11 things I learned when I didn’t buy clothes for a year

When I bother with New Year’s resolutions they seldom last past February. But last year I made a resolution and I stuck to it. I didn’t buy a single item of clothing all year.

My overflowing wardrobe and a nagging sense of guilt about my consumerism propelled me into action. Or inaction. It was the days following the minimalist’s documentary and there was a general air of “let’s make do with less”. After what felt like constant pressure to do more, make more, be more, “less” was an attractive proposition. A way off the hamster wheel.

I committed to buying no new clothes. Shoes and accessories were okay. I also allowed myself to make clothes or receive them as gifts.

I made do with less. But it hasn’t felt like less. In fact, it’s felt like I have gained something.

What did I learn over the past year?

1. It’s not that hard.

I did not think that I would make it through this self-imposed challenge. Once I tried to give up coffee for thirty days and lasted about four. I expected a similar implosion. Turns out fashion isn’t nearly as addictive as caffeine. In the early days of the challenge I allowed myself lots of leniency. Fully expecting to take advantage of the loop holes. But I didn’t. I didn’t even buy a lot of accessories or shoes, which I’d exempted from the ban. By not engaging with shopping – avoiding stores and online temptation – I created a new normal. The first few months were a little tough. There were pangs. But after about three months in, I really didn’t miss it. Now, at the end of my commitment, I’m not racing out the stores. There are a few things that I wouldn’t mind purchasing. But I don’t feel any urgency and I’ll try to get those pieces from op shops.

2. You can choose to step away from the cycle

I feel like I have broken away from something. This year I blogged less, went back into the corporate workforce and shifted my priorities. All of that may have created a new perspective. There seems an endless cycle of earn, spend, consume and repeat. While I’m not going off-grid any time soon, the simple act of not buying new clothes opened my eyes to a different way of living. One less dictated by other people telling me what I needed.

3. Your style will evolve

In the same vein, I had to turn my back on certain trends. Which meant I relied heavily on my own personal style, quite separate from season-driven fashion. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention and I found new ways of wearing what I already had. Being careful with what I was allowing into my wardrobe translated into careful dressing. I was afraid that after a year of no buying clothes my interest in fashion would wane. It did. But my interest in style hasn’t dimmed.

4. You will take better care of your things

Nothing like scarcity to ensure protection. I took a lot more care with my things this year. Hand-washing, ironing (I never iron) and mending. An important shift into preserving what I have rather than consuming more.

5. Accessories are fabulous (and cheap)

Most weekends I would wear a tie in my hair and dazzling earrings. Both easily sourced or hand-made. They make such a difference to how an outfit looks and how I feel. An easy pick me up delivering the same punch as a new dress at a fraction of the cost.

6. Conscious buying means something

While I will buy new clothes this year, I will do so with a different level of consciousness. I’ll ask questions about how the garment came to be. Whether it improved someone’s life or made it worse. What I will do with it once I’m done. I’ll think about whether I can source something second-hand. I won’t buy things on sale, just because they are on sale. The long pause I have given myself means that I don’t think I will ever go back to consuming clothes in the way I used to. I think the kids call it “woke”.

7. Style isn’t reliant on the next and the new

“Fashion comes and goes, style goes on forever.” I think not shopping for a year tested this for me. I had to find sparkle within my existing wardrobe, rather than the shiny, new thing. My clothing choices couldn’t be dictated by what would make me look trendy or what would photograph well on Instagram. I don’t think I have ever moved from trend to trend, but this year meant I was more classic in my dressing.

8. You will feel more in control

Often I’d buy something, experience an initial high only to feel guilty and low a few hours later. Wondering why I bought something I didn’t need. I don’t miss that feeling. My spending was never crazy, but it was unnecessary. I feel like I have taken control of my wardrobe and my spending.

9. There are much better hobbies and outings than shopping

A trip to the shops was always high on my “things to do with friends” list. But there are plenty of more fabulous things to do and explore together. A trip to the beach with my kids is actually a much more worthwhile “reward” than yet another dress. As a hobby, shopping is expensive and often leaves me feel down-hearted (particularly for swimmers). Sewing, writing, creating all leave me in a much more positive head space.

10. Saying no to yourself and to set an example is important

My kids hate the word “no”. They will try to wheedle it into a “maybe” and then nag it into a “yes”. Delayed gratification is not a strong point. And what example did I give? I’d see something I wanted, and buy it. Now, they see me look at something and say “No, I want that, but I don’t need that.” In fact, my eldest was the person that would always keep me in check when I found something pretty on passing sale rack.

11. You can look at something, admire its beauty, without having to own it

The other day I saw the most beautiful ring on Instagram. Once upon a time, I would have found out who it was by, scoped their website and made an online order. All in a rush so that common sense would have no time to prevail. This time, I admired the beauty of it and scrolled on by.

Have you ever put a hold on spending money on clothes? What was your biggest take away?


If you are keen to commit to a no or less buy year, you might like to join the wonderful group Carly Findlay has put together – Shop Your Wardrobe 2018.

2 thoughts on “11 things I learned when I didn’t buy clothes for a year

  1. Kez @ Awesomely Unprepared says:

    I really admire how you undertook this challenge! I have always been a bit frugal with fashion, but in 2017 I don’t know whether it was pregnancy hormones or a new reaction to stress but I bought SO MANY THINGS to wear. Some stuff was probably not with the best judgement (OK so more than I’d like to admit), but I was a crazy woman with terribly sensitive, scarring skin (I’m allergic to the baby hormones) and I just. kept. buying hoping it would make me feel better! It was actually quite out of character! Now that I am nearing the end of my pregnancy, I hope that after the baby arrives, I will be able to sort everything out and pare a lot of things down. Donate or sell or just enjoy getting back to basics. I look forward to my body stabilising so I won’t feel the need to buy all the time, because of my size fluctuating (I struggled in the 3 years beforehand with hormone treatments and comfort eating too). Thanks for the re-inspiration! x
    Kez @ Awesomely Unprepared recently posted…Taking Stock: January 2018My Profile

  2. Jenni McAteer says:

    I’ve been conscious shopper for a long while now and can’t see me reverting back, even if I had endless funds to spend. We’ve recently moved from the suburbs to a city fringe apartment, which meant a major downsize. At first there was some resistance from the partner about giving up the mass of stored items in the garage and around the home that were never used, but almost a month in and we all love the new paired back living.

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