Why I Broke My Three Year Clothes Buying Ban
Today I mark a frugal milestone: my clothing ban is over! Well, it’s not actually over, it was simply suspended a tad. On January 1, 2014, I decided to stop buying clothes. And I mean fully stop. I didn’t have a list of items I was allowed to purchase and I didn’t make exceptions for anything–not even during my nine months of pregnancy. The rules of my self-imposed ban were as follows: no buying any clothing, which includes shoes, coats, jewelry, accessories, socks, hats, belts, underwear, and of course, any and all clothes! Really I could’ve just said “no buying clothes,” but I felt like making a list. Since I know everyone will ask about this, I own these undies, which I consider to be pure magic. I’ve had them for 7+ years and they’re still going strong with nary a stretched-out elastic and not a single rip. Mr. FW owns the similarly magical man version. You’re welcome.
So, am I going to buy a bunch of clothes now? Nope. I bought one item out of necessity, but my plan is to continue on with the ban for as long as possible. I imagine I’ll need to buy something else pressing at some point. But until that day comes, consider me re-banned. Perhaps I can go another three years!
If you’d like the background story on my clothes buying ban, please enjoy all of the posts in this series:
- 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
- Why I Haven’t Purchased Any Clothes in 2.5 years (and counting)
The culprit–the undoing of my three buy-less years–was none other than a pair of muck boots. Yep. Muck boots. They are not fashionable, they are not cute, and they are not something I lusted after. But they are immensely useful to me living out here on a homestead like I do. You see, these are no ordinary muck boots, these are arctic insulated winter muck boots that keep my feets roasty down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. And I held off on buying them for as long as possible.
Mr. FW bought a pair for himself a few months back and I grilled him incessantly on their relative merits. I even wore them around a bit. I remained unconvinced and certain I could soldier on with my aging winter boots. Until, that is, I was overcome by coldness. Or more precisely, my toesies were coldsies while out hiking. Also, they got wet.
Somehow, my stalwart, old winter boots were allowing water to seep in. In keeping with my mantra of priorities-based-spending, I realized it was foolish to avoid going on long hikes because of maladroit footwear. One of our great pastimes is daily hiking/walking around our land and warm, water-proof boots are perhaps the most integral piece of gear. And so, I finally capitulated to this pressing need and bought a pair.
I’m pleased with my newly warmed toes and I’m thrilled that these boots meet my requirements for comfort, warmth, water-proofedness, and ease-of-wear. Since one takes one’s shoes off when indoors here in Vermont, I’m forever slipping in and out of my boots, usually while holding Babywoods. Hence, slip-on boots are a boon. As you can see from the above photo, these boots aren’t exactly lookers, but they are durable and meant for harsh winters. What I’ve discovered is that ‘cute’ boots are rarely warm, rarely durable, and rarely sufficient for long hikes.
The only problem I’ve encountered thus far is that nearly everyone else in Vermont also owns this exact same pair of boots and so, on several occasions of leaving a party at friends’ houses, I’ve had to check twice to make sure I have the right boots on. I keep meaning to tie little ribbons through the loops at the back, but that strays dangerously close to crafting and you know how I feel about that.
Mrs. FW’s Frugal Fail
I’d be frugally remiss if I didn’t point out that I committed massive frugal oversight in buying these boots new. What I should’ve done is planned ahead and scouted used boots from a garage sale this summer (no winter garage sales in Vermont… ) or taken the time to search area thrift stores. However, I made the grievous assumption that I could weather this winter in my old boots. Thus, by the time I realized I needed these boots–I needed them immediately.
Waiting until you absolutely must have something is a terrible recipe for frugality–I had to buy boots new in a rush and bear the brunt of their full price. In light of this, I’m now making a list of things I predict we’ll need next year to sniff out at garage sales this summer. I hadn’t appreciated the seasonality of the used market here in Vermont and I made an expensive mistake in order to learn this lesson.
Never Set An End Date
When I undertook this self-imposed, all-encompassing clothing ban lo those three years ago, I didn’t set an end date. Much like my lifelong frugality, which I have no intention of ceasing, I entered my clothes-buying-ban with the same mindset. I find that end dates make me antsy. If I’d had an end date, I know I would’ve hoarded a list of clothing ‘necessities’ to buy the minute my prescribed timeframe ended.
End dates encourage us to view our efforts as deprivation. If whatever new enterprise we’re undertaking (a diet, a budget, a clothing ban) has a pre-determined end date, that must mean it’s not sustainable and enjoyable for the long-term. Conversely, if we tell ourselves that it’s simply a new aspect of how we live, we’ll look for ways to make the change permanent and tenable. Perhaps I’m merely playing psychological tricks on myself, but I really don’t care because it works.
In the absence of an end date, I fully incorporated the no-clothes-buying mentality into my lifestyle. It became an element of who I am and, ultimately, a habit. What this ban taught me is that we do almost everything out of habit. I was buying clothes on a monthly–if not weekly–basis purely out of habit. Not because I legitimately needed anything and not because anyone was forcing me to–but because I always had. These habitual practices are so easy to slip into and remarkably difficult–though not impossible–to break.
I decided to assume the mantle of this ban with zero excuses. I have plenty of clothing and I knew that any excuses (such as a wedding to attend or a conference or a family reunion or pregnancy) would be nothing more than thinly veiled ways for me to weasel out of the ban, rush to the thrift store, and stock up on new-to-me clothes.
When I started the ban, I wasn’t pregnant and didn’t know I’d be pregnant a year or so later. But since I’d internalized the ‘no excuses’ mentality, I was undaunted and determined to maintain the ban despite my growing bump. To meet my needs for maternity clothes, I sought out hand-me-downs. In so doing, I didn’t have to purchase a single maternity outfit or nursing top. My maternity clothes weren’t necessarily the height of fashion, some were pretty worn out, many weren’t exactly my size–but I made them work. I saw no reason to break my ban for items I’d only be wearing for a few short months. And now, a pregnant friend is wearing a bunch of my maternity clothes, which have been through countless mamas, but are still going strong.
Much like end dates, I find that excuses and exceptions to a rule are a slippery slope. If, for example, I was allowed to buy only “necessary” clothes, I’d find a way to rationalize cute shoes as “necessary.”
What’s A True Necessity?
Something I uncovered over the course of not buying clothing for three years is that few things in life are true necessities. I used to think new work clothes were a necessity because I needed to look good for my job. But that wasn’t true. Yes, I needed to look good for my job and yes, I enacted this ban while working in a professional office in Boston. But I didn’t need new clothes in order to accomplish this. I’d been working for close to eight years when I started this ban, ergo, I already owned plenty of clothes to wear to work. Plus, no one cares what you wear as much as you care. Not a single person (not even my close friends) noticed that I’d stopped buying clothes and I still got plenty of compliments on my outfits. If you think I’m kidding, try a little experiment: wear the exact same outfit to work two days in the same week, perhaps on a Monday and a Thursday. I can almost guarantee you that no one will notice or care.
I was using my job as an excuse to validate my unnecessary shopping. In doing so, I was subconsciously thwarting myself by–in essence–paying to work. The money we expend in service of maintaining a job–be it on our clothes, lunches out, drinks after work, our commute, take-out because we’re too tired to cook dinner, a house cleaner because we don’t have time to clean–is easily justified because we need it in order to do our job. But do we really? Or are we simply further entrenching our need for our job? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with working a job because you enjoy it–in fact, that’s what I’m doing right now. What’s scary, however, is putting yourself in a position where you must work because you otherwise can’t afford your lifestyle. You want to work a job because you want to, not because you must.
I used to create justifications for spending in quite a few areas of my life. I ‘needed’ an expensive haircut in order to look professional, I ‘needed’ restaurant meals to treat myself after a long week at work, and I ‘needed’ Starbucks on weekday afternoons to keep me chugging along at my desk. Did I ‘need’ these things? Obviously not, but I’d built up scenarios in my mind where these things constituted requirements for my lifestyle. And that’s key: these were requirements for a lifestyle that I’d created, that I’d imposed upon myself, and for which I was paying dearly–and not deriving much joy from. They were not, as it turns out, requirements for a happy life.
Rely On Yourself, Not Your Clothes
Aside from saving money, I had a second, weightier goal for my clothes-buying-ban. I wanted to decrease my obsession with my appearance. I found myself expending tremendous time and energy on how I looked. Not buying clothes (along with ceasing to wear makeup regularly) was a way to transform my thinking. It created an opportunity for me to recognize that I’d rather spend my resources of time, money, and energy on lasting and meaningful pursuits–not on what I look like. I’ve always been a feminist, but it took me years to recognize that I was holding myself back by exerting so much self-criticism over my appearance. Now, when I get dressed up, I do so with care–and I like how I look–but I don’t obsess about it and I never criticize my body. It’s a strong, happy body and one that I’m proud of. It’s entirely possible to look good, but not waste time and money doing so.
Having a daughter has reinforced this commitment. I want Babywoods to grow up focused on her intelligence, her bravery, her skills, and her kindness towards others–not on what she sees in the mirror. And the best way to inculcate anything in our children is to do it ourselves. At just 15 months old, she already watches everything I do and everything I say. She repeats my words back to me and she mimics my actions. Never have I had a more powerful motivator–or censor–for what I say and what I do.
Prior to the ban, I’d deluded myself into thinking that my career, my ego, and my self-worth were augmented by new clothing. Yet when I stopped shopping, none of those things went down the drain. In fact, I found the inverse to be true. I actually felt more confident because I wasn’t relying on my clothes to build me up and speak for me.
Appreciating What I Have
I also began to appreciate the clothes I already own. Before the ban, I’d rifle through my closet and complain that I had “nothing to wear.” I honestly don’t think I’ve uttered those words a single time since the start of the ban. Instead of seeing my possessions from the viewpoint of deprivation, I see the abundance of what I have. When I stepped off the carousel of consumerism and stopped trying to keep up with changing fashions, I started dressing in clothes that I enjoy wearing. I stopped wearing heels (except on rare special occasions) and I stopped wearing tight, itchy, or otherwise uncomfortable outfits. What’s the point?
Trying to keep up with ever-changing fashions is one of the most insidious elements of lifestyle inflation because styles change every few months. The fashion industry will happily induce us to overhaul our wardrobes four times a year (if not more).
In addition to the outrageous cost of such a pursuit, it has a horrendous impact on the environment. I’ve railed against food waste on many an occasion, but clothing waste is another detrimental byproduct of our disposable, greedy culture: “According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 84 percent of unwanted clothes in the United States in 2012 went into either a landfill or an incinerator” (Newsweek). Our consumer culture teaches us to view our possessions–clothes, food, etc–as transient and able to be trashed and replaced whenever we feel like it.
Be conscious about the possessions you allow to enter your life and, if you no longer need something, don’t discard it carelessly. Find a friend who is interested in your hand-me-downs or connect with a Buy Nothing Group or donate to a thrift store. As part of my new philosophy on clothing, I cleaned out my closet and donated massive piles of clothes I hadn’t worn in years. I let go of being controlled by my clothing. And I started taking better care of the clothes I own–after all, I want them to last for years.
While I’ve saved an untold amount of money (I estimate several thousand dollars), cut down on the clutter in my closet, and reduced my vanity, perhaps the thing I’m most grateful for is the mindfulness that resulted from my ban. Instead of seeing my clothes as shabby or out of fashion (which they probably are), I’m thankful that they keep me warm and allow me to do the things I love. I’ve radically changed my perspective from one of self-centered greed to one of acceptance for the imperfections in my life and gratitude for everything I’m blessed to have.
Have you ever done a clothes-buying-ban?
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