I haven’t purchased a scrap of clothing in 17 months. Not one sock or shoe or smock. As long-time readers will recall, I first introduced my clothing ban goal in Why I’m Not Buying Any Clothes in 2014. Then, I chronicled my experience in What A Year Without Clothes Did For Me. Now that I’m pregnant (woohoo!) a number of you have asked about my plans for the clothing ban and, I’m delighted to report that it will continue! Don’t worry, I won’t be squeeeeeezing into my regular clothes or stealing Mr. Frugalwoods’; rather, I’m resorting to an age-old secret trick (more on that later). Initially, I wasn’t sure how long I’d actually last with this ban. I set my goal to not buy clothes for the entire year of 2014, which seemed ridiculously daunting…
Goals Should Be Tough
But I reasoned, what’s the point of setting a goal if it doesn’t feel monumentally challenging? The whole idea was for me to break out of my habit of buying thrift store clothes with alarming regularity. I’ve never been into real “shopping”–as in going to a store filled with expensive, new stuff–but I’ve always enjoyed cruising the thrift shops for deals.
And cruise I did. I always seemed to find a perfectly cute, perfectly sized something for myself–not to toot my own horn (though I did do that with a trumpet in my high school’s marching band), but I’m pretty stellar at finding gems in thrift stores.
Given that the vast majority of my wardrobe is from either a thrift store, a garage sale, or a discount store like Kohl’s (I kind of love Kohl’s), I wasn’t spending a ton of money on my clothing procurement habit.
However, since I’m a proponent of analyzing every single line item I spend, clothing was certainly an extraneous luxury. There are plenty of folks who’ll tell you to ignore the small stuff in your budget (not sure what they define as “small”–I listed a $2.13 expense last month), but I totally disagree with that lackadaisical mentality. Taking your eye off “the small stuff” is a surefire way for you to still wonder just why exactly you’re not hitting your savings or debt repayment goals every month.
The small stuff adds up. I won’t do the math where I calculate that $30 spent on clothes every month equals $360 for the year, which would then be $1,800 over five years, which you could’ve instead invested and enjoyed a–let’s say conservatively–8% return, which would be $2,111.98. Oh but wait, I just did. Why? Because I want to illustrate that every dollar does in fact count. Also, I’m trying to show off that I know how to do math after my admission to the contrary last week. I may or may not have used a calculator and/or google to arrive at this answer. Don’t judge.
It’s Not All About The Money
While the savings element of not buying clothes is an advantage, this goal wasn’t entirely financial for me. It was a holistic aspiration that touches on so many varied aspects of my personality and the way in which I used to approach life. Not buying clothes was a mechanism to prompt me to decrease my focus on my outward appearance, which I felt was consuming too much of my time and money. It was also making me unhappy by encouraging me to zero in on the negative. We all have flaws! I have a huge zit (thank you, pregnancy) on my chin right now, which I won’t even be covering with make-up! So there!
This ban on clothes-buying targeted the fact that I was buying clothes in the same way that I sometimes continue to eat after I’m full. I don’t need more clothing, yet I was buying beyond the satiation of covering my body (there are laws after all, plus it’s like 30 degrees here half the year). Identifying the tipping point where doing something ceases to be about its intended function (eating for fuel; buying clothes for warmth and decency) and starts to become about tertiary wants (flavor; a fun wardrobe) is a key aspect of this journey for me.
I find that this concept applies to a number of different areas in life, and its application will almost always yield greater frugality and ultimately, the peace that comes with simplifying our lives. I’ve said this before, but, spending is like a gas–it’ll expand to fill whatever space you give it. And I think this translates into many facets of life–eating, negative thinking, self-limiting behaviors. We create the confines of our own existence–they’re typically not imposed upon us.
How we choose to use our time, money, and energies has direct bearing on our happiness and our fulfillment. Yet, I was choosing an easy way out and one that wasn’t bringing me lasting satisfaction. Sure, I’d feel a jolt of elation after buying something new and adorable to wear, but it was quickly forgotten and so I’d go in search of the next thing. But once I took myself off the consumer carousel, I realized how little I needed the mercurial buzzes it offered.
An Anniversary Forgotten
Much like our extreme frugality challenge, the one-year mark of my clothing ban passed me by with little notice. Mr. Frugalwoods reminded me in January that it’d been a year and I shared the news with you all. But, I’d nearly forgotten about the ban altogether. And that’s what’s most illuminating of all.
If this were an untenable, frustrating, or truly arduous challenge, I would’ve rushed out to buy a dress the minute my self-imposed ban expired. But the fact that I barely noticed and actually wanted to continue on tells me that I’d eliminated something unnecessary and unimportant from my life.
It’s fascinating to me that Mr. FW and I thought we might only make it through a month of extreme frugality–and here we are over a year later with no plans to stop. I think getting started is the hardest part–you have to convince yourself of the value of the challenge, change your behaviors, and consciously exert effort to stay on track. But once you do all that hard work, you’re set.
You discover a new mode of existence that’s frankly easier and more fulfilling. For example, instead of fretting over what I’ll be able to find at the store to wear for my sister-in-law’s graduation this weekend, I’ll just calmly go to my closet and pick out a dress that I already know looks great on me. How painless is that! I love thinking about the time, expense, and stress that’s saved through the simple act of using what I already have. Same goes for Mr. Frugalwoods–we’ll pull out a nice shirt (likely the one we found in the trash last year) and he’ll be set. We can then spend the rest of our time doing something far more enjoyable than stressing over buying new clothes.
But hold the phone, Mrs. Frugalwoods, aren’t you pregnant?!
You got me! I totally am. I’m 16 weeks along and Babywoods has started to make her presence apparent to the world. I look like I ate a small baguette that lodged itself sideways in my lower abdomen. Suffice it to say, I seem to have a few more weeks to go before I acquire a true “baby bump,” but this baguette bump definitely means that my regular clothes don’t fit. But am I going out to buy maternity clothes? Not a chance. One (compound) word for you: hand-me-downs.
I realize I’m incredibly fortunate to be the beneficiary of maternity hand-me-downs and I know it’s not an option for everyone. But, my sister kindly gave me all of her maternity clothes and 5 other ladies have also bestowed some of their leftover maternity garb on me. The latest batch came courtesy of the Buy Nothing Project, which has an active chapter here in Cambridge.
Sidenote: I highly recommend you check to see if the Buy Nothing Project is in your community. I’ve been able to give away stuff we no longer need and have received some excellent maternity and baby clothes in return, all for free! The Project promotes the type of community engagement, sharing, and anti-consumerism that I adore.
Now these maternity hand-me-downs are not all 1) my exact size or, 2) my exact taste. But you know what? Who cares?! They’re totally serviceable. Being picky is expensive and time-consuming. I’d much rather throw on someone else’s Pea In The Pod (more like baguette in the abdomen) cast-offs and head out to do something more interesting than shop and spend my money. As the pregnancy progresses and Babywoods grows, I might need to buy a few items, but I’m not dashing out to fill my closet before I even know what I need. Best to follow the frugal weirdo adage of biding my time before buying.
Flexibility and an open mind save Mr. FW and me a literal ton of money every year. By accepting free give-aways, shopping used, and just generally exerting our creativity to make stuff that we already own work, we’re able to get away with buying a fraction of what most American household consume in a year.
Is No One Buying Clothes In Our House?
Frugal Hound is certainly not buying clothes (she, in fact, hates clothes), so that’s an easy one. Mr. FW, who owns a rather paltry amount of clothing, needed a few items over the past year: undershirts and a pair of shorts.
His shorts from last summer looked more like a hole-filled dishrag with a questionable zipper. The kicker is that there was a gigantic, un-patchable hole in a mission critical area (especially noticeable since he bikes to work everyday… and as we’ve established, there are laws about these things). So, we trotted off to Goodwill and found him some excellent, brand new-looking North Face hiking shorts for $5. Money well spent.
Babywoods, for her part, has also been the beneficiary of quite a few hand-me-downs. Not too shabby for someone who is the size of an avocado at present moment. My wonderful sister and mom sent me all of my nieces’ and nephew’s old clothes as well as a number of outfits my mom saved from our childhoods. And, I’ve picked up several bags of free hand-me-down baby clothes courtesy of The Buy Nothing Project.
Plus, we bought 53 baby outfits, 3 hats, and 2 blankets for $10 at a garage sale two weeks ago (bag sales for the win!). I tentatively think Babywoods might be set on clothes for at least the first year. One thing I can say for sure: after looking at the outrageous prices of new baby clothes, Babywoods will be rocking used duds likely for her entire childhood.
Mr. FW and I are–unsurprisingly–committed to preparing for, and raising, Babywoods as frugally as possible. And thanks to hand-me-downs (and a few great trash finds) of not only clothes, but tons of other baby-related gear, we’re actually in pretty good shape for her accouterments already.
The Future Of The Clothes Ban
I don’t have any specific plans or parameters for the clothes-buying ban, but I certainly do intend to continue for as long as it’s feasible. When something is working and yielding positive results, I see no reason to stop just because an arbitrary deadline has passed. I find that the more committed I become to not spending money on the things we need, the more I find the universe providing.
Not buying clothes has extended far beyond the immediate benefits of fewer outfits clogging my closet and less money spent. It has transformed the way I approach all shopping and made me realize just how much we already own that enables the comforts of our privileged, first-world existence. Letting go of the pressure to impress people, or adhere to a societal standard, has brought me so much contentment. I live how I want to live and I don’t let anyone else dictate what I should buy or do.
Update: check out the next installment in this series: Maternity Clothes Are Like Christmas Trees: The Clothes-Buying Ban Continues.