My spending habits used to be messy. Before I came to a realization about my money in early 2016, I hoarded clothes and shoes without asking myself how many times I’d wear the item, how well it was made, or what I could have done with the money instead (the answer is NOTHING).
I finally stopped buying clothes at the rate I had been (an average of one item every two weeks) in March of this year. What finally motivated me to cut myself off was that I had finally paid off my credit card debt, a year after I had set the goal.
I was loving how much money was flowing in to my bank account every two weeks. But there were other factors at play, too. It was a long, slow journey to fashion addiction recovery. I’ll share some of what helped me here.
“Americans…buy a lot more clothing than they once did, on average 64 items and more than seven pairs of shoes per year—double what they bought annually in the 1990s. What this really means is that the culture of saving up and investing in fewer pieces and wearing them for longer has all but waned.”–Elizabeth L. Cline
The first glimmer of hope for my fashion addiction came when I read Elizabeth L. Cline’s book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, when it came out, in 2013. Cline talks about the decline in quality of our clothes, even designer clothes, many of which are now made by underpaid labor in places like China and Bangladesh, just like our $29 Forever 21 jeans. So much of fast fashion is dictated by designer trends, which come and go almost as quickly as the poorly stitched hems of their knockoffs. Then what happens? We throw them away, give them to Goodwill, or send them to the consignment store, if we’re lucky.
Most cheap fashion is made of synthetic materials, which can take literally half a century to decompose. We used to feel good about ourselves when we donated clothes to charity. But with something like 15 discernible fashion “seasons” per year and so many millions of pounds of used clothing piling up around the world, the demand for used H&M t-shirts is just never going to catch up to the supply. Cline holds us to accountability for what happens to our clothes when we toss them in a fit of Marie Kondo-inspired decluttering.
“You can buy the radio, but then you wouldn’t have the $17.”–David Geffen’s mother
This line from Inventing David Geffen, the American Masters documentary about the record producer, has stuck with me (as has the documentary; it’s a professional kick in the pants; I highly recommend watching it today).
At its core this advice from Geffen’s hardworking, business-owning immigrant mother, which she used to give to him as a kid, is about respecting your money. I had no respect for my money until this year, and as I see it, when you have no respect for your money, you have no respect for your own potential.
“A few years ago, I used to dream about a big, beautiful walk in closet to hold more stuff. Today, I could easily store my clothing and accessories without a closet (and I am so much happier).”–Courtney Carver
Like so many before me, it was The Minimalists who finally helped me kick the clothes-buying habit. In their documentary, the guys mention Courtney Carver’s Project333, which challenges people to wear the same 33 items for three months.
Simple enough. My wardrobe was already a fairly colorless combination of jeans, t-shirts and sweaters. The key was not buying anything new, as the new items have a way of making the old items seem less shiny. And then eventually you buy more new things and the once-new things are suddenly old. It’s a vicious cycle.
Then there was the wisdom from my therapist. I told her I found it so hard to stop shopping because I felt powerful when I bought something. She said, “The real power comes from resisting the temptation” to listen to the messages we’re inundated with by advertisers, bloggers, friends, and pretty girls on Pinterest.
That said, there’s a real benefit to Pinterest, and it’s not one-click shopping. When I’m feeling uninspired, I turn to Pinterest to help me think of more ways to work with the clothes I already have. Search ‘street style’ on Pinterest with the name of any cool city in front of it, and you can find plenty of inspiration on how to create your own style out of the 33-or-so items you’re aiming to rely on. Here’s how Copenhagen rolls.
It’s been three months since I’ve bought any clothes, and it’s helped lower my stress, made my morning routine more productive, and saved me hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars.
A Couple Other Minimalist Wardrobe Tricks
Sell your stuff on Poshmark. This app-meets-social-network is a great tool for selling your cheap and designer used items. The app makes it incredibly easy to create listings straight from your phone. The other weekend, I spent 20 minutes listing eight items and have already sold two of them.
Sell your designer duds on TheRealReal.
Create a work uniform. Art director Matilda Kahl explains the benefits in this widely-shared Harper’s Bazaar post.
Sell two items for every one you buy. The value doesn’t have to be comparable, and those items don’t have to be clothes, it’s just a good way to keep things uncluttered and manageable, and forces you to frequently assess the things you own, and why you bought them.
What’s your experience been with creating a minimalist wardrobe? Share your story in the comments below.