I Gave Up Shopping for a Year — Here's How
This time last year, I made a New Year's resolution that no one thought I'd keep — I mean I didn't even think I'd be able to do it. But I wanted to see what would happen if I tried, so I vowed to go the whole of 2021 without buying new clothes. And, you guys, I did it.
OK, I did buy one new item: In a state of tipsy euphoria at my first "post"-pandemic concert, I headed to the merch stand and purchased a $40 long-sleeve Waxahatchee T-shirt, not realizing until the next morning that my 10-month no-shopping streak had been broken by a single item that I could not return.
Save for that single band tee, though, I didn't buy any clothes — new or thrifted — for a full year. While working at a fashion publication! (Disclosure: I did also receive one incredible gifted sweater through my job.)
For me, this is a big deal. A former retail worker who never quite outgrew the jittery anticipation of "new arrivals" (and the high of the employee discount), I didn't think I'd ever be able to curb my shopping obsession; that I would get through a day without constantly refreshing my favorite shopping apps or aimlessly scrolling through endless "recently added to sale" pages while watching TV or brushing my teeth or waiting for water to boil.
Don't get me wrong — it was rough, especially in the first few months. Several times, I proceeded to check out. I entered my billing information. I reviewed my potential purchase. And then I slammed my laptop shut while exhaling the mantra "I don't need it." I've never needed it. I come from a position of privilege that has allowed me to have more than I will ever need. Nonetheless, quitting a habit that has been imprinted on my brain since childhood took a measure of resolve I wasn't sure I possessed. Look at me now!
Throughout my (trivial) trials and tribulations, I kept my goal in mind: To change my relationship with clothing and overcome the belief that my style was my whole identity, my worth — and the only way for me to express it involved constantly rotating in something new.
I also wanted to help the planet and garment workers (for whom I made recurring monthly donations to Clean Clothes Campaign), though I'll admit the most motivating factor was the thought of withholding my cash from billionaires — a sort of middle finger to the capitalist experiment.
Without further ado, here's how I gave up shopping, and some of the struggles I slogged through along the way.
Delete, Unsubscribe, Unfollow
The first step to quitting shopping was to eliminate the temptation. I combed through my emails and unsubscribed from every brand that had attained my email address through devious means and newsletters from product recommendation sites. This process took hours altogether, but was extremely cathartic, not to mention effective. (What can I say, I was a sucker for a "40% OFF!" subject line.)
Ridding my phone of shopping apps (The RealReal, ShopBop) and unfollowing my favorite stores on Instagram was considerably less time-consuming. Though there's only so much I can do to escape targeted ads — hiding ads individually is a whole other nuisance — being blissfully unaware of the latest Everlane drop, for example, has helped me know peace. As the ancient proverb goes: You can't miss the jeans you don't know exist.
Find Something Else to Do
Harsh, but it's time to get a hobby.
I never realized how consumed I was with shopping until I began replacing my idle time with a new activity. During the pandemic, I learned to knit and crochet, and ever since I picked up my first hook and first pair of needles, I haven't been able to put them down.
When I'm listening to music or podcasts, watching TV, or even sitting in the passenger side of my best friend's ride, crafting keeps my hands away from virtual shopping carts and focused on something else. My particular hobby has the added bonus of being both meditative and extremely rewarding (nothing like replying to a stranger who asks "where did you get your sweater vest?" with "actually, I made it"), though I've heard great things about countless other alternatives to adding everything to cart just to see what the total would be, for fun.
Why not try learning to sketch? Or becoming a crossword puzzle wizard? Or taking up the guitar, or getting into woodworking, or even training for the circus? Any activity that holds your interest and replaces the Urban Outfitters-shaped hole in your brain is better than saying yes to a dress you'll wear once and promptly forget.
Learn to Mend Your Clothes
During the pandemic I rewatched Downton Abbey and picked up on a detail I hadn't noticed the first go 'round. The clothing and accessories belonging both to the Crawley family and the servants are constantly being mended, fitted, pressed, and polished. While I've refastened a button here and there, I've never really cared for my clothes in such a fastidious manner. When holes appeared in my sweaters, I replaced them. When my shoes became worn down to the soles, I tossed them out.
In the past year, I've taken another look at the most-worn, most well-loved pieces in my closet — the nylon ski jacket I inherited from my dad, the cropped black Reformation hoodie I spent too much money on — and attempted to restore them to their former glory. Rather than purchasing something new, I paid a tailor to replace a worn zipper with chipped teeth. I watched a few videos on YouTube about the different techniques for mending holes in different materials. (Old Flame Mending and Pedal by Makayla Wray on Instagram are other great resources.) I dropped my favorite black boots at the cobbler so they could be reheeled and fitted with new inserts. I conditioned my cowboy boots and polished my sneakers.
Most of my wardrobe since I gave up fast-fashion three years ago is made up of quality items (that I paid good money for!) that should last me years, if not decades. Maybe not every piece will make it that long, but by reframing my thoughts on clothing as both form and function (decorative and also utilitarian) I can try to temper that capitalist urge to buy, buy, buy.
… Or Make Them
Making clothing is time consuming and hard. It's also the most-rewarding skill I've ever learned. Knitting a sweater isn't for everyone, but I've found that even familiarizing myself with how clothes are made through voyeuristic YouTube videos has given me a newfound appreciation for the work that goes into that $5.80 top.
If you are making clothing, you don't have to start from scratch, either. That pair of pants that isn't quite fitting right these days? Think about upcycling them into a pair of shorts. The dress you never wear because it's an awkward length? Cut the hemline. I transformed a two-year-old Stussy denim dress in Kelly green from one of the "untouchables" in the back of my closet into my most-worn item of the summer, simply by taking a pair of scissors to the hem and liberating my knees.
If you must have a "new" piece, or participate in the latest trend, try recycling the clothing you already have to give it a second life.
Just Do It
Sometimes life is about wearing the same outfit twice. It might feel embarrassing to wear the same dress to two weddings in a row, lest the dress end up on grid more than once, but the world is changing! We're celebrating celebrities for rewears, so consider Cate Blanchett or Anne Hathaway or Tiffany Haddish your guides, swap out an accessory to tweak the look, and let it ride.
There were quite a few times in the last year that I considered ditching my resolution in the interest of buying a new pair of non-skinny/non-tapered jeans or pants. Just one pair won't hurt, I told myself. Though I already own a pair of wide leg Levis and Everlane bell-bottoms, I became convinced that my life would be easier, somehow better, if I swapped my skinny jeans for the kind of cool Art Mom pants that all of my friends seemed to be adopting. Unlike other items I had a momentarily overwhelming urge to buy, I couldn't stop thinking about the pants.
So I chopped off all my hair.
If I couldn't participate in one trend, I could try another — something else that felt a little risky, but at the same time, comfortable (and sustainable!). Tell me that short hair doesn't elevate my skinny jeans to the realm of "actually, that looks cool." Meg Ryan fall? More like Meg Ryan 4ever.
I also purchased a pair of cowboy boots (they're not clothes! I did also buy a pair of sneakers and a scarf this year through that loophole), which I decided I would now wear with everything. They elevated every outfit and fulfilled my wildest Julia Roberts-in-the-'90s dreams, and I made them my style signature.
Manage Your Own Ego
It's a familiar and fraught moment for clothes-conscious people: You're standing before your full-length mirror, perhaps wearing two different shoes and doing the flamingo to see which pair looks the least stupid, and trying to figure out if you should walk outside wearing whatever you have on your body. You tilt your head 45 degrees to see if that helps and sigh loudly enough to disturb anyone in close proximity who might answer the question, "does this look OK?" You hear their opinion but you don't trust them, and proceed to film yourself through the POV of a neutral third party bystander.
Maybe it was the pandemic, or maybe it's just a consequence of approaching 30, but in the past year, I've found myself increasingly erring on the side of "fuck it" and walking out the door in whatever silly little outfit I put on first — regardless of whether or not it looked better in my head than it did in front of the mirror. Of course, that's easier said than done.
Nonetheless, I've found myself experimenting more than ever when I don't have a new piece to fall back on — when the answer can't be to literally buy something else that would look good with that dress or those jeans. There are times when I hated the outfit I walked out the door in, but decided to play it off as intentionally weird. My mood changed immediately. My cowboy boots and lime green denim dress started to feel less "let's see" and more "I own this chaos."
My decision to abstain from clothes shopping for a year is insignificant in the scope of the fashion industry — it won't make nearly as much of an impact as, say, corporations taking responsibility for the gross pollution they create, or unsafe working conditions hiding in their supply chains. But for me, consuming less and breaking free of the urge to buy as the answer to everything is a great place to start.
In 2022, I'm going to give myself permission to buy new clothes — but I plan to do so sparingly. No more spontaneous purchases under the guise of "treating myself." No more falling for the "sale on sale" emails or caving to the pressure to buy yet another dress for yet another wedding. This time, I know I can, in fact, live without new clothes.