Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from David Singer of Six Simple Rules.
“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…
Image: Monica Arellano-Ongpin