work pants
- A dozen scarves
- 3 pairs yoga pants, 4 pairs running capris
- T shirts for working out
- Tons of shirts (short, long, sweaters)
- Plenty of socks (hiking and running)
- 4 Regular bras, 6 sports bras, underwear
- An outfit for painting / dirty work
- Work boots, hiking shoes and boots, running shoes, heels, tall boots, walking shoes, flip flops
- More jewelry than I ever wear
What I will need to purchase this year:
That’s really it. Even after a full year with a clothes buying ban, I still have such a full closet that I have no need to buy anything else. I never thought of myself with an overly large closet, because I still bought fewer things than most of my friends, but this ban has shown me how untrue this is.
It will take years before I will really need to replace much of anything else, and when I do, the choices I make will be made carefully and purposefully. That same intentionality with our spending now includes clothing purchases as well.