Note: This is a guest post from Sophie Clarke of Intentional View.
Spoiler alert: The world didn’t end.
In all seriousness, this shouldn’t be a shocking title. It should be totally normal not to buy clothes for a year, let alone every season or few weeks.
I’m a firm believer that one of the reasons many of us feel so empty, bored and unfulfilled is because we live in a consumerist society where we’ve been sold the lie that we can shop our way to happiness. And, if you’ve ever tried this (I know I certainly have in the past), then you’ll have found out the hard way that there is no long-term happiness to be found in the bottom of a shopping bag—just scrunched-up receipts and a twinge of regret.
7 Things I Learned From Not Buying Any New Clothes for a Year
So, I decided not to buy any new clothes for a year. I should clarify here that I didn’t even buy secondhand clothes or accept gifted clothes from friends or family. I didn’t buy underwear, socks, or tights. Nada.
This is what I learned:
1. Fast Fashion is an addiction
Addiction takes many shapes and forms. Some addictions are frowned upon (smoking, gambling, drugs), while others are completely normalized and even celebrated (retail therapy, anyone?).
In reality, 21st-century culture is a neverending stream of softcore addictions like social media, fast food, fast fashion, and trash TV. It’s just all packaged under a more culturally acceptable guise.
I remember the bittersweet evenings I’d spend scouring through page after page of ‘Last Chance Sale,’ all the while feeling an immense pressure that I needed to order before the free next-day delivery cut-off at midnight.
Intentionally choosing not to buy any new clothes for a year has plainly highlighted to me that insatiable clothes shopping is an addiction. And to beat any kind of addiction, it’s important to get to the root cause of the problem rather than just treating the symptom, which leads me on to my next point…
2. Your primary source of value isn’t your appearance
It sounds blindingly obvious, but when you’ve grown up in a society that routinely bombards you with messages to the contrary, it’s so easy to start internalizing the idea that you need to shoehorn yourself into an ideal beauty standard.
More often than not, the compulsion to buy new clothes comes from a place of lack within us. What we’re really doing on a deeper level is asking questions like: Am I attractive enough? Am I worthy? Do I have value in the world?
There’s no doubt that fashion can be a liberating and creative outlet. But there is also a more subversive drive when it comes to compulsive shopping, and it’s a vicious cycle that only leaves us feeling more insecure in the long term.
When I didn’t have the continual confidence booster of a new outfit, I realised just how much I was relying on clothes to make me feel good about myself. And it was incredibly freeing to accept that as much as I can express myself through my wardrobe, my wardrobe doesn’t define me.
3. A minimalist capsule wardrobe is a must
How many times have you looked through a bulging wardrobe full of clothes and silently despaired that you have nothing to wear?
It’s so easy to be swayed by statement trends and have a closet full of fad pieces that simply don’t go together. And then, when you finally pluck up the courage to declutter, feelings of guilt and sunk investment rear their ugly heads.
In my experience, the answer is to curate a minimalist capsule wardrobe, which means:
- Reduced decision fatigue
- Less maintenance
- High-quality pieces that save you money in the long run
- Endlessly mix-and-matchable staples
I didn’t buy any new clothes for a year, but by having a basic capsule wardrobe in place, I was pleasantly surprised by how many outfits I could conjure up. With a neutral colour palette and a little planning, you don’t need anywhere near as much stuff as you think you do.
4. You have control over your environment
Sometimes, I wouldn’t even be thinking about shopping when an email would ping up on my phone: ‘70% off sale ends tomorrow!’
Then, before I knew it, I’d be off down a rabbit hole of no return.
What you need to remember is that marketers know how to create a sense of urgency and a seemingly ‘unmissable’ offer to manipulate you into buying. You may not realize it, but you’re up against some hardcore guerilla warfare every time you step foot inside your inbox.
In short, you have to control your environment or else it will control you. Rather than relying on your end-of-day, burnt-out self to make good decisions, it’s far better to create intentional boundaries for yourself.
When it came to online shopping, I unsubscribed from all of my go-to brands. And do you know what? It pretty much stopped my cravings in their tracks.
Needless to say, it’s also wise to stop physically shopping in your favorite stores at the weekend (yep, this includes ‘window shopping’!). Instead, find other hobbies. Go on a long walk in nature with your partner, or snuggle up on the sofa and watch a film. It’s infinitely better for the soul.
5. It gets easier to say ‘no’
When you become mindful of your consumption in one area of your life, it can’t help but overflow into other areas, too. Developing a minimalist mindset and becoming content with less is like building a muscle. It’s hard, but it gets easier as you practice.
Once I’d successfully said no to a cute jumper on multiple occasions, I realized that I could radically question anything that was trying to make its way into my home. As a happy side effect, I ended up not buying much outside of my essential consumables and cosmetics at all.
6. The ‘perfect’ pair of jeans doesn’t exist
Do you find you have multiples of the same item in your wardrobe? It’s a strange compulsion to keep buying the same thing over and over again and expect different results (the definition of insanity, some might say).
What I’ve come to realize is that I’m constantly chasing an idealized version of myself. But like an elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I’m afraid to say that the ‘perfect pair of jeans’ is a myth. They don’t exist anywhere other than your own mind.
In reality, the perfect pair of jeans are the ones that are in the wash (because they’re the pair you always find yourself reaching for).
Rather than buying twenty cheap pairs that are uncomfortable and don’t even fit particularly well, I’ve decided that, in future, I will always opt to spend a bit more on a higher-quality pair. Whilst they will never be the ‘dream’, they’ll be as close as.
7. Slow fashion feels better than fast fashion
The short-term dopamine hit of a fashion haul may feel good in the moment, but it quickly loses its sheen.
When you educate yourself on just how unsustainable the fashion industry is, you realize the true cost to people, planet and animals. And it quickly becomes clear that changing your mindless shopping habits isn’t just about streamlining your wardrobe or simplifying your life (although these are certainly by-products of a minimalist approach). It’s about shopping with a conscience and voting with your wallet for the kind of world you want to live in.
Fast fashion may look good on the outside, but it doesn’t feel great on the inside. Because I think we all have a sneaking suspicion that bargain clothing shouldn’t be able to be produced that cheaply. The irony being that most of it ends up in landfill, anyway.
Embracing a slow fashion mindset for a year has helped me to build a relationship with the clothes I already own—encouraging me to take better care of them, get more creative, and be grateful for what I have. Living in alignment with your values is infinitely more fulfilling in the long term than shiny object syndrome.
So, What’s Next?
After a year of no clothes shopping, am I rushing out to revamp my wardrobe? Well, if I’m completely honest, I never really put a time limit on this experiment. I’d like for it to be an intentional and sustainable change so that I can commit to quitting fast fashion for good.
Of course, there are going to be times when I genuinely need new things. But when I do, I’ll be sure to do my research and purchase more consciously from ethical brands. And one thing’s for certain—I won’t be turning my email notifications back on again any time soon.
Sophie is the creator of Intentional View, a website that encourages others to start their own individual revolution. With weekly articles on mindfulness, productivity, minimalism and veganism, you can learn to take back control of your habitual thoughts, beliefs and actions.