Nine Insights after a One-Year Hiatus from Buying Clothes

hanged white shirts on black clothes hangers
Photo by Leticia Ribeiro on

In October 2017, I challenged myself not purchase any clothes for a year. And by clothes, I mean no pajamas, work-out gear, or unmentionables, as well as regular clothes. I also purchased no shoes, bags, or accessories for a year.

I didn’t go into this experiment with any preparation. One day I decided that enough was enough. I would have liked a new pair of running shoes as I also decided to train for a half-marathon around the same time, but I committed to continue running until those shoes fell off my feet (they didn’t). It’s taken me a while to reflect on what I learned about myself and the world from this experiment.

  1. We have enough clothes. Like many people, I already have a lot of clothes in my closet. When you don’t have an option to buy something new, you wear what you have. How many days could you go wearing a different outfit or slightly different outfit every day? For me, maybe that was 30-50 days. That’s enough!
  2. We can get creative with how we acquire clothes. How did I survive a high school reunion, a trip abroad, and, as a Floridian, a December trip to Massachusetts? For those occasions, I would normally be hitting the mall for critical items to add to my wardrobe. Instead, I borrowed from my sister. She wasn’t using her winter boots or a cute Lily Pulitzer dress. When you need something that you might not wear often or even ever again, consider borrowing from a friend or renting from a company like Rent the Runway.
  3. We can repair clothes and shoes instead of throwing them away. During the year, instead of throwing away two pairs of shoes that had issues, I took them to a shoe repair store. This decision saved me money, probably some time, and meant that two more pairs of shoes and all the resources to make them didn’t go to waste.
  4. People don’t always even notice what we are wearing. I stopped worrying that I had worn something over and over. Nobody really cares. And sometimes they don’t even notice. I love my friend at work who kept complimenting me on a certain pair of shoes that I wore a lot and even once asked if the blouse I wore all the time was new.
  5. The clothes in our closets aren’t all winners. Being forced to dig deeper into my closet, I tried on more things and decided that certain items were not for me. So I got rid of them. I would rather have fewer clothes that I like than more clothes that I can’t feel 100% confident or comfortable wearing. By the end of the year, I would estimate that I probably cut my wardrobe by one-third. It’s not intuitive that when you can’t bring in anything new that you would let go of what “little” you have. But somehow that happened.
  6. We have more time and money when we aren’t shopping. I didn’t have to shop for anything that year! Imagine the time and money I saved from not browsing online or hitting the mall.
  7. Some of our donated clothes become salvage. Consider all the clothes you have donated to Goodwill or elsewhere thinking it will go to help people. Nobody wants your stuff with stains, tears, or pills. Many donations are unusable and go to salvage where resellers pay pennies per pound. Some gets shipped abroad, and some are turned into rags. It really put it into perspective for me when I learned that clothes I spent good money on are so disposable and don’t have much of a life after I’m done with them.
  8. The advertising industry is relentless. I set up a rule in my email accounts to send my retail emails to a specific folder that I never checked (they are still there and I hardly ever check). I adjusted my Facebook settings to indicate that I wasn’t interested in clothes, including “shirts with long sleeves,” which was somehow in my advertising interest profile. This allowed me to not see any of my traditional triggers, like a sale at one of my favorite stores. Those emails were also sucking up time.
  9. We can make more mindful decisions. After this experiment, you might think that I went on a major shopping spree, but I have tried to be intentional in bringing new items into my closet. I have purchased basics, like a new coat, black shoes, black pants, running shoes, a dress and shoes for my son’s graduation, and a pair of white jeans. Of course, I am sure it’s been more than this, but it’s all been very purposeful. I don’t just go shopping to see what cute new items I can find. I think more about what I need and target those specific items.

In the end, I was surprised how easy it was to do this experiment for a year. Maybe you can try it too!

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