Why I Did a Clothes Buying Ban (and you* should too!)

Why Should You Do A Clothes Buying Ban?

If you look into a packed closet and struggle to find something to wear, a clothes buying ban is for you. If you find yourself constantly browsing online stores and adding more to your cart just to get free shipping, a clothes buying ban is for you. If you feel caught in an endless cycle of amassing piles of clothes only to replace them next year, a clothes buying ban is for you.

A clothes buying ban is a simple concept — no buying clothes, shoes, or accessories for a period of time, anywhere from one season to one year or more. There is great privilege when it comes to choosing to embark on a clothes buying ban because you’re signaling to yourself that I’ve already consumed enough. I have enough. And I’m in a stable enough position to make a conscious change.

*I recognize not everyone has the luxury to live off their current wardrobe for a year or more. However, if you find yourself in a never ending, unsatisfying cycle of buying clothes, a ban may be for you!

If you’re a middle-class consumer like me, you may have noticed a pattern: each new season brings about pressure to “refresh” or “upgrade” your wardrobe. Scroll through Instagram to see image after image of the hottest trends in Spring fashion or “must-haves” for your winter look. “Oh, that’s cute” turns into “Well, if I buy a few more things I’ll get 40% off my order.” You think you’re getting a great deal. You think you’ll be a new person in these clothes.

Rinse and repeat several times a year.

Shopping used to be a game for me — “What’s the best deal?” instead of “what’s best for me?”

I know this lifestyle. I lived this lifestyle. And I’m not even close to being a “fashionista” or “shopaholic.” But there’s a notion that compulsive shopping is normal, a notion that’s perpetuated by magazines and social media. We can fall into the trap of buying clothes to fulfill some sort of need to remake ourselves, change the way others see us, or chase a good bargain. Although I know the power a well-fitting outfit can have on one’s self esteem, a clothes buying ban may help us question an obsessive need to recast ourselves over and over again each time the weather changes (and possibly sabotage our budgets in the process).

In March 2018 I realized I had a simple problem. Not enough hangers in my closet. Easy solution, right? Buy more hangers! After a “shopping spree” to create a capsule wardrobe my closet overflowed with new clothes. But it wasn’t a problem with the hangers, it was the amount of clothes I now owned.

(Note: I highly recommend reading about creating a capsule wardrobe! It’s a wonderful concept for those who have a hard time picking out something to wear. And, done right, will limit your clothing consumption. Courtney Carver’s Project 333 is a great place to start and Dave at Minimalism and Money has some great reflections from a man’s perspective.)

Vowing to change, I decided a drastic adjustment was in order. I told myself I had enough. And for the next 15 months I made a conscious effort to avoid purchasing new clothes–with a few flexible exceptions and one notable mistake.

As far as a ban goes, you can create whatever rules you’d like for yourself. Angela from Tread Lightly, Retire Early has been going strong for over two years! Her ban is customized for her and I highly recommend you read about her experience here. She’s an inspiration!

I created two rules for my “flexible” ban:

  1. I can accept clothing as gifts
  2. I can replace my Crossfit gear that becomes unusable (I replaced shoes and socks with holes and a sports bra that was a little too loose for burpees 😳) — but only a “one for one” replacement, not an excuse to upgrade all my workout clothes

I did not have a set ending for my clothes buying ban–I just figured I’d go until I couldn’t anymore. Breaking my ban this month was a little bit of a disappointment at first, but I actually felt good about my decision to buy pants in Morocco.

The reason I suggest everyone (who can) should do a clothes buying ban is not only because of the environmental and social benefits (by not contributing more to the millions of tons of textiles that end up in landfills each year or the human cost of unsafe clothing production facilities to meet demand), but also because of the personal lessons to be learned during your “experiment.” Although my ban is officially over, I feel like I am in a much better place to spend more mindfully on not only clothes, but on material goods in general.

If you’re already ready to start a clothes buying ban, here are some suggestions!

What I Learned During My Clothes Buying Ban:

I Started Questioning My Behaviors

One of my biggest “wins” during the past 15 months was challenging my assumptions. I used to view each vacation and back-to-school season as a green light to purchase new clothes. As someone who values packing lightly, I needed to buy new dresses and dry-fit shirts to squeeze into my carry-on. And, of course, I needed new clothes when I stood in front of a group of high schoolers for the first time.

The “I have to have new clothes” excuses were pure BS. I had enough in my closet. Hell, I already had things in my closet I didn’t even wear. A life event does not necessitate a wardrobe overall if there are perfectly fine things already hanging in my closet. I got through last school year with the clothes I already owned, so why did I *need* new things?

To help combat the mindless “I need this” buys, I developed my own system to talk myself out of over a dozen purchases I would have regretted. I kept a running list on my phone’s note app to keep track of items I thought I *should* buy. By writing this list and reflecting on the contents every few weeks, the process added an extra element of waiting, a step to slow down and examine if I truly needed that item. Not wanted, but needed. And the reality was my closet was already full of sweaters and scarves and skirts I barely (or never wore). I laugh at some of the entries on my list — I clearly did not really need black jeans and a burgundy cardigan. I survived the winter just fine without them.

I Avoided Stores Altogether

If you’re like me, you know how quickly a carton of ice cream can disappear. When I buy a half gallon of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, it’s gone before I even have time to register what happened. Whenever I need to clean up my diet, I always take one simple action: I don’t buy sweets to keep in the house. Simply removing the temptation does wonders for my willpower.

TFW you save so much money not buying clothes

The same principle applied to my clothes buying ban: I avoided clothing stores and websites, as well as removing myself from any store email list. It’s easy to be sucked in by marketing (even the smartest consumers can be lured in by sales to buy things when the marginal costs and benefits are not in their favor) and we are constantly bombarded with promises of low prices on things we “have to have.” And trust me, J. Crew will have more 30% off sales in the future.

I actually do not really enjoy shopping, but I found myself making excuses to mindlessly buy things “just because” went I went to the mall. For me, staying out of stores was a relatively easy adjustment. I was proud of resisting most purchases but I did have one slip up I regretted — a Target sweater I bought impulsively. While I was at Target buying Christmas wrapping paper and supplies for a party we were hosting the next day, I saw a sweater I thought would be perfect to wear for the party. I ignored my phone list buffer for bad decisions because I reasoned I would wear it when friends came over the next night. It ended up pilling after the first wash and I was ashamed I broke the ban to buy it.

Much like after an ice cream eating bender, I worked to forgive myself for behavior that seemed to derail my goals. This one mistake did not completely negate my progress–in fact, it taught me to appreciate how far I’d come, reminded me to stay committed to my new systems, and emphasized the need for quality over quantity in my closet.

I Learned To Be More Creative

With the prevalence of online shopping and fast shipping, it only takes a few clicks and two days to have new clothes show up at your door. This process detracts from some of the deliberations that should take place when buying things you think you need, and also the potential development of creative problem-solving skills.

While packing for my summer trip, I wanted to make sure I had enough conservative clothing options for Morocco. I don’t like standing out for my clothing choices in an unfamiliar city (especially as a woman), so I plan to take clothes that are more modest than what I would wear for a night out at home.

I hesitated to pack a maxi dress because I wasn’t a huge fan of the pattern on top. Reading about capsule wardrobes made me buy into the practice of loving and feeling good in the clothes I wear, but I avoided this dress because of the style.

I’m lucky to have a sewing machine and some basic skills, so in the matter of 15 minutes I converted the dress I didn’t like to a skirt I was happy to pair with tops I already owned. Past me would have spent time looking for a skirt or dress online and spent money I didn’t need to buy it. By imposing strict restrictions on my buying behaviors, I forced myself to be more creative. The ban also forced me to switch up outfits and find new looks instead of thinking I needed to overhaul my closet (or suitcase).

I Appreciate What I Have

The most rewarding part of a clothes buying ban is the sense of gratitude you can develop when realizing you already have enough. I started to really value the items that looked good on me (I love getting compliments on older pieces — it doesn’t need to be new for someone to admire a well-fitting or beautifully colored article of clothing) and be thankful for the things I already owned.

It’s easy to get caught on that “hedonistic treadmill” when you’re constantly buying new things. The desire to buy into the trends is hard to resist, especially when the model looks so good. But guess what? Contrary to the magazine articles and Facebook ads, you do not need a new swimsuit for summer this year. Or new boots for the fall. Or a new winter coat. I survived every season without new clothes, shoes, or accessories because I found myself falling in love with the classic pieces already in my closet. Wearing the stuff that actually looked good on me, the stuff I actually liked, made me feel so much better than a trendy fast-fashion top that didn’t fit quite right or wasn’t really my style (and would therefore end up in the “donate” pile within months). “Cheap clothes” aren’t cheap if you’re constantly buying more and more each season, year after year.

Also, gifts from others became more meaningful (and also better for the environment). I graciously accepted clothes from my sister when she finally got rid of stuff that didn’t fit–yay for free jeans that did not end up in a landfill! I was floored when my fiancé’s cousin offered to let me keep a beautiful jacket she lent me for a cold Melbourne night because she “hadn’t worn it in years.” It easily became my favorite jacket for our northern hemisphere winter.

Whenever I casually mentioned to a friend “I haven’t bought clothes in X months,” I wore it as a badge of honor. (Don’t worry, this was only if it came up organically in conversation — I wasn’t annoyingly telling everyone I knew “just because.” 😜) I believe a clothes buying–or really “anything” buying–ban can be a powerful tool for reexamining spending and priorities. Buying bans contradict many messages we receive in our consumer-driven culture. Challenging conventional assumptions, materialistic or otherwise, can bring about significant change.

Although I officially broke my ban, I know the lessons I learned will stay with me. It’s been easier to stick to my budget without hundreds of dollars spent on clothes each month and I’ve also developed a better sense of my style when I look at the pieces I always gravitated to during the ban. I’m ready to replace a few items that have worn out over the past few years, but I’m committed to staying conscious of my consumption.

Are you ready to start your ban? I wrote some suggestions of how to begin here.

Have you ever done a buying ban? What did you learn? If not, would you consider it?

6 thoughts on “Why I Did a Clothes Buying Ban (and you* should too!)”

  1. I loved reading this. On occasion, I look at my packed closet and feel like I have nothing to wear—and it’s awful. It’s been such a wake-up call for me to start donating clothes and simplifying my wardrobe.

    I also appreciate that you mentioned the environmental benefits of doing a clothes-buying ban (or just reducing clothing consumption in general). It’s for this reason that I’ve begun shopping more at ThredUp and other thrift stores.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading. I have so much to share about my experience 🙂

      Ironically, I don’t think I ever said, “I have nothing to wear” during my 15 months. However, I was conscious about my approach to starting the ban. I highly suggest doing your own version of removing the clothes you don’t like/don’t look good on you (I’m a huge fan of Marie Kondo’s methods). From there, I created a list of clothes for a capsule wardrobe to ensure I curated items that I loved and went well together. The elements of the capsule wardrobe carried me over a year and hopefully you can find secondhand pieces you love to round out your completed wardrobe. It makes a world of difference to open up a closet where you love everything inside.

      If you want to try the ban, you can do it! Sometimes it can feel difficult at the beginning, but the momentum is real. You got this! And feel free to send me a message if you need an accountability buddy!


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