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Nothing New for a Year

09/10

Back when I started this blog, I wrote about how my experiment with not buying anything new for more than a year greatly influenced the desire to edit my life in other ways.

Although it’s now been several years since my self-imposed moratorium ended, that experience continues to influence how, when and why I shop, and what I shop for.

This is not intended to be a condemnation of shopping, nor a judgment on what others choose to do. Rather, it’s something I tried that had a profound, lasting, positive effect on me, and I share it with the hope that it might help someone else.

So here goes…

Why I did it.

To save money. When I resigned from a full-time job to start my own business, I’d lined up a few clients but knew I’d mostly have to rely on savings until I had a steady income stream. I scrutinized every item in my budget, especially discretionary expenses like clothing. Initially I allocated funds for a few new wardrobe essentials every quarter, but when it occurred to me how easy it would be to categorize nearly every sale item as “essential,” I decided just to quit cold turkey.

To change my habits. Although I had invested in a few quality wardrobe staples over the years, I also owned an embarrassing number of things bought merely because the price was too good to pass up. As a result, my closet was filled with misfits — clothes that weren’t the right size, or the right color, or that didn’t go with anything else. I hoped that taking a break from buying stuff would force me to assess what I had, figure out what worked, and fix what didn’t.

How I did it.

The “how” should be pretty simple: Don’t buy any new stuff.

But it wasn’t that simple, or easy, for me. Not at first, anyway.

While I’ve never been in a specifically fashion-related industry, my corporate jobs have always required that I dress well. I also happen to like clothes, and over the years I’d programmed myself to want, need and buy them on a fairly regular basis. It had never even occurred to me that I could start school, or a new job, or attend a major social event without having something new to wear.

When I began this experiment, I was in the midst of several major stress-inducing life transitions, and I’d developed a pattern of dealing with stress through ‘retail therapy.’ I had become a cliché, and although I wouldn’t characterize my shopping habits as a true addiction, it would be fair to call it a dependency. But whatever it was, shopping did nothing to help relieve my stress and unhappiness.

To make the change happen, I would have to reprogram myself — to commit, unsubscribe and rethink — so I did. And my resolution to not to buy anything new for a year actually lasted for 16 months – until I had to break down and buy new running shoes.

Commit.

For the first several months, not buying anything required every ounce of discipline I could muster. I had to overcome my scarcity mentality – seeing something on sale and thinking “If I don’t buy this now, I will never find it again.” But there’s no agonizing over whether something is really necessary if the answer is always no.

And each time I said no, the easier it got.

Unsubscribe.

A couple weeks into my resolution, I got a 30%-off sale email from J.Crew that nearly derailed my no-buying plan. That day, I unsubscribed from every store email and print catalog I received. Even though I knew I could just delete the emails or recycle the catalogs before opening them, why invite unnecessary temptation?

Rethink.

At first the prospect of having to wear the same old clothes for a year seemed daunting and boring, but eventually I got used to it — and even started to have some fun with it. Although I now worked from home, I couldn’t just start dressing like a schlub — there were client meetings, field trips and school events for my son, church, and plenty of other things that required me to leave my house wearing something more than pajamas.

First I had to rethink my existing wardrobe. I started by making an inventory of every single thing in my closet, shelves and drawers. I tried it all on, and gave a lot of it away. (More on this later.) Once I had a better idea what I owned, when I’d see an outfit I liked on someone else, I’d try to recreate it with what I’d kept. I also kept a file of magazine and catalog tear sheets to use as inspiration for styling my existing wardrobe. I was able to use things I hadn’t worn in years, and I’d even get compliments on my “new” clothes.

I also had to rethink my reward system. Since I could no longer reward myself or try to alleviate stress by buying something new, I made a list of all the things I always said I wished I had more time to do – spending quality time with my son, running with my dog, reading, trying a new healthy recipe, watching a favorite movie, etc. When I felt stressed or like I deserved a reward, I chose something from the list. The best thing about this reward system? It actually works!

A cautionary note –

I used to like to shop. Some of my favorite childhood memories involve shopping – with my maternal grandmother during summers in Erie, PA; with my mom and sister; with friends; by myself. But my year of abstinence changed this: I now view shopping more as a necessary evil.

Consider yourself forewarned. :-)

Next up: Nothing New for a Year: The Edited Closet

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. Summer Katzenbach Manning permalink
    09/10 2:01 PM

    I was inspired by your initial post and did the same thing for one year after I learned about your experiment. I’m happy for the reminder. It’s so liberating to go absolutely 100% with no exceptions…to shopping, sugar, gluten, leopard print, etc. You’re the best.

    • 09/10 2:23 PM

      I forgot about that– and you are now my inspiration! Luckily I don’t have to omit gluten (yet), but life would be much easier for me if I axed sugar. Have to disagree on the leopard print, though — lingerie, no way but belts = ok.

  2. Jere Miller permalink
    09/10 2:12 PM

    I’m going to try it. I’ve often thought that I just need to shop in my own closet and rework some pieces. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • 09/10 2:26 PM

      Good luck! (Now that you’re here, we can shop each others’ closet.)

  3. JoAnn permalink
    09/10 3:11 PM

    Interesting post. I’ve thought about doing this (and think I need to) but am not sure I could. What about things for your house? Appliances, decorations, etc.?

    • 09/10 3:16 PM

      JoAnn — of course you can! I also went without buying anything new for my house, decorative or otherwise. The only things I allowed myself to buy were food and necessities for my son.

  4. Angee permalink
    09/10 3:38 PM

    I love this… As always, you inspire me!

    • 09/10 3:54 PM

      Oh Ang, you remain one of my favorite shopping companions! Still wishing I’d held on to our “twin” blue silk jacket…

  5. Erin Russell permalink
    09/10 4:05 PM

    So does this leave out thrift stores? Not technically new, but new to me? It wouldn’t be much of a challenge for me if I could still thrift-it-up, since I love it so much and 85% of all my shopping is done at Goodwill!

    • 09/10 4:11 PM

      Sadly Erin, yes — even thrift stores were off limits during my experiment. You have scored some amazing finds — need to start following your lead.

  6. 09/10 4:58 PM

    A key component is to unsubscribe (as you mentioned) to all stores, private online sales, catalogs, etc. It helps not to know what you’re missing!

    • 09/10 5:01 PM

      Couldn’t agree more! (And they were all more than happy to take me back when I was ready.)

  7. Jean permalink
    09/10 9:38 PM

    I’ve been thinking about minimalizing & decluttering. (I think it’s related to not buying anything, right?) I’ve been overwhlemed even before starting this process, now I am definitely going to start with unsubscribing. Just thinking about it makes me feel better already! Thank you!

    • 09/10 9:46 PM

      That’s a great place to start, Jean. Decluttering can be overwhelming, especially with small children. I like to start really small — one bathroom drawer or kid’s toy bin at a time. (At least it will by done by the time they leave for college.) :-)

  8. Carolyn permalink
    10/20 1:32 PM

    Jenn, just came across this at just the right time! What an inspired post. You’re da best!

  9. Memory techniques permalink
    02/07 6:34 AM

    You ought to take part in a contest for one of the best sites
    on the web. I’m going to highly recommend this blog!

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  1. Nothing New for a Year: How to Shop Your Closet « Edit by Design

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