Another Story of Enough: My Clothing Fast

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from David Singer of Six Simple Rules.

clothing-fast

“I can change only myself, but sometimes that is enough.” —Ruth Humleker

Last year, I read The Story of Enough: Giving Up (new) Clothes for One Year, a Becoming Minimalist guest post by Sarah Peck of it starts with.

At the time, I had been a regular reader of the Becoming Minimalist blog for about 18 months. While I loved the writing style and the messages delivered in the posts, I hadn’t yet figured out how I was going to deploy minimalism in my life.

I have always taken pride in being a smart consumer. Though I have more than a minimal amount of “stuff,” I own very few things I don’t use, I make purchases when items are on sale, I use coupons, and I shop in off-price stores. When someone asks me what I want for a birthday gift, I ask for gift cards to Amazon so I can buy music or books.

But when I read Sarah’s post about her modest minimalist journey and her struggle with identifying how she would embrace minimalism, I knew I had found my way into making progress. Sarah bought no new clothes for a year. As she explained, “I spent 2011 conducting an experiment in which I decided to stop buying new clothes for the entire year.”

I decided, as well, to buy no clothes of any kind for a year, starting August 1, 2012. I thought of it as my clothing fast. I didn’t even make the underwear and shoes exception that Sarah made. I was confident I owned even enough of those and every other kind of clothing. It would be my minimalist experiment.

And I would soon be surprised by the importance of the lessons learned.

Relatively early in the experiment, I visited a dermatologist. While she told me I was doing well protecting my skin, she strongly urged me to buy a hat with a wider brim. I felt required, in that moment, to amend the terms of the challenge to not buy any clothes I didn’t need for a year. The key, of course, just like so many of our life choices was recognizing the difference between want and need.

To purchase the hat, I went to one of my favorite stores, an off-price retail chain. Surprisingly, I had an experience unlike any of my previous trips. I walked in, found the men’s hats department, tried on a few, and promptly walked out after paying $10. Never, at any time, did I wander the store looking for deals or sales.

Walking back to my car, I passed a factory outlet of some popular retailers. I felt a pull—a temptation to go in and look for deals. But I resisted. Standing in the parking lot, I had time to think. And then it hit me, “I was addicted to finding deals.” I began to recount all the times in my past when I hated to walk past any of my favorite stores without looking at the sales rack.

I discovered a variation of the scarcity mentality that Sarah talked about in her post. In my version, deals are scarce and bypassing one meant losing an opportunity that may never return.

This time though, I happily walked to my car, having resisted the pull of a possible sale. I immediately thought of something my wife had said to me long ago when I came home from a store with something I had bought on sale. I proudly boasted that “I had saved $20 by buying on sale.” To which she replied, “You didn’t save $20, you spent $30.”

I learned a valuable life lesson and discovered a by-product of my clothing fast. I recognized (and was beginning to break) my addiction to deals. Though it had been pointed out in the past, this time I finally saw it. I had found an important way to start saving more money.

Over the course of the year, I only bought a few items—items that I needed. I purchased a winter hat from a NYC street vendor for $5, a belt for $10 when I realized my every day belt had become unacceptable for work, and a three-pack of white V-neck tee shirts for $18 (Apparently, I didn’t have quite enough underwear for the year…I see why Sarah made the exemption.)

Another important lesson was learned when I went through my closet. I assumed after a year of not buying clothes, I would have worn all of mine. But I actually found quite a few items I hadn’t worn in years—for example, pants I was saving to wear “one day.” I decided it was time to do what we had always done with the clothes our kids grow out of—donate to those who need them more. And thus, the second surprise of my year emerged. Buying only clothing I needed actually helped me remove some of the clothing that I didn’t need. It helped me simplify my life and help others in the process.

Even better, a few months later, my kids did the same commenting how ridiculous it was they had so much clothing in their own closets. I was reminded again how my actions, my decisions, and my example influence the people closest to me.

Ultimately, the 12-month clothing fast experiment has turned into a permanent lifestyle change. One that recognizes and promotes better habits, better attitudes, and better behaviors. Pretty awesome. Maybe even awesome enough for you to try as well…

***

David Singer blogs at Six Simple Rules. He is the author of Six Simple Rules for a Better Life. You can also find him on Facebook

Image: Monica Arellano-Ongpin

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Enjoyed this and I can relate. Want to up the temptation factor? I work in retail. I’m required to look stylish, wear current trends and make women feel beautiful. I grew up with a clothes horse (I’m sure as a child I heard that phrase wrong). Anyhoo, when I humbly began my minimalist journey this past May, the idea of reducing and re-evaluating my wardrobe filled me with anxiety. How would I reconcile my work with my new lifestyle? Surprisingly, eaiser than I thought. I did the easiest thing first: I purged. Then I moved to having an on-going conversation about need vs want. Do I need this for work? Can I make a look happen without a purchase? Well, having to show women how to use what they have and how to build on it, not too bad here. And when I brought something in, something went out. The bonus was being off all summer. Not working and having less cash, made not shopping that much easier. When a few pounds made it necessary to shop, I hit the Salvation Army and again, I purged. Editing my closet is actually an enjoyable experience. I feel good knowing my wardrobe actually reflects what I wear. Not hunting through ‘stuff’ to find something I want is freeing. I go back to work this week. A habit has been broken and I’m feeling fine.

    So back to your blog, love it.

    • says

      Great story! I love the clothing-purge idea. I always recommend everyone who is considering downsizing their clothing collection to take an inventory of what you have. The average piece of clothing lasts more than 100 wash cycles. So, assuming you only have 10 shirts and wash them every time you wear them, that is 1,000 days of shirts, or, more than 3 years. You will be amazed at how many years of clothing people can hang on to!

      • laura m. says

        Gr Green: got to agree. I purge out clothing I haven’t worn at least twice a year. End of summer and end of winter when it warms up, if it isn’t worn for various reasons, it gets donated. Clothes aren’t worn out, but styles change. Most everything is in wearable condition and needy people buy from thrift shops like local rescue missions, Salvation Army, etc.

    • ALETHA says

      I can definitely relate, I also work in a clothing store and we are expected to wear clothes that show we have a good/up-to-date fashion sense. I purged a bunch of my clothes and asked for a few new sweaters (from my work) for Christmas. I might wear the same sweaters frequently but I am displaying the clothes we sell so I feel that is fine! I have a much smaller wardrobe but while my co workers say “I spend my whole check here” or “I hate getting new stuff in I’m so tempted to buy it” I smile knowing I have the few things I need!

  2. Amy says

    I used to shop sales to get good deals. It started after I got my first year round job when I was 15, before that I’d been working on farm’s in the summer’s since I was 12. I bought lots of clothes and shoes. When I moved into my apartment in graduate school I had enough clothes to wear a different outfit daily for 9 months. I had 63 pairs of shoes. I went through a major purge during my first year of graduate school 8 years ago and now have only items I wear regularly, less than 30 items including undergarments and only 2 pairs of shoes. It’s nice not to have to dig around for clothes. During that year I also rid our apartment of almost 3,000 books. My son was 5 years old, he doesn’t remember the time of excess anymore.

    • says

      Amy:

      Reminds me that friends used to make fun that I only wore white shirts to work in the days when I had to wear a suit every day. I loved that I never had to decide what shirt to wear. I just had to make sure my tie went with my suit. Easy.

      Also, when my kids were super young I never saw them at night. Fortunately I course corrected when they were still young. Now they are in college and have no recollection that I was ever anything but present. Great to make changes when they are so young.

      Thanks so much for the note.

      All the best,

      David

  3. says

    Your story reminds me of one of my own, David. I went sixteen months without buying any new or used clothing, accessories, shoes, or anything you put on your body. But the twist was that it was completely unintentional. I didn’t even realize it was sixteen months until I checked Quicken after buying some jeans (wondering how long it had been since I last bought something).

    That’s how you get amazing unintentional benefits from intentional living, huh? :) Kudos on your journey and a life of purpose!

    • says

      Joel:
      Thanks for your note. It’s pretty cool that when you get used to something you no longer realize that you are doing it. I did notice the months going by because I set about to do a one-year challenge. But until I read your note just now I forgot that it’s now been 13 1/2 months. Good stuff.
      Thanks again. :)
      Best,
      David

  4. says

    Joel:
    Thanks for your note. It’s pretty cool that when you get used to something you no longer realize that you are doing it. I did notice the months going by because I set about to do a one-year challenge. But until I read your note just now I forgot that it’s now been 13 1/2 months. Good stuff.
    Thanks again. :)
    Best,
    David

  5. says

    I’ve gone on a week long fiscal fast, but never a year long fast dedicated to a single item (i.e. clothing). I must admit I’m intrigued by the lessons you learned and wonder if I could do something similar. It’s interesting to consider. Thank you, truly, for sharing. You’ve given me something to think about.

  6. Monica says

    David, thank you for sharing. I’ve only played with the idea of living a minimalist life but cannot imagine where to begin. I have a 5 year old little girl that would surely benefit from a mother with such good sense. Any tips on where to begin?
    Thanks David.
    Monica Enlow

    • says

      Maybe Monica, switch gears and start with the little things – buy most of your clothes in charity/thrift shops. If you eat out a lot, make one extra meal at home, pack a lunch in a reusable bag, sew or make something you would usually buy, notice your food getting close to the end of its life and make a soup or dehydrate/freeze it for future use instead of letting it tip over to compost. Or compost, if everything goes in the bin. Live in an apartment? See if an allotment or community garden has a composter or get a worm bin. How you start depends a lot on how you live now. Good luck.

      • says

        Colleen:

        Fantastic! As I said to Monica after reading your note, Thank you for your note, your advice is terrific both in your specific ideas and in general. I am a huge proponent of making changes by breaking down big goals into small pieces and then working on one small piece at a time to add up to the big change one wants.

        Thanks for your terrific note.

        All the best,

        David

    • says

      Monica:

      Thank you for your note. Colleen’s advice is terrific both in her specific ideas and in general. I am a huge proponent of making changes by breaking down big goals into small pieces and then working on one small piece at a time. As you achieve each small one, it will add up to the big change you want — you just have to be patient and look at the big picture.

      See also Amy’s note above.

      Thanks again,

      Best regards,

      David

    • Jennifer says

      It might sound cliche, but why don’t you pick a few base colors for your wardrobe, and only buy pants, shirts, skirts, suits, and dresses in those colors? Then you can buy accessories and jewelry in different colors. I have made white, black and lots of grey my base colors. My life is so simple now. I always have something to wear. Everything I own goes together. I always feel good in what I’m wearing. I need less clothes. Also, it’s so freeing mentally – I used to have a lot of “mental clutter” regarding what I was going to wear for a trip or for the next week. Now, I don’t.

      One further tip. Develop a work uniform. I wear black pants and a white shirt everyday. It took a long time for anyone to catch onto the fact that I was wearing the same thing everyday. I know because I asked people if they had noticed after a few weeks and most hadn’t. I never think about what I’m going to wear to work unless I’m thinking about washing and dring the clothes of course.

  7. Deb says

    It seems pretty routine for me to head for the clothing section at my local big box store before I go after the food I actually came into the store for. More often than not as I cruise through the department I ask myself why, I can’t remember the last time I actually bought anything there. I have more than enough already. And now as I prepare to relocate the desire to have less is all the more present…..time to revisit my copy of “Seven” by Jen Hatmaker and start the journey. Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. Jo says

    I think my journey toward fiscal responsibility and now to becoming minimalist began when I realize I would check out the clearance rack at work in a furniture store. The accessories placed there would be priced as little as $2 for knickknacks or frames. I realized one day that I would buy things only because it made me feel better about myself. That’s when I quit buying then and there. I didn’t need another new frame just to make me feel better! Since that time I paid off my debt and now am working on ridding my house of all extras. Thank you for posting such inspiring stories, they really help.

  9. Sally says

    I am 9 months through my “clothing fast” and have bought absolutely nothing so far, not shoes, undies or accessories. I have been given a few hand-me-downs by family and have given away some of my things too. I could still pare down some more, and I will, gradually.

    Goes to show how I really had enough all along. And has saved me hours of “browsing” stores for something new or trendy. And saved money.

    • says

      Sally:
      When things got really bad during the recent Great Recession, a friend of mine told me she had started a new thing she called, “shopping in my own closet”.
      Great note Sally.
      Thanks!
      David

  10. Epi says

    I would love to cut down on some things; I don’t need many clothes, though I have to replace work shirts I wear out through use (the cuffs/collars start showing it). We have 4 kids who are still growing though, and I feel like I have mountains of clothes that are being saved to pass from one child to another. It’s very practical and saves money and resources, but it is still clutter and not very minimalist to have rubbermaid bins full of clothes (bagged, by size/season) for when dd#3 can fit dd# #1’s hand-me-downs.
    We’ve purged a couple thousand books and yet I still keep all the scrap of wood from when I build something, in case the scraps are useful for another project. There’s a horrible trade-off between being responsible and economical and being minimalist; if I throw out wood (rather than breaking down an old bookshelf for use in other projects) I reduce my needs for space, but at the expense of having to buy new wood next time I need to build something.

    • says

      Epi:
      Moderation can be a good thing and it sounds like you are doing a good job balancing and could do better at giving yourself a break. I’m all for saving hand-me-downs and the way you have organized them is great. Measure and celebrate your progress and don’t beat yourself up over lack of perfection!
      Thanks for the note.
      David

  11. Eva Z. says

    Great post and something I can relate to. I grew up with 2 pairs of shoes, one for summer, one for winter and a very few items of clothing, none of which fit me or made me look good. So after I married and started to earn a paycheck, I started to compensate for it (always loving fashion). I have had so much clothes and shoes that I could wear different thing every day of the year and probably never repeat. Although I always liked to purge, I was always refilling by shopping and mostly finding “deals”. Then I started to read about minimalism (including this blog) and something started to shift. Do I really need all this stuff? Do I really find joy in shopping? Do I really need another dress/shoes/top to feel better about myself? All answers came to no. So I slowly stopped shopping and kept donating/selling/throwing away my shoes, clothes, accessories. Am I aiming for having only 30 things altogether? No, but I just want to have things I use and enjoy and remove the need for more and more storage. Thank you all for the inspiration!

    • says

      Eva:
      Thank you for your great story. As Sally said, there is also a time saving from cutting out unneeded shopping and more time to do fun and important things is always welcomed!
      Best,
      David

  12. says

    I really enjoyed this post! I made the decision to stop buying new clothes (with a few exceptions) a couple years ago and haven’t noticed a decrease in the overall quality of my wardrobe. I even go so far as to pick up “free” boxes of clothing that people leave in front of their houses. I realized, like you, that the amount of clothing I had stockpiled was ridiculous and enough to last many, many years.
    As a 20-something female, I still get the same (if not more) number of comments on how cute my outfits are. I love responding to those comments with “thanks, I found it on the side of the road!”
    I think people need to re-shape the thinking that getting free or used clothes is for “poor people”, and that the only way to prove we aren’t poor is by buying flashy expensive things to wear so everyone can be impressed with us.

    • says

      Miss Green :)
      Thanks so much for your note and kind words.
      I legitimately laughed out loud when you said you tell people you found a cute outfit “on the side of the road”.
      Great stuff.
      Best regards,
      David

  13. says

    For me, it is the thrill of the hunt – the joy of a new acquistion (and then there’s the “it was on sale” issue). I recently lost 55 pounds, so I have purchased smaller sizes – but not excessively. I have purged the closet and become more “at home” with my current choices. It absolutely IS a journey – one that I’m coming to enjoy more and more.

  14. Tori says

    Love it! You have inspired me to try this out, starting today. I am not addicted to deals, but I am addicted to variety. I love having different hats, coats, etc. because otherwise I think it would be boring. However, I am sure I will need to buy SOME items. It is getting colder, and my weight has been fluctuating, so some pants are too tight, while some are too loose. I am interested to see what the results are. I don’t think I should have that hard a time. It would be more difficult if I had to give up buying books. Maybe I’ll do that next year.

    • says

      Tori, I have one bookcase and any book I love and can’t live without has to be able to fit in it with all its brethren. I’ve decided that the public library is my own personal book storage, and I can get anything I want, when I want, and return it when I’m done.

  15. says

    I enjoyed this very much. I too know that the word “clearance” can drag me in anytime! You have inspired me to go through my closet–again–and get rid of what I dont wear!

  16. says

    I commend you on your clothing fast! I need to do it, I just…. haven’t
    On my “training runs” I’ve discovered something amazing; the free time that became available. My “too busy” weekends, it turns out, were busy roaming the Goodwill, hitting up Target, etc. When I’ve cut that out, I suddenly (who knew?) had more time to hike with the dogs, try new recipes, and see if I really do suck at watercolor painting (I do).

    I’m going to commit to a clothing fast in earnest. I need to get a decent winter coat, one more suit (have to wear them daily), and that should do it for the next six months or so. I’m not sure I can do it, but there’s only one way to find out, right??

    • says

      Exactly Stephanie!
      And you make a good point. Many others mentioned used clothes and that is a great way to meet one’s needs. At the same time, for someone like me (and you), it can also be another way to find “deals” on things you don’t need. I’ve stopped going to garage sales for that reason.
      Thanks for the note and good luck with your six-month plan.
      Best regards,
      David

  17. says

    Thanks for the inspiration here! I have learned a way to facilitate purging clothes closets that allows time to say good-bye to an overload but not ignore it. Simply turn all the hangers with clothes on them backwards on the rod. Once you wear something, turn the hanger back around. After a year, when you have gone through all four seasons, those still hanging “backwards” are your prime candidates to go out the door.

  18. Dre says

    So, I’ve decided to do a clothing fast. I’ve been really inspired by these posts. I pride myself on not collecting too much because I consign clothes every season…and while this is a solid solution to the “clutter” issue, it does have me in this wheel of consumerism (because, of course, I just buy more with the proceeds of the consignment). Ultimately, this has caused me to consider that I am essentially paying “rent” on articles of clothing that I get rid of long before they have worn out.

    Not only that, but I realized last night, while I contemplated this, that I didn’t wear my favorite dress at all last year. Not once. How could this be? Too much. Too addicted to the excitement of having something “new”.

    Anyway, here goes!

    With thanks,
    dre

    • says

      Great Dre.
      Your note reminded me of another aspect of the scarcity mentality. I have some favorites that I rarely wear. I want them to last. But they should be worn and enjoyed!
      Thanks for the note and all the best with your plan!
      David

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