the year i quit shopping
Last January I met with a friend who had just completed a year of No Retail. I’ll give a little backstory before explaining the challenge. Kari spent time volunteering for the Good Will and learnt something surprising: the crap you donate thinking you’re some virtuous Mother Theresa – jettisoning your H&M blouses that never fit right, casting off your Zara pants that have wore away at the inner thigh, and altogether cleaning out your closet in the name of your own organisation of the cheap crap you’ve picked up whilst piously telling your friends (and tax accountant) how much you sacrificed for those less fortunate – well, much of that disposable fashion ends up in a landfill. And if your $16 Forever 21 skirt doesn’t die there, it ships to a third world country polluting their micro-economy of producing textiles, leather, and metal goods. Not to mention the environmental impact of producing such mass quantities of clothing: the United States imports over 1 billion garments from China alone. Additionally, this mass production creates poor and unsafe working conditions in developing nations. And this is all quite recent: disposable fashion as it’s called only began ramping up in the mid-2000s.
It bothered Kari. It bothered her enough to begin a personal challenge to take a full year off from buying anything new. She detailed a vacation in Greece where she picked up a few items and also general work clothes secondhand from eBay and thrift shops like the Good Will where this all began.
The consequences of disposable fashion struck me as so obvious, and yet quashed by societal expectations to own the newest trends and status labels in order to “look presentable.” As a bleeding-heart environmentalist, this kind of challenge seemed right up my alley. Except, I wanted to make it my own. Anyone can bid on a few NWT items on eBay or, if a creative risk-taker, put a great secondhand wardrobe together from Salvation Army or Good Will.
The Mission (my version)
Spend one full year forgoing the purchase of anything that adorns the body.
One year without buying clothes, shoes, purses, accessories, or jewellery.
Let me be clear: I don’t have a shopping addiction, nor am I someone who incessantly buys myself “presents” each week. I simply wanted to prove that retail didn’t own me; that I could spend a year not needing anything. I wanted to discover that quality really is superior to quantity. That I can put together new outfits with my existing wardrobe. That the “basics” are called as such because they go with everything. Oh, and money. Saving lots and lots of money.
The Fine Print
People asked me, ‘What about soap and shampoo?’
I’m no savage. Of course I’ll buy soap and wash my hair. You don’t think I’ll baking soda this mane for 365 days, do you?
‘But, shoes. You’ll totally buy new shoes, right?’
Nope. Again, no clothes, shoes, purs–…
‘Are you allowed to buy make-up?’
This is my challenge, so I can create whatever parameters I want. For this, my inner harlot couldn’t go a year without the necessary face paint. So, yes, make-up is allowed.
‘What happens if you receive a gift, like a sweater, from someone?’
I’m giving up retail, not manners. Of course I’d accept a gift should it present (heh) itself.
‘Wait, new shoes though?’
C’mon, try to listen. No shoes.
‘Christmas and birthdays? Can you buy gifts for people?’
This may sound obnoxious, but in a given year I buy gifts for only about five people.
Last year, as an example, I bought gifts for the following people:
- My husband Jon: a Kindle and the gift of my glowing personality
- My mum: tickets to see her fave, Craig Ferguson at Town Hall in NYC this spring
- My cousin Monica: a handmade scarf she picked out from Etsy
- And Danni, a truly spectacular friend I met in Brisbane years back: the adult version of a friendship bracelet, a gold-plated bangle from J. Crew for her birthday.
‘How about dresses for weddings or events?’
I own a handful of cocktail dresses and semi-formal items that fit me nicely. Many women feel obligated to buy something new for so-and-so’s wedding or a New Year’s Eve party, etc. To that I say, if you don’t normally find yourself on the cover of Us Weekly, then why sweat it? If your friends judge you for wearing the same dress twice, then they are shitty, shitty friends.
Kari reminded me that she would occasionally have clothes taken in, let out, hemmed, repaired or otherwise fixed to become more wearable. My husband has a jacket that he caught on god-knows-what and tore the seam apart at the waist. While most would be sad and chuck the coat, I took it to the nearby drycleaner who stitched it up perfectly for $6. Same goes for little holes in warm woollen sweaters – they can fix those too! Replacing the lining of a coat or jacket costs far less than hunting for something to replace your North Face that cost you an arm and a leg.
I’m not much of a clotheshorse as the next gal. I’ve met some women (and the occasional man) who can’t go a single week without buying themselves something new who found this challenge abhorrent. It’s taken all sorts of restraint to withhold my thoughts on how ridiculous I find these people. Biting my tongue in front of their over-fashioned trying-too-hard faces seemed to be another thing I gave up last year. These are the women who wear baubled headbands across their forehead, or say things like ‘no pain, no gain’ as their feet haemorrhage inside of 4-inch heels. Thankfully, these people are generally not my friends.
To be fair, I have the luxury of working freelance and mostly from home. That’s not to say I don’t get dressed every single day, put on my face, and “look presentable.” It just means I’m not required to present myself to a board of investors, or speak in front of a bunch of suits. The very nature of my work removes my physical appearance from the product I sell: my voice. Therefore, my existing wardrobe works for me.
A Note On Your Existing Wardrobe
The No Shopping Challenge doesn’t work for everyone. A handful of my new-mum and almost-mum friends scoffed (some angrily) at the idea as their shape had changed dramatically through the course of human-harvesting. Nevertheless, if your body is not transforming in any remarkable way, it can be a cinch!
My Cheats, I’m not proud, but there are a few
In April, I booked a supporting role in a web series that required a plain black t-shirt and black pants. Black pants seem so basic, and yet I didn’t own a pair because I hate them. Black pants are 50% of every uniform of every young woman about to go out in Rhode Island*:
‘What are you gonna wear to Hot Club tonight?’
‘Black pants and a spahkly top.’
‘Black pants and a sweatah.’
‘Black pants and a tank top.’
‘What are you gonna wear to work tomorrow?’
‘Black pants and a button down.’
‘Black pants and my blue cahdigan.’
‘Black pants and a blazah.’
‘What are you gonna wear to the Christmas pahty?’
‘Black pants and a red turtleneck.’
‘Black pants and my ugly sweatah.’
‘Black pants and that button down I wore to work today.’
Second cheat: a necklace from Stella & Dot purchased from a “trunk sale.” Think of it as a Tupperware party but with jewellery at a pub. It would have been rude if I didn’t purchase anything after consuming four slices of quiche, three mimosas, and chatting up the hostess the whole time. Kari, the Challenge Originator, joined me at this trunk sale and agreed it wasn’t a true cheat.
Admissible cheat: Underwear.I’ll take this moment to personally thank Victoria’s Secret and her direct marketing campaign of free panty coupons. I never bought a single pair of underwear throughout the year thanks to the ubiquitous mailings that included a “free panty” gift card inside. During 2014, I received 11 of these in the mail. Some were great – simple cotton bikini-cut; others were bizarre – a nylon boy-cut brief with lacing up the back giving the feeling of a perpetual wedgie. Hey, free is free.
I saved money. Boatloads of money. But far more important than that, the whole exercise proved that it’s not only very possible – if not easy – but also unexpectedly gave me a greater sense of freedom and self-confidence.
Prior to the No Shopping Challenge, I’d buy something that looks great on the hanger but uncomfortable on my body because, if I lose x-amount of pounds, then it’ll be perfect. In actuality, I’d wear it once and hate myself for not dropping that x-amount to make it fit right. This Challenge reestablished the idea that I’m wearing the clothes, not the other way around. And yes, I don’t really need this thing. That’s the freedom part.
It also reminded me that I have a ribcage. Do you, too? Some designers forget women have these and the bodice runs so narrow that breathing becomes non-negotiable. I have publically and surreptitiously unzipped cheap dresses under a cardigan in order to breath. Unacceptable.
Since I began the No Shopping Challenge, a handful of friends and acquaintances have followed suit and found nothing but positivity in it. The object of the game is to recognise that most of you already have everything you need. Let me repeat, you already have everything you need. Dig through your closet, reorganise it, and reacquaint yourself with your purchases. There’s no need to waste money, add to landfill, or create further climate change by tossing your old stuff and buying new because most of those clothes you already have still look great on you.
If you rely on retail therapy, love your planet, or want a fun way to save money, I challenge you to try this. Maybe just a month, maybe longer, or go the whole year and feel the great sense of freedom and laugh in the face of all the advertisements that make you feel like you need more stuff.