How To Start A Clothes Buying Ban

I could go on for hours about the personal and environmental benefits of a clothes buying ban. Simply choosing to refuse to buy clothes, shoes, and accessories for 15 months (with some exceptions) helped me learn so much. 

The ironic thing was that during my ban I never said the phrase, “I don’t have anything to wear,” despite foregoing the typical ritual of upgrading my wardrobe each season (or whenever there was a sale). Clothes buying bans can be powerful tools to help develop your own sense of style and practice gratitude, while also providing some breathing room in your budget.

And if you’re not sold yet on starting a ban, here are some reasons why you should consider it.

After writing a post earlier this week about my experience, I realized I did not include suggestions for how to start. There is no right or wrong way to proceed with your own clothing ban, but I figured sharing my process may help someone else. Saying no to consumerism can be difficult, but here are the steps I used:

How To Start A Clothes Buying Ban

Step 1: Determine Your “Why”

Why do you want to begin a clothes buying ban? My goals included all of the following, but you can choose the one(s) that is/are most important to you:

Do you want to open a closet that isn’t packed full of clothes?

Do you want to feel like you always have something to wear?

Do you want to say no to the pressure of participating in a never-ending cycle of buying new stuff every time the weather changes or there’s a semi-annual sale?

Do you want to eliminate some discretionary spending in your budget?

Do you want to get a better sense of your own style and appreciation for the things you own?

Do you want to stop mindlessly shopping online because you’re bored?

Do you want to avoid contributing to landfills already full of discarded clothing or dangerous labor conditions in many clothing production facilities?

Write it down. Post it on social media. Turn it into an affirmation. Anytime your motivation to continue your ban wavers, think back to the good you are doing for yourself, your budget, or others.

Step 2: Clear Out Your Closet

Before starting your ban, I highly recommend clearing away any items you never wear or hate to wear in order to understand what you’re working with. Seeing a paired down closet can help give you a sense of what clothes, shoes, and accessories you actually like and look good on you.

Tidying, Kondo-style

I’m a huge supporter of the methods of Marie Kondo. Essentially, Kondo ’s advice starts with taking everything out of your closet, drawers, and anywhere else you keep clothes (I’m looking at you, bedroom chair). The act of physically taking everything out and creating a pile (or separate piles for each type of article) really hammers home how much you may own. I always think I don’t have anything, but seeing the sheer volume changes my mind every time I cull my things.

It’s also important to pick up and touch each item, as well as trying it on to assess its quality and fit. Kondo’s measuring stick is to ask yourself, “does this spark joy?” for each and every item. I did one of three things with each article of clothing, pair of shoes, and all accessories:

  1. I rehung or refolded it because it was something I loved to wear — The item definitely sparked joy
  2. I put it in a basket to give away or donate because I was sure I did not want to wear it — Absolutely no joy
  3. I created a basket for “maybes” to stash in a spare closet because I wasn’t sure if I wanted it for the long-term – There was a little joy, but not enough to justify it taking up valuable hanger space

Financial Mechanic wrote about her own methods of decluttering here

This process may take several hours, but it makes a huge difference if you take this step seriously. You are left with a closet of things you would actually want to wear. And, if you’re like me, that amount might be less than half the stuff you started with.

It’s important to be able to look into your closet and feel good about your choices in order to carry the momentum for the duration of your ban. The compulsive craving to purchase new clothes decreases when you are already content with your closet contents. If you’re not happy when you open your dresser drawers, enter Step 3 (which is optional).

Step 3: Set Yourself Up For Success With Capsule Wardrobe Principles (Optional)

If you look at your closet after Step 2 and are feeling good about starting the ban right away, that’s awesome! Feel free to proceed to Step 4.

I would not have lasted 15 months during my ban without some accidental prep work. My foray into capsule wardrobes triggered my clothes buying ban, and the principles behind it are pretty simple:

Keep only a few items that you love and fit you well

If you’re having trouble deciding on what fits you best, ask friends to weigh in. Take note of anything that prompts people to give you compliments. You should be excited about everything in your closet. (I keep around 40 items I love ready to go each season, but you can be more extreme or allow yourself more pieces. There are no set restrictions on the number you choose.)

Try to make sure most, if not all, pieces can be mix-and-matched together

It’s easiest to pick a base for each season and go from there (I use navy in the spring and fall, black in the winter and summer). Choose other pieces that are complimentary — ideally you should be able to get dressed blind-folded and still look good. You can obviously have bright colors and patterns in your closet, but it’s easier to wear them more often when they pair well with other things. Think about multi-use items instead of one-time wear for special occasions.

Stay consistent with a style that suits you

I’m pretty casual when I go out with friends, so I have no need for blingy clubbing tops. I don’t own any business suits because my work is not formal. It’s important to understand what things you actually need to live your life as it is right now – use your current closet favorites to guide you.

Switch out items as needed each season

Hopefully many pieces can be worn in different weather, but a few heavy sweaters or breezy tops may need to be rotated in and out.

When creating a capsule wardrobe, be deliberate with your choices. Take inventory of your closet first — What types of styles, fabrics, patterns, colors, etc. do you have remaining? Do you notice trends in what you kept vs. what you got rid of? What would you most likely pack for a trip or save if your house were on fire? 

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so carefully examine what items you already love and wear all the time. Now is not necessarily the time to totally reinvent yourself, so build your new wardrobe around what you already own or add in some of the timeless staples or neutral bases that can be worn in many different ways.

What to say to the temptation for mindless spending

If you want to stage a last shopping trip, this is the time. Do NOT use this as an excuse to just buy anything and everything you want. The purpose is to supplement your remaining wardrobe with a few things you need so you’ll be able to last as long as possible without new pieces every season. Just because there’s more room in your closet, it doesn’t mean it has to be full. Embrace the mindset shift of valuing “having enough” instead of “having it all.” If you are environmentally and socially conscious, consider buying second-hand items online or in thrift stores.

This is also a good time to plan for future events — Do you need a new suit for work? Are you going to a lot of weddings this summer? Can you plan to buy a versatile piece or two that can fit multiple occasions? I wore my navy dress to a baby shower, bridal shower, wedding, and Christmas party all in one year. I mixed it up with necklaces, scarves, and cardigans each time, so it’s hard to tell I’m wearing the same dress. Always choose utility over fads if you have your long-term wardrobe in mind.

Make sure you try everything on and only pick the things you love. Be true to your own style and if you’re not excited about it in the store, it’ll end up in the back of your closet, unworn. Maximize the amount of times you can wear a piece as much as possible – neutrals and solid colors are perfect bases for a variety of occasions (and accessories can be added to “jazz them up.”)

Step 4: Determine Your Ground Rules

Your ban can be whatever you want it to be. Use these suggestions to help you develop your own guidelines:

  1. Pick a time length–or not

I didn’t have a set length of time for my ban. Some people may choose one season, six months, a year, two years, or more. You can also tie it to a milestone–for example, once you lose 20 pounds. Use whatever will keep you motivated and even track it on a calendar if that works for you.

2. Lay out any exceptions — and don’t “invent” more as you go to justify mindless spending

I knew my CrossFit gear was getting pretty worn out so I told myself I could replace them only when I saw holes and they became unusable. Think about any upcoming challenges during the length of your ban — can you address any issues or “gray areas” now so you don’t easily give up later? It’s slippery slope if you start allowing yourself more and more freedom for careless purchases.

3. Set up a rewards system — if that’s your thing

Will you treat yourself to a dinner out when you reach 3 months? Will you take the money you usually budget for clothes and save for a vacation or, better yet, pay off debt faster or increase retirement contributions? Choose options that get you excited!

4. Figure out any methods to keep you on track – where can you turn when motivation is low?

Do you have a friend who will do it with you or serve as an accountability buddy? Will you impose a waiting period on anything you *think* you need? Are you going to share your progress on social media?

Step 5: Stay Committed

It can be difficult at first, especially if you find yourself constantly browsing stores in person or online when you’re bored. Unsubscribe from any clothing store email lists. Pass when friends invite you shopping or suggest alternatives that don’t revolve around spending money on material goods. Sometimes having the ban as an excuse makes it easier to say no and good friends should understand. (And some friends will give you clothes they no longer wear instead of throwing them away. Clothing gifts can become so precious during your ban!)

Me when I get hand-me-downs from friends

One thing I did to combat the desire to wear new things was to “go shopping” in my spare closet with the basket of “maybes.” I treated these pieces as new clothes when I thought I needed something to complete an outfit. Although I only removed one dress and two tank tops from the basket, it was a “security blanket” for me. Anything unworn in 15 months ended up at my local Goodwill.

Our culture is so consumer-driven it may be incredibly difficult to remove all temptation. Every time I log on to social media I see reminders to get a new beach cover up for the summer (I haven’t bought a new one in about 3 years and I’ve survived) or buy the hottest style of boots for the fall (I already have several pairs I only wear a few times each year). I created a list on my phone to record anything I *thought* I needed and made myself wait. When I reviewed my list later, this extra level of waiting helped me talk myself out of dozens of things old me would have bought immediately and thoughtlessly. Sometimes momentum can also help in these situations – asking myself if I really wanted to give up my ban for that was powerful.

Not only does social media bombard us with ads for the newest trends, we also might see photos of ourselves all the time (depending on how “camera happy” our circle of friends is). One thing–and it’s a very superficial thing–I struggled with was the thought of seeing myself in the same clothes in pictures on social media. Although it’s frivolous, I learned to be ok in pictures where I was wearing the same outfit. 

One thing I realized, though, is that no one notices when I’m wearing a plain top that fits me well. No one ever commented about my repeat outfits. I’m obviously also more aware of what I’m wearing than anyone else is (hello “Spotlight Effect”), but I also learned that I gravitated toward the basic, versatile pieces in my closet. My navy and black tops and dresses, my camel boots, my gray and beige sweaters. These things all fit me well and were acceptable in a variety of social situations. I think I actually got more compliments on my clothes during the ban because I truly felt good in what I was wearing–Nothing looks better than confidence.

Now that my ban is officially gone, any new purchases will revolve around my well-loved closet staples. Keep your goals and ground rules in mind so restriction leads to a greater sense of fulfillment, not a desperate desire to go overboard and buy everything you denied yourself. Your ban should be designed to help your refine your sense of style and appreciation for the things that look good on you, so use your lessons to replace or add items consciously when it’s time. Trust yourself and the process. You got this!

I’m a firm believer in questioning assumptions and expectations that do not work for you; to reject the pressure to conform to some sort of social standard out of shame or need for acceptance. Breaking the cycle of buying clothes to make me feel like I got a good deal or would become a better, prettier, more fashionable, more sophisticated person proved to be a freeing experience. 

Although I struggled–and even messed up–it’s motivating to see how far I’ve come. To consider how much more is in my bank account. To feel more comfortable in the things I own. To have a greater sense of gratitude for what I have. To think about not contributing to more waste, even if it only has a very small effect on the worldwide problem.

I hope you choose to challenge yourself and learn lessons that change the way you see clothes and yourself. You may even surpass your own expectations.

Are you considering a clothes buying ban? What hurdles do you foresee?

If you are doing a clothing ban, what works for you?

5 thoughts on “How To Start A Clothes Buying Ban”

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