My One Year, No New Clothes Experiment

2020 was the year I finally spent 365 days without spending a cent on new clothes. Unless you count fabric face coverings. Admittedly, I couldn’t have picked an easier year but it was actually my third attempt. Why did I decide to do it and what do I feel like I gained?

Why I Decided Not to Buy New Clothes

I’m a self-proclaimed member of the “green police”. I have no formal education in environmental science, but I believe we should all be trying to reduce our impact on the planet. So, I’ll preach to anyone who’ll listen on zero waste shopping, eating less meat and collecting little bits of hotel soap if you really must use the complimentary toiletries. I hang the “do not disturb” sign on hotel room doors to avoid unnecessary laundry. The sad truth is I do it because I feel guilty for my own choices. I used to work full-time in the travel industry. When I wasn’t flying for work, I was flying on holiday. So I was desperate to improve my poor sustainability rating in other areas of life. I see far too many benefits to sensible (!) travel to cancel it but that’s a story for another time.

Then, a couple of years ago I switched to freelancing. That motivated me to optimise my personal expenses since I wasn’t sure how much I’d be making. With no background in business or accounting, I was (and still am) pretty terrible at understanding finances. My long term hope is to work less and be happy with less everything.

What Helped Keep My Promise to Myself

Disappointed in myself for failing two years in a row, I signed up for a personal development class. Under the guidance of a coach, I set three SMART goals for 2020. The key was formulating a positive affirmation. Instead of telling myself “I don’t need anything new” in a punishing tone, I learned to repeat “My wardrobe is full. I have everything I need”. Simple magic.

Of course, the fact that I did have a full closet helped. Far from the fullest I’ve seen, but complete.

As part of setting my goal I decided to allow myself three purchases within the year, like underwear or jeans to replace a broken pair. I didn’t end up needing to buy anything.

What I Learnt From Spending a Year Without Buying New Clothes

Clothes come to you. Since my experiment became a topic of conversation, I got some unexpected hand-me-downs. I now proudly rock some of my mum’s 70s and 80s fashion. And my sister came to the rescue when I told her I’d ripped my last pair of decent jeans. What’s more, the spare pair she had was already second-hand!

The less often you buy something new, the more intense the satisfaction when you do. Come 1st January, I allowed myself the joy of buying leggings and a raincoat to replace my exhausted old ones at seasonal sale prices. But the joy was mixed with frustration when I struggled with the amount of options available. I spent hours reading up on brands and fabrics. How can there be so many bog standard but different leggings and raincoats?! Shopping restrictions meant I had to buy online. Getting my leggings felt like receiving a Christmas gift. Still waiting for my raincoat but I see it’s awaiting dispatch. Oh, the suspense!

Nobody really notices what you’re wearing on a walk or at the shop. I’ve found a new love for scruffy tracksuit pants and hoodies. On the days that I do get dressed up, it feels really fun and special.

Clothes are a lot more versatile than I thought, and long-lasting if you want them to be. A ten-year-old pair of yoga pants became my staple, I just paired them with different tops. Most of my thermal tights are now thermal leggings as I cut off the hole-ridden feet. A little creative thinking, needle and thread go a long way.

Love your local tailor! If you think something can’t be fixed, take it along anyway. Chances are, there’s a way. Not strictly clothing, but the straps had come undone on my fabric backpack. I took it to my usual seamstress who redirected me to a leather repair shop. They had the right sewing machine for the job.

Research and investing in quality items pays off. Thanks to whoever recommended Triumph’s Sloggi line of underwear a few years ago. And to myself for discovering Thought clothing. Both very long lasting without becoming bobbly. (I’m not getting anything in return for this!)

I now pay more attention to whatever I’m buying. Something’s clicked in my mind. I find myself writing shopping lists and sticking to them. Spending less time at physical shops this year has certainly helped. That and the surprise element of food shopping online – not always getting exactly what or everything you ordered. As a welcome side effect, I’ve become more resourceful.

Where to Get Clothes if You Don’t Want to Buy

First of all, ask around! You may find a friend or family member has exactly what you’re looking for, whether it’s for borrowing or keeping.  

Clothes swaps are a brilliant source of new pieces for your wardrobe. Organise one with friends, colleagues, or find groups on Facebook like Rīga Women’s Clothing Swaps.

If in Riga, visit the Brīvbode, a clothing exchange run by the Free Rīga group.

Here’s to a Future of More Sensible Buying

My key takeaway from this year-long experiment is – nobody’s perfect! We each have our “bad” habits and areas to improve on. We can either sit with that guilt or transform it into something positive.

Would you try a year of buying no new clothes?

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