‘I Didn’t Buy Clothes For A Year, This Is What I Learned’

The most valuable lessons.

On December 28th 2022, I opened a parcel containing a pair of jeans and 3 plain black t-shirts, and vowed they would be the final pieces of clothing I’d purchase for a full year. Now, a year later, I’m almost on the other side of a full year of not buying a single item of clothing – no fast fashion, designer splurges or thrifting – and I’ve learned a heap about my spending and consumption habits.

Here are some of the most valuable lessons from my year-long wardrobe freeze.

Is Buying Clothes A Coping Mechanism?

Image: Clueless

Living with only my existing closet for a full year laid bare all the consumption mistakes I’ve made in the past. And many of them are artefacts of my attempts at purchasing an identity, or soothing a fractured sense of self.

There are items in my wardrobe that are so perfectly aligned to who I really am. And there are pieces that are so clearly an expression of my last identity crisis. Being able to isolate the differences in the backstories of my clothes, look at where I went wrong and where I went right, has allowed me to feel much more confident with how to buy better in the future. More of what’s me, less of what isn’t. I’m done with trying to buy my self worth in a pair of uncomfortable jeans or shoes.

How Do I Stop Buying Clothes?

One of the most noticeable positive impacts of withdrawing from buying clothing was the sense of peace. Eliminating the decision to buy or not to buy marked a profound shift in how I approached all those times in life when we might reach for a new outfit. Weddings, birthdays, celebrations, bad days, late night scrolls.

It felt like a switch flipped. I no longer had to grapple with feelings of not wanting to spend money but feeling drawn to more “stuff”. I no longer had to decide whether something was a good purchase or a bad one. I no longer had to deal with the surge of anticipation when buying something new, or the wave of disappointment when it wasn’t what I hoped it would be.

Image: Sex And The City

If I Don’t Go Shopping, Will I Stop Spending?

At first, it was tempting to just avoid exposing myself to new clothing all together. I dare say the year would’ve been easier had I taken that approach. But I wanted to really steer into the skid when it came to my desire to buy. I wanted to address that feeling head on, confront it, question it, and learn to neutralise it.

So I took myself on regular trips to stores I like, to look at the clothing in all its merchandised glory. To face up to what’s available for sale. To allow the feeling of desire to rise up, and to find the strength to walk away. The more I rehearsed this behaviour, the more in control of my decision making I felt.

Don’t Get ‘Caught Up In The Moment’

Image: Clueless

Anyone else who loves clothes will know the feeling of spotting something you like. Clothing is so deeply tied to identity and self-expression. When we see a beautiful piece of clothing, we use meaning to process our desire to purchase it, and that transfer of meaning results in a belief that we need to have it.

What I learned by walking away from things I saw and loved is that nothing matters as much as our brains tell us in the moment. Sure, I’ve seen things I’ve liked and felt a twinge of sadness that it’ll be out of stock by the time I can buy again. But in all honesty, none of those things have kept me up at night. Life goes on with or without those material things. And experiencing that has made me reconsider the way I consume material things on a much deeper level.

Why Do You Keep Buying Clothes, But Not Wearing Them?

Image: Princess Diaries

I found deep joy in getting creative with my own wardrobe, and realised that a lot of my clothing consumption was driven by what was effectively laziness. When you want to look nice and feel good in your clothing, it’s substantially easier to go out and buy something new, that’s merchandised beautifully, that’s up-to-date with current trends, and is ready-to-wear out of the packaging, than it is to find opportunity with things you’ve already got. What I learned is that it’s possible to be as excited, if not more, about your outfit when it’s something you’ve had for years as it is to buy something new. It just requires more effort, more consideration, and the ability to walk away from an opportunity for a dopamine hit.

So what happens next? Now that I’ve completed the year-long wardrobe freeze, I’m making a conscious effort to put my learnings into practice. There are definitely some things I want to buy, as I’ve worn several items to the point of needing replacing.

I’ve got a session booked with a stylist who is going to come and audit my existing wardrobe, help me shop for a few key staples, and then help me integrate those pieces with what I’ve already got. After that session, I plan to essentially re-freeze again, to prevent me slipping back into old habits and risking buying mindlessly. I see myself having 2-3 windows per year where I strategically add to my wardrobe, with the aim of buying less and less each time until I’ve got a complete wardrobe (and sense of style) I’m happy with.

Related stories