Amid all the massive life changes Mr. Frugalwoods and I have going on right now–from moving to our Vermont homestead to buying two cars to becoming first-time parents–I want to pause today and reflect on something that has continued on in the background for the past 2 years and 5 months. I’m speaking, of course, about my clothes-buying ban!
In January 2014, I set forth a self-imposed and self-created goal of not buying clothes for one full year. I was successful in this pursuit and after my one-year mark passed, I decided to re-up the ban for a second year. That year also elapsed without a clothes-purchasing event (despite my pregnancy) and I’m now 5 months into my third year of not buying any clothing whatsoever.
Today’s post is the latest in my series on the experience of not purchasing clothing. You can check out the previous installments below:
- Why I’m Not Buying Any Clothes in 2014
- What A Year Without Clothes Did For Me
- Pregnancy Hasn’t Foiled My Clothes-Buying Ban: Here’s How
- Maternity Clothes Are Like Christmas Trees: The Clothes-Buying Ban Continues
Frugality: It’s Always About More Than Money
My initial reasons for enacting this ban were financial. Since we were embarking on our extreme frugality regimen, I reasoned that clothes (especially where I’m concerned) are often purchased for reasons other than pure need. Indeed, I used to buy clothes more for fun than anything else. What can I say, I like clothes! I was a thrift store shopping maven and found all sorts of great deals on new-to-me threads. The only problem is that I didn’t need all of these clothes. My closet was oversaturated, as Mr. FW–who was relegated to like 1/8 of our closet–can testify. Sidenote: I originally wrote that Mr. FW had 1/3 of our closet, but he heartily protested during the editing process that it’s more like 1/8. I capitulated this was true…
But as so often happens with frugality escapades, not buying clothes transformed me profoundly and in ways that far transcend the mere saving of a few hundred bucks. The non-monetary benefits of living a simpler, more purposeful life are thrilling to discover and I never cease to be amazed at the changes frugality has wrought in my life.
Principally, not purchasing clothes had the consequence of making me increasingly less concerned with my appearance writ large. Not obsessing about being at the height of fashion every time I walked out of the house caused me to reflect on the ways in which our culture makes women feel badly about themselves.
We’re told by advertisers that there’s something drastically wrong with our skin/eyelashes/ankles and that acquiring their product/potion/shoes will magically ameliorate the issue… until, of course, we’re hoodwinked into thinking there’s something amiss with yet another part of our anatomy.
I bought into this mentality for years and poured money into cosmetics and clothes. I got expensive haircuts and painted my nails every week. And to what end? These fabricated devices didn’t make me more confident or self-reliant. Quite the opposite, in fact. Now that I’ve shunned most of this stuff from my life (and have Mr. FW cut my hair), I actually am more confident and more secure in who I am and what I look like. Which is imperfect. And flawed. And that’s just fine. I’d rather save my money than buy into the notion that I need to fix my appearance.
I used to be extremely critical of my body. Nearly every time I looked in the mirror, I had something unkind to say about some part of me. I was fat, I had a long forehead, my arms looked weird… the litany goes on. But when I stopped purchasing clothes, I also stopped this self-directed diatribe of negativity.
There’s nothing quite like a shopping ban to make you appreciate what you already own. Prior to the ban, I’d rake through my ample wardrobe and bemoan that I couldn’t possibly create an outfit out of these rags. Rags, I tell you! Now, I delight in creating novel outfit combos with clothes I’ve owned for years. There’s something about not consuming that imbues us with reverence for the stuff we have. We start to see our belongings as precious, in a sense, and not simply as disposable, ephemeral things marching along the consumption chain.
Short-Term Actions Become Lifelong Habits
The longer I persevere with this ban, the more natural it feels. As with most repeated behaviors in life, if we’re able to push past the initial discomfort of making a change, each incremental day feels less and less arduous. In my experience, that initial start-up phase lasts about a month. A week is too short and anything longer than a month seems untenable at the outset.
But a month? A month is the perfect balance of long enough to get a sense of the change, but short enough to stay motivated. I honestly wasn’t sure if my ban would last more than a month. But after the termination of the first 30 days, I thought, huh, this isn’t so bad and I’m proud of myself, so I’ll keep going! Little did I know then it’d last three years.
I won’t say that I’ll never ever buy clothing again–that’s not practical or realistic. However, I will say that my approach to this ban is much like my approach to budgeting. The fewer restrictions and parameters I put on it, the more likely it is to persist for a longer duration. According to this same philosophy, I don’t budget because its my fervent belief that as soon as you identify a budget, you’ll spend every single cent up to the limit. Spending is like a gas–it’ll expand to fill whatever space you give it. I prefer to live as a person who doesn’t spend money and doesn’t buy clothes. Thus, when I do spend money, it’s the exception to the rule, not a matter of course.
Mrs. FW, You Haven’t Purchased Any Clothing? At All?
Nope, none. And yes, I mean underwear and socks too (if you’re wondering how my underwear has lasted so long, it’s because I have these awesomely durable undies). I also haven’t purchased any shoes, belts, coats, purses, or jewelry. The all-inclusive nature of my ban stems primarily from the fact that I simply do not need anything.
It’s also true that I fear the slippery slope of buying–if I could purchase a purse, then why not just one dress too? Sometimes, it’s easiest to eliminate an activity entirely. I have, however, accepted hand-me-downs, particularly of maternity clothing since I did go through an entire pregnancy during this ban. I also took hand-me-down nursing bras and tank tops since I’m nursing Babywoods.
The Environmental Impact of Consumption
Another motivating factor for me in carrying on with this ban is decreasing my overall sartorial consumption. I have plenty of clothes–more than enough clothes, truth be told. Probably too many clothes! I went through an epic bout of decluttering before Babywoods was born and donated huge quantities of clothing, but I’d say I probably still own too much. I did another round of decluttering in preparation for our move to Vermont and gave away more outfits. While I’m glad I was able to donate these clothes, I wonder why I had so many in the first place.
This brought me to reflection on the very core of our consumer culture and our relentless obsession with MORE. We all seem to be on an endless drive for bigger, better, but above all else, more. My clothes-buying ban is my tiny little way of inoculating myself against this tide. Of saying that I have enough in this arena of my life.
I was struck by an NPR story I heard last week about the environmental impact of failing to donate clothing. Our decision to consume impacts far more than our own lives, wallets, and closets.
Take these excerpts from the NPR piece:
“…One potential savings, carbon emissions – the EPA estimates that what [clothing] we do donate each year, that 15 percent, is like taking over a million cars off the road.”
More to the point: “…the more we discard, the more we buy. And the production of so many clothes hurts the environment.”
This is staggering. It’s also reminiscent of an earlier NPR piece I was similarly struck by, which addresses fast fashion and the resulting waste of consuming so many garments each year.
There are several ways to combat this overconsumption and waste cycle: 1) consume less; 2) purchase used when necessary; and 3) donate everything.
This article, as NPR so often does, introduced me to an organization I hadn’t heard of before: Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles (SMART), which estimates that 85% of clothing ends up in a landfill! Per their website: “SMART members use and convert recycled and secondary materials from used clothing, commercial laundries and nonwoven, off spec material, new mill ends and paper from around the world.” In other words, they recycle and reuse all kinds of textiles and clothing that we might assume no one would want. Ratty old gym shirts, ancient curtains, and dilapidated coats? These can all be donated to, and recycled by, SMART.
In addition to donating to SMART, there are the traditional options of donating to a thrift store or through the Buy Nothing Project (which is where I sent my latest batch of unneeded outfits).
Not buying new clothes is as much an environmental statement as it is a financial one.
Avoiding the purchase of new things also helps decrease this consumption overload since it serves to both cost less and reuse existing material goods. Babywoods has almost entirely used clothing–the only new items in her wardrobe are a few gifts she’s received. Otherwise? It’s used for this bebe.
Closing Clothing Thoughts
Although clothes are a necessity–for reasons of legality and comfort–the way in which we purchase them often far outstrips the category of pure need. It’s easy to gloss over the line item of clothing in one’s budget on the pat assumption that surely it’s a necessity and can’t be eliminated. However, much like groceries, clothing is an area that’s rife with the opportunity to frugalize.
Questioning why we’re purchasing clothes will, very often, lead us to realize it’s not out of need. We buy clothes as a hobby, because we crave something exciting and different, on the pretense that they’ll make us more successful/desirable/likable, and–the oldest reason of all–to keep up with those omnipresent Joneses. Of course sometimes we legitimately need an article of clothing, but in my experience, this last reason is the least frequent driver.
I’ve had countless major life events happen during my clothes-buying-ban–weddings, a pregnancy, conferences, family reunions, Christmases, graduations, heck I was even on The Today Show!–and every single time? I wore something I already own. And I looked good too.
Recognizing that our individual decisions deeply impact the collective whole is a central element of living a frugal, simple life. It’s actually quite easy to consume less and waste less, it’s just that our dominant culture doesn’t reinforce or promote these ideas because these ideas don’t make money for anyone.