I Went A Year Without Shopping For Clothes. Here's What I Learned.

"I gave myself a personal challenge: no buying any clothing or accessories — for myself — for 365 days."
The author.
The author.
Photo Courtesy of Jen Craven

“I wonder if I could go a full year without shopping.” The thought came to me on a nondescript Tuesday last October, and was spurred — I’m certain — by the garments I’d discovered hanging in my closet with the tags still attached.

One thing that comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me: I love fashion. Clothes, bags, shoes, you name it, I’ve always had a knack for putting outfits together, and a genuine love for style as a whole. While I wouldn’t have put myself into the “this is a real problem” category, let’s just say it wasn’t unusual for me to buy a new piece (or two or three) a few times per month.

A blue V-neck sweater because the one I owned was crew neck. Those white sneakers everyone’s wearing. Another tee because … well, just because it was cute.

They weren’t needs. They were wants.

Now that I was looking around my closet and taking stock of what I wore and what I hadn’t touched in months (or years!), I gave myself a personal challenge: no buying any clothing or accessories — for myself — for 365 days. (I bought clothing and shoes, as necessary, for my children, because kids grow.)

I posted my plan on social media, mostly for accountability. If I said it out loud, if I put it out there for my friends and family to see, I’d have to stick to it.

And that’s when I took a big gulp. Could I really do it? A year sounded like a blink and an eternity at the same time.

The first month or two were easy. I stayed out of stores and the temptation to shop was low. I’m lucky, in this case, to live in a small town with virtually no shopping outside of Walmart. In many ways, this served as a huge advantage.

However, shopping in the 21st century knows no boundaries. All I had to do was pick up my phone and scroll social media to be inundated with ads from my favorite retailers. Closeout sales and new releases stalked my dreams.

Copywriters are no dummies. Those times of boredom, where I could easily have clicked on a post with the cutest dang nap dress, were the biggest test of will. I became conscious of this, and forced myself to scroll past, or even close out of the app completely. And here’s the thing I noticed: As time went on, I saw fewer and fewer of these targeted ads.

By the time the six-month mark rolled around, I’d stayed true to the challenge, with the exception of new running socks (sort of a need, and far from glamorous if we’re being honest). I felt incredibly proud. Half a year without unneeded shopping or frivolous purchases.

I posted again, giving an update, and received a few messages of congrats.

“I could never!” most said.

“Good for you!” many responded.

Then there was one from a local friend. “Your challenge inspired me,” she wrote. “I’m on month three and going strong.”

I remember feeling such a sense of delight that something I was doing for myself had motivated someone else to do the same. It fueled me to continue.

Once summer rolled around, the lure of a new sundress or pair of sandals came on strong. Here I was, coming out of Pennsylvania winter hibernation, looking for something new and fresh to usher in the sun, and I was “stuck” with last year’s tanks and shorts (which were a little snug).

We were headed to a cousin’s wedding and I would have loved to buy a new dress for the occasion. Re-wear something I’d already been seen in? My lingering high school mindset screamed, ”social suicide!” But I resisted. Instead, I wore a dress from my closet. And guess what? I felt good, looked good and saved a hundred bucks.

When nine months hit, it felt like the home stretch. Three more months; I could do it. The changing of the seasons, once again, helped me analyze what I’d worn over the course of the no-shopping ban.

I found I continually reached for the same items, because they flatter my body type or complement my personal coloring. That trend piece I bought because an Instagram influencer suggested it? Not so much. Being forced to “shop in my closet” helped me understand my own style and what makes me comfortable and happy. Knowing these things will lessen the temptation to buy fad pieces I’ll never end up wearing in the future.

I’m now about a week out from the year mark. In some ways, it feels like forever since I’ve stepped foot in Target. But it actually flew by once I consciously chose to spend my time doing other things like reading or engaging more with my family. Don’t get me wrong, I love a lazy weekend day browsing the aisles. But for me, it was too tempting to go to stores and not spend.

I learned a lot by completing this challenge. My willpower is stronger than I realized. Most of my previous purchases were a direct result of misplaced emotions (boredom, at the top of the list). I recognized that what I was feeling in the moment had nothing to do with needing a new top. When boredom ― or something else ― struck, I’d often get up and move. Physical movement, whether it was going for a walk, or even just changing rooms inside the house, was often enough to squelch the urge to click that shiny “buy” button.

But even more so than inner reflection, the challenge reinforced what I already knew to be true about the apparel industry as a whole. Fast fashion may be fun and convenient, but it’s also killing the environment. That quick high you get from buying a new top you don’t really need? It’s short lived. And now you own another garment that will, in all likelihood, end up in a landfill in the not too distant future.

On top of that, many fast fashion brands participate in exploitative labor practices, forcing garment workers to accept startlingly low wages and unsafe working conditions.

While I could go on and on about the negative sides of fast fashion, it’s worth noting that not shopping fast fashion is, in many ways, a privilege. Putting clothes on your back is a necessity, and sometimes, inexpensive clothing is the only thing a person’s finances allow.

This is not to sound preachy. Trust me, I’m far from a tree hugger. But this no-shopping challenge definitely taught me that quality over quantity will be my motto going forward. I already loved secondhand shopping, and now I plan to seek it out as a first option via local resale shops, and apps like Poshmark, TheRealReal, ThredUp and Mercari.

Will I go on a shopping spree the minute this is over? I can confidently say no. If I need something, I will buy it. If I see something I like, I might buy it, too. Not all shopping is bad. But I’m coming out of this challenge with a new mindset toward shopping that I didn’t have before: It’s not always the things in life that make you happy.

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