Somehow, as of March 1st, it has been a full two years since I began my clothes buying ban. Two years without purchasing a single item of clothing, shoes, jewelry, or accessories. When I first embarked on this journey early in 2017, I expected that I would coast into that first year of no purchase on fumes, if I was going to make it at all.
For those who haven’t been following along since the beginning, the impetus for this clothes buying ban was the want to simplify my life and eventually have a very minimal capsule wardrobe. The problem was, I already had a ton of clothing. And since I had regularly purged my closet over the previous few years and had otherwise gotten better at saying no to purchasing new items if they were on “such a good sale” or “good enough,” I didn’t see a quick way to minimize past where I was currently. I felt a bit stuck.
Sustainably Minded Minimalism
I felt stuck because it wasn’t as simple as tossing all my gently worn clothes into trash bags and shipping them off to Goodwill and keeping just the pieces that fit well into a capsule wardrobe, and then buying new things to fill the gaps.
The majority of my clothes were just fine, and I liked them well enough. But I still had an over full closet and dresser. In order to make this switch with my eye on both sustainability and frugality, I knew I would first need to wear out the clothing I already owned before I could in good conscience start fresh with new items.
That wouldn’t be me.
Instead, I first made a commitment to myself – and then later, more publicly here on the blog – that I would not go this route of spending and waste in pursuit of my dream minimalist wardrobe. I would pay attention and learn to make do with what I already had.
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Making My Clothes Last Longer
When I first began this challenge, I rejoiced in each item of clothing I wore to threads because it meant I was one piece closer to getting to “start over” and really live this minimalist thing. But I found that the longer I sat with this challenge and lived it month to month, the less happy I was when something wore out.
My mindset began to change. I started to treat each item of clothing with value and respect, both of the materials and labor that went into making it, and my hard earned money that disappeared so quickly with each new shirt. Instead of working to wear my clothes out as quickly as possible in order to shrink my wardrobe, I began to work toward protecting my clothes so they wouldn’t wear out so quickly.
So how do you make your clothing last as long as possible? For me, that means taking off my work clothes as soon as I get home in the afternoon and putting on clothing I don’t mind getting more beat up when I’m in the garden, going for a walk, or cleaning up the house.
I make sure to re-wear pants in particular at least a couple of times before the go in the wash. And then I machine dry as few pieces of clothing as possible. In the summer, this is easy because all our clothing gets hung up to dry on clothes lines in the back yard.
Socks and underwear dry particularly quickly, but it’s easy to toss them in the dryer with everything else, so that’s where they used to go. But since I’ve pulled them out of the dryer and let them air dry, they last so much longer. In the winter, though, it means hanging things up in random spots in our bedroom (I’m really overdue for an indoor clothing rack).
When you no longer treat your clothes as disposable, you look at them more carefully and take care of them like they are a limited commodity, something that’s cost precious resources, time, and money to create.
Clothing Ban Inspirations
It’s funny. Outside of the personal finance space, the idea of a clothing ban is a very odd thing. Within the space, though, it is much more common. Through this process, I’ve loved reading about others embarking on similar challenges because it gives me motivation to continue my own.
My friend Erin over at Reaching for FI recently completed a clothing ban as well, and I asked her to share a bit here about what that process looked like for her:
I never meant to do an official clothes buying ban and I would’ve told you two years ago that it was something I could never do. This would’ve been despite the fact that I don’t care about clothes, per se. I love the way fun colors and patterns make me feel, and it’s hard to deny the power of a well-fitting item of clothing as an ego boost. I was constantly buying a few new items of clothing here or there (it’s easy when you’re buying fast fashion and things are max $25 an item), even though I never would’ve said I valued clothes.
But one day I got tired of constantly having to pay off my credit card from clothes purchases and finding room in my increasingly-overfull dresser and closet for the steady stream of new clothes. In many ways I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person, so I just…decided to stop buying clothes and that was that. Six months later I realized I hadn’t bought clothes for an extended period of time, and decided to make it official on my blog for some accountability. And last November, I hit the year mark.
I still have way too many clothes. But I’m still working on paring down my wardrobe, and for the first time in a few years, I’ve got quite a bit of extra space in my closet that I don’t need. For years I held onto the business casual wardrobe I acquired after I graduated, despite the fact that my job is way more on the casual side of “business casual.” What if I changed jobs and needed those clothes again?
But the process of reducing my wardrobe combined with a clothes ban has taught me that a) I need to let go of things I haven’t worn in ages, and b) part of letting go is letting myself accept that I’m a different person from the one who bought the clothes. If (God forbid!) I end up in a job where I can’t just wear jeans and a sweater every day in the winter because winter is the worst and staying warm is my primary focus, it’s okay to (strategically and mindfully!) buy some new clothes.
I wouldn’t want to wear a lot of the business casual clothes that I bought years ago because my tastes have changed (slash I weigh more than I did right out of college so lots of things don’t fit correctly anymore), and keeping the old ones just because it was a sunk cost and I already owned them would be wasteful. Paring down my wardrobe also makes it easier to tell when I’m hanging onto things I no longer wear for whatever reason.
Now that the official ban has ended, I’ve bought new clothes (I did make a few, very strategic exceptions to the ban before it ended). And I can’t deny that I do still get a thrill of trying on a new item of clothing—it turns out it’s extremely hard to break the habit of emotional spending, and a year doesn’t magically change who you are.
But I’ve been strategic about my purchases: two dresses that I can wear to events like weddings since that was a gap in my wardrobe (and it’s the time of life where I’ll be going to lots of weddings in the next few years); some basic tees and tanks that are extremely versatile; skirts that can be dressed up or down and are practical (THEY HAVE POCKETS), which means I’ll actually wear them often (a departure from most of the skirts still hanging in my closet).
I’m deliberately spending more money per item of clothing, which absolutely cuts down on mindless spending and wasteful purchases. And now that I’ve bought some pieces to round out my wardrobe, I’ll be going right back to my new default of not buying clothes until the next time I do actually need something.
A Change In Mindset
When I began this clothing ban, I expect it to be just that: a prohibition on buying clothes and related items. What I didn’t expect was how my entire mindset on material purchases and a consumerist culture would change.
While I’ve had no limitation to other physical goods I’ve purchased over the last two years, I’ve seen a significant decrease across the board. Each time I think back to the last physical item I’ve purchased for myself – or even for someone else – I realize it’s been a while.
When you’ve been so focused on making do with and using up what you have in one part of your life, it only makes sense that would spill over into everything else. I now find myself catching myself trying to be creative whenever I do need something (which isn’t often), and will attempt to figure out if I can do without that item or use another one in its place.
Reading stories of full year shopping bans like The Year of Less and The Year Without Purchase would have felt like some fringe extreme challenge prior to this clothing ban (though Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess still sounds pretty dang tough). Now, I see that it would be a challenge, but a surmountable one. While I may not meld this into a full year long shopping ban, I’m not sure that I have to.
Reading the memoirs of those who have completed a more strict shopping ban for a full year make me realize that many of the thought processes I have before purchasing almost anything these days line up well with what they discovered over those years. It isn’t the stuff in our lives that are important, but the people and the time we spend with them.
And, of course, there’s the environmental side as well. Though I’ve always been aware of my impact on the planet, it is too easy to compartmentalize and purchase things that aren’t important but are there to make our lives “easier.” Oftentimes, they don’t actually make things easier, but it feels like it at the time of purchase.
Now that I’m so constantly aware of what makes its way into my home, I can’t ignore the disposable or unneeded items that land in my cart that have nothing to do with clothing. We all live in a world that is increasingly overwhelmed with stuff – my own county is now struggling with what to do when we run out of space in our last remaining landfill – and while recycling and reusing is great, not buying in the first place is best.
The Emotions And Boredom That End With Buying
And then there’s realizing how much of why we buy more stuff is conditioned subconsciously our whole lives.
Bored? Go shopping.
Upset with a friend or spouse? Find something new to brighten your day.
Excited about a promotion at work? You deserve it.
While I’ve never considered myself an overly emotional shopper, I definitely found myself time and time again looking to something new to fill the space of whatever I was feeling at the time – or if I wasn’t feeling much at all.
After putting my son in preschool and finding myself with a small space of time after work before needing to pick him up, I found myself at Ross, at Fred Meyer, at Goodwill. Most of the time quietly browsing, enjoying me time. But then I ended up with even more stuff that overwhelmed me even more. My goal of a more minimalist household was even farther away.
After beginning my clothing ban two years ago, I found I had to change that ritual of me time once a week. Instead of finding myself in a clothing or department store, I found myself outside for a run or at the gym for a short work out. Just like I had to learn when I cut out my take out work lunches, the routine was more about the space and time to myself than it was about finding a new thing to bring back home. By flipping that on its head, I found a new way to spend my time that was healthier, free, and didn’t involve bringing more items into my already full home.
Britt over at Tiny Ambitions is another blogger who has done her own version of a year long shopping ban, and I asked her to share a bit more about that experience here. Unsurprisingly, I found that much of what we discovered about ourselves through these bans to be similar. While our words our different, we’ve certainly come to some of the same conclusions.
What I learned most from my shopping ban was how emotional most of my purchases were. My shopping urges often surfaced when I was frustrated, overwhelmed or bored. On the other hand, my shopping ban also showed me that I love unique, one-of-a-kind things that others overlook.
I also learned how little I actually need during the course of a year. Consumable products last much longer than we think and items prone to wear and tear are easily fixed to prolong their lifespan.
My shopping ban wasn’t about never shopping again or forsaking all ‘stuff’. It was about figuring out how to consume in a more healthy, sustainable way.
The Privilege Of A Clothing Ban
And then, of course, there is the privilege that comes with a clothes buying or any kind of extended shopping ban. I wrote about this more in depth at the one year mark, but it warrants a note here as well.
This clothes buying ban I’ve embarked on has only been possible as a positive addition to my life because we are in a situation where I absolutely could have continued to spend money on clothing. We are financially stable. Had I wanted to give away my whole wardrobe and start from scratch with a minimalist wardrobe from day one, I could have done that.
While we certainly don’t have salaries that would be considered “high income” for our area, we make plenty decent money and we have low fixed expenses, especially beyond the mortgage and childcare. All these things combined mean that this pursuit of eventual minimalism through a clothing ban is possible.
It means that I already owned quite a few quality pieces that have held up well over time. It means that while I have accepted some hand me downs over the past two years, I’ve been able to be extremely choosy about what new clothing comes into my home. It means at the point I choose to finally close the chapter on this clothing ban, I have the money to go out and buy new clothing.
I will never say that “anyone” can do this, because it’s simply not true. I had the bandwidth to tackle this challenge because I have space in my life beyond worrying about how to take care of the basics. I wasn’t worrying about having my only pairs of work pants wearing out because I already had more than enough.
This also doesn’t mean I’m not proud of these two years, and that it hasn’t been hard from time to time, because it absolutely has. Just the other day I had such an urge to buy a cute cheap top at the store just because it was there and I wanted something “new.” But I reside in a place that made this challenge possible, and it’s important to remember that. But I’m still dang impressed with myself for checking off that two year mark of a complete clothes buying ban.
Moving Out Of The Ban
Overall, this ban has been such a positive experience for me. I simply think about clothes less because the items in my closet don’t change. Dressing for work – and for the weekends – is easy because everything I still own is something I like and looks good on me. The brain space that used to think about outfits and getting dressed can now be used for other things.
And when I’m somewhere that does sell clothing, it is so easy not to buy anything because my ban has made it a clear line. I don’t have to think about saying no, because that’s already the answer. And so I’ve created more space in my life – space that used to be used to shop (and usually pretty mindlessly).
Eventually, though, I’m going to need to break this ban, at least to buy underwear and bras again. And a new pair of boots (though not soon). While I’m not certain exactly how this will go, I love this idea of limiting the number of clothing items in a given year. It feels very similar to my current ban, because once those items have been purchased, the ban is back in place until the next year.
I expect I will eventually go this direction, but perhaps with an added layer of first attempting to purchase any items second hand, or even better, free via a clothing swap. Of course, there are certain things like undergarments that even I wouldn’t buy used, so this won’t be an absolute. Hence a total count for a year. We shall see. I’ll let you know when I get there.
In reading and readying myself for an eventual break of this clothes buying ban, I paid attention to others who had previously completed a clothing ban, because I wanted to know what the “after” really looked like. Jillian at Montana Money Adventures was another such person, and I asked her to reflect on her two year ban:
It’s been two years since I finished a two year clothes shopping ban. I had a hard and fast and rule during the ban of no clothes because I really wanted to focus on being creative and figuring out how to use what I had. When my last pair of jean tore a few months before the ban was over, I opted to wear leggings under them.
In the two years since, the shift in how I few buying clothes has changed. I only keep the clothes I’m actually wearing. I know what I have and what I need. I have gotten in the habit of paying attention to the spots my wardrobe is thin and where I have plenty. For example I own 5 pairs of boots that I bought 7 years ago. They are in great shape and so I never look at new boots. I only have one pair of leather sandals, and the sole has been ripped apart for a while now. It’s on my list of things to buy if I happen to come across a style, price and fit I like.
In my 20’s I would wander through clothing stores, just searching. Searching for something to catch my eye or “refresh” my wardrobe. Now I know what I need. When I find it, I feel good about buying it. I know it’s been a need for a while. The old game of, “Hum, do I like this? Should I get this? Do I need this?” is over. I know how much I need. Right now I have one plain tee shirt, and I often find myself wishing I had two or three. As soon as I find a great tee, I’ll buy two.
The biggest benefit two years out is that my wardrobe is simple and perfect. Everything fits. I like everything that’s in there. I wear it all. I know what I have and what I need. Everything feels comfortable and like myself. I don’t have that yearning for my clothes to change anything about my life. My life is really nice, and I can just get dressed in the morning.
Some Day Capsule Wardrobe
Reading Jillian’s thoughts make me realize where I hope to be in the future. While I may never have the ultimate, Instagram-worthy capsule wardrobe, my closet will be yet smaller than it is now, but everything will fit, and everything will look good on me. And at the point something needs replacing, I’ll do that. But never again will my wardrobe get out of control and end up with too many cute, cheap, someday clothes that never get worn.
Clothing is a mostly mindless part of my life now, but mindless in a good way. Instead of browsing sale racks for another cardigan I don’t need, I’m finding ways to stretch the life out of the ones I do have so I don’t have to think about replacing them. They may eventually wear away beyond repair, but I value each piece as it rotates through my closet in a way I never have before.
Have you ever done a clothing or shopping ban before? Is it something you would consider for the future?