Five things I learnt from a year of no shopping.
Just over one year ago, I set myself the challenge of not buying any new clothing.
There were multiple reasons I had decided to try this out. One of the reasons being because I had credit card debt that resembled the national debt and I wanted to curb my spending. Another reason being I had just watched the Documentary "The Minimalists" and the concept of simplifying my life and shifting my focus from "having" to "experiencing" really inspired me.
But mostly, the driving force behind giving up buying new clothes was to confront the guilt I had about my dirty shopping secrets.
Anyone who has spent time with me personally, has had to suffer through listening to countless facts about the evil force that is fast fashion and its harmful impact on the environment. I have for years now, been preaching the importance of purchasing sustainable and ethical fashion. And as much as I wholeheartedly believed this, I wasn’t always practicing what I preached.
My wardrobe did already consist mostly of 'good' fashion, and while I looked down my nose at Primark or H&M, I was still padding out the gaps in my wardrobe with white shirts from gap, jeans from Uniqlo and holy shit, do I love an M&S multi pack of cotton briefs.
I couldn’t with any real integrity continue to keep persuading people to shop ethically if I myself couldn’t do it.
There is also a serious Class issue surrounding sustainable fashion that had been bugging me. Let's be real, its expensive. It takes a very strong will to spend £60 on a plain white tshirt from your favourite sustainable brand when you could also buy a white tshirt from H&M for £3. It's a huge privilege to make fashion choices based on your conscience or ethical beliefs, rather than the limitations of your budget. Those of us who can afford the luxury of choice are unfortunately not the majority. It left me thinking, how realistic is it really to hang the pressure of dressing ethically over people's heads?
I decided the only way to eradicate my guilt, and test if living a sustainably fashionable life was actually possible, was to try living it myself. I would allow myself to hand make clothes, or buy a few things I needed second hand, but absolutely nothing new.
I didn’t tell many of my friends that I was undertaking this challenge because I genuinely doubted I could do it. I have for most of my life been obsessed with fashion. I get excited about fabrics, stitching techniques, fashion psychology, fashion economics, style tribes. Literally everything. I really love clothes.
I also work in fashion, so how I present myself professionally is extremely important. Clothing is the fastest form of communication between two designers and whether or not I like it, I know that sometimes I am literally judged on how good I am at my job by how I'm dressed.
Was it really possible to live a lifestyle where I could look stylish and still enjoy clothing without dropping a tonne of cash on sustainable brands, or resorting to hiding out in a log cabin wearing nothing but hemp sacks.
Well, Yes and no....
Its been an interesting year, and while I cant say I didn’t have a couple little slip ups - I can honestly say it's been a life changing experience and I'm never going back to the high street.
Here are the five biggest things I learnt from a year without buying new clothes...
1. YOU SAVE SO MUCH MONEY.
The positive financial impact this this will have on your life is ENORMOUS. Even trying to roughly imagine how much you spend on clothing in a year is enough to give most people the shivers. Saving money really is stating the obvious so I'm not even going to bother elaborating here.
2. YOU SAVE SO MUCH TIME.
I found I saved a huge amount of time from avoiding the physical act of shopping. Previously, if I had a special event like a wedding to attend, I would have believed such an occasion warranted buying a new dress, and therefore at least two days of my life shopping for it. Before going on holiday, I would spend my lunch breaks online shopping for bikinis or sandals. When I needed a new pair of jeans I would force myself through the crowds of Oxford street, dragging myself from shop to shop looking for something that would magically fit my mis-proportioned ratio of muscular cycling thighs to a small butt and narrow hips (FYI: those jeans don’t exist) Even with a very targeted shopping list it always took far more time than I wanted it to, at the very least a whole precious Saturday afternoon. Now when I need to go away, I simply open my wardrobe, put something in a bag, and that’s the end of it. Done. No Drama.
3. YOU ALLEVIATE SO MUCH STRESS.
I learned, slowly, that having excess stuff was giving me a headache, thinking about what I had or did not have was wasting my focus and energy. It wasn’t just the physical time I was wasting on shopping, there was also so much mental tax being taken on worrying about what I needed to change or buy to make a situation or event perfect. Previously, I didn’t call it "worrying" I called it planning and organising. Not allowing myself to shop really challenged me to investigate my attachment to material possessions and status, and forced me to take a deeper look into why I actually shopped.
I realised quickly that most of the stuff I bought was to exhibit some level of success to other people rather than fulfill an actual need. If I felt really nervous about a social event I would buy myself a new piece of clothing from some obscure, underground fashion brand with the hope my brand allegiance would speak to the cool kids for me - incase I was too shy to physically speak for myself. It took a bit of time, but once I took that sartorial safety net away I learnt to rely more on myself, not my wardrobe. I stopped being so preoccupied with my appearance and, lo and behold, my self-esteem grew. I have gained an overwhelming feeling of freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry and freedom from guilt. And it feels amazing!
4. A LITTLE SUCCESS IS BETTER THAN NO SUCCESS.
I spent weeks at the end of December painfully deliberating over the rules I would set myself for the challenge in the new year. Trying to define a perfect set of boundaries that would make me feel ethically better, but still allow me to have what I thought I "needed' without technically breaking the rules. In the end I thought, screw it. Im not going to set myself rules, I'll just not buy anything for awhile and I'll see how long I can last. I have to admit that I didn’t sail through the year without any slip ups. I bought a cheap pair of novelty sandals from ASOS for a holiday but they literally snapped in half within hours of me putting them on, leaving me walking around Berlin barefoot for an afternoon. I considered it my cheap holiday shoe lesson finally learnt and tried not to dwell on it. Then there was the really expensive designer sweatshirt I had been lusting over for months. I finally let myself splurge, Then the next day I went online and saw they had marked it down to 50% off. If I had been starting to waver about going back to my old shopping habits, I definitely wasn’t now.
I had expected that as the year went on, and I started to feel the pinch of having no newness I would ease up on my restrictions and would eventually go back to my old ways. But the surprising part here is that as I went on, I actually started to restrict the rules more and more, as I found that living with your actions in line with your beliefs feels really good. It started to become a fun game and I wanted to see how creative I could be under pressure.
5. DRAMATIC LIFESTYLE CHANGES AREN'T THAT HARD.
Well they are, but only at first. As time goes by you form new habits, friends and surroundings that support your new lifestyle.
The first few months were extremely difficult, and breaking the habit was hard. I can't even count how many times I succumbed and bought something on line, only to get the guilts when it arrived and ended up sending it straight back. However, by mid year I had the surprise realisation that the persistent desire to consume had actually gone, and even better - the constant thought process of "maybe if I just bought this new *insert something here* I would look perfect and life would be great" had totally disappeared from my head. I felt like I had finally got off the consumer hamster wheel I didn’t even know I was on. I've stopped worrying about what I might be missing out on, and started really enjoying what I already have (FYI: that’s time and people) The whole experience has made me wonder, if it only takes a year to dramatically shift your perspective, and change your life – what other areas of my life are waiting to be transformed in 2018? What I had previously assumed would be a year of sacrifice and self-denial, has actually proven to be a gift of limitless possibilities. I now have so much more time and headspace to focus on the things that really bring me joy.
So, going forward into 2018 what are my shopping habits going to look like now?...
The challenge was life changing, and an experience that will stay with me forever. I can say with certainty that I'm never going back to the high street. So really, I expect 2018 to look a lot like 2017. The new found freedom and extra time I have gained is too addictive to give up. However, i imagine this year will be a bit harder as many of the things I over purchased on in 2016 will start to run low this year (socks Im looking at you. Any suggestions on what to do about needing new socks would be greatly appreciated and no, I am absolutely not prepared to wear second hand socks)
I am glad I allowed myself to buy essentials from second hand stores which I will continue to do, and I am also REALLY glad I can sew my own clothes. One extra challenge I am taking on this year to up the ante, and to prevent myself from getting carried away with sewing something every time I have an itch for something new, is to try and make the majority of my hand made clothes from recycled fabrics. I am halfway through making myself a winter Varsity Jacket entirely out of recycled fabrics and its looking pretty exciting if I do say so myself, so stay tuned to see the results soon!