How to stop buying clothes for a year – and change your fast fashion habits forever.

by Nati
My Happy Footprint - Stop buying clothes for a year

Does not buying any new clothes for a year seem like an impossible thing to do?

If you frequently fill your wardrobe with new items this might sound like science fiction. 

It did to me. Until I went cold turkey about 3 years ago. 

I stopped buying any clothes for 365 days and it changed my habits forever. Here’s how you can too.

Why washing your clothes won’t make them less dirty

When I announced that I would stop buying clothes for a year, the first response of many people around me was: why? Often accompanied by raised eyebrows or a nervous chuckle.

If you are reading this blog, chances are high you know that the answer to this question, was – and still is – because I want to minimize my contribution to the (fast) fashion world, as it is a very dirty one.

For starters, it is an incredibly polluting and resource-intensive industry. 

It would take you 8 years to drink the water needed to make one pair of jeans. 

Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of global fresh water.

Cotton accounts for 16% of pesticide sales worldwide. These chemicals are harming the health of cotton farmers, killing biodiversity and polluting soil and water. 

As if these nature destroying examples aren’t horrific enough, the labor conditions and wages for the people working in the garment industry are utterly terrible. 

A garment worker in Ukraine earns on average 89 euros per month while a living wage – so that a family can pay for basic needs – is 356 euros.

Young girls in cotton spinning mills are often victims of bonded labor

And the majority of the estimated 40 million workers in the fashion industry earn less than 3 dollars a day.

Our nonstop hunger to change our look more often than a newborn’s diaper puts huge pressure on our planet. We consume 400% more garment pieces than only 2 decades ago. The average Dutch person buys 46 clothing items per year. That’s almost one per week!

So even if you are just the slightest bit interested in saving the planet, your wardrobe is a perfect place to start. 

Are you ready? Then read on.

The one question you should ask yourself before you stop buying clothes

Most of us probably don’t even know why we shop. That’s the thing with a habit. We become so accustomed to it that we hardly realize why we do it in the first place.

Note: if you think that you are addicted to shopping, consider professional help. There is a difference between – even regularly – going on a shopping spree or being addicted to shopping. This blog is not written as medical advice on how to deal with addiction.

Taking the time to identify why you shop, is a key step to successfully changing your toxic relationship with fast fashion.

You might be a bargain shopper, buying clothes that you don’t really need, just because they are cheap.

Maybe you are a compulsive shopper and shop mostly when you feel anxious, angry or another form of emotional distress.

There’s a chance you are an image shopper and are horrified by the idea of wearing the same dress more than once to a party.

Identifying why you shop will make it so much easier to stop doing it. So take a minute (yes, now) and try to answer the question: “why do I buy clothes, even if I don’t really need them?” 

If the answer doesn’t come up immediately, think back about the last 5 items you bought. Try to remember how you were feeling before and after you bought them, if you bought them for any occasion in particular and if the items were on sale.

Once you identified why you shop, it’s time to tackle the next challenge: limit temptation.

What craving chocolate can teach us about fast fashion habits

Imagine this situation: It’s 10.00 pm on a Thursday night. It’s raining and you snuggled up on the couch to watch a movie. 

Suddenly you crave chocolate. 

You walk up to the pantry. When you open the door, you realize you finished the last stock a couple of days ago when a good friend visited you.

The only way to get your hands on some chocolate would be to go to the store. But the horrible weather doesn’t encourage you to go outside. 

The fact that you would have to swap your comfy slippers for shoes makes you doubt a bit more.  

When you look at your watch and realize the nearest store is already closed and you would have to drive all the way to the 24-hour store, the decision is final: that creamy, crispy bar can wait.

Here’s the thing. The easier it is to consume something, the higher the chances you will end up doing so. 

That goes for food, but also for fashion. Limit your exposure to temptation, especially in the beginning, will make it much easier to change your shopping habits. These simple actions help:

  • Unfollow influencers that promote (fast) fashion.
  • Don’t enter any stores for at least 3 months. If you regularly go shopping with friends as a hobby, propose to do something else. 
  • If in some moment you go back to stores, go without a wallet. You will be able to try on clothes, but won’t be able to buy them. See what happens a couple of days after you went to the store. Do you still feel the same urge to buy the clothes?
  • Count your items. Knowing that you already have 7 pairs of jeans will make it easier not to fall into temptation.

Now that you have identified what triggers your shopping behavior and how you can limit your temptation to those triggers, the big question is: “how do you make sure not to give up?”.

Fortunately, in today’s 24/7 world where temptation is pretty much around every corner, so are ways to make sure you keep motivated.

7 ways to stay motivated during your non-shopping year

Anyone who has ever tried to quit a habit or to gain a new one – like going to the gym – knows how easy it can be to slip back into your old patterns.

Not shopping for an entire year isn’t that different from quitting any other habit. So it may not come as a surprise to you that several items on this list can be applied to changing other habits too:

  • Check the days on a piece of paper you went without shopping: making your progress visual works very encouraging.
  • Hire a stylist to create new outfits using the current items in your wardrobe.
  • Find yourself a no-shopping buddy. If you feel the urge to go shopping, call your buddy for support.
  • Reward yourself for reaching milestones. For example: “after 6 months without shopping for new clothes, I will treat myself to a dinner in my favorite restaurant / massage / course / book / anything else that is non-fashion related.
  • Put the money aside you have been saving from non-shopping. Just like the first item on this list, it will help you visualize your progress. Seeing how much money you are saving can be super rewarding.
  • Apply the in-out principle: let’s say you feel the urge to buy a new pair of shoes. Gather all the pairs you currently own and ask yourself “if I would only be allowed to buy a new pair of shoes after tossing out (or donating) another pair, which one would I get rid of?” This exercise will help you realize that you probably have more than enough items in your wardrobe and you actually don’t want to get rid of any of them.

The secret to getting new clothes without spending any money

Did you know that some of the most famous people in the world are wearing (almost) the same outfit everyday? 

The majority of them claim to do so because that way they don’t have to make decisions on what to wear and they can use their brain power for other stuff.

Since I have no interest in building the largest online community (Mark Zuckerberg) or discovering the next superstar (Simon Cowell), this is a bit too extreme to my taste. 

I like to wear different outfits and even add new ones to my wardrobe every now and then. But how do you do that, if you made a commitment to stop shopping?

Here are some secret, not so secret, ways to add new clothes to your wardrobe, without ever setting foot in a store: 

  • Host a clothing party with friends: all guests bring clothes they no longer wear and swap them.
  • Spread the word: After an initial weird phase of shame, I started to tell my friends and family that I would be more than happy to receive their pre-loved clothes. A “new” pair of boots, summer sandals, jeans, jacket and sweater all entered my wardrobe that way.  It is so much fun to be on both the receiving as well as the giving end. What better way to make someone happy with a “new” piece of garment?
  • Project 333: This “capsule wardrobe” project challenges you to dress yourself with 33 items during 3 months. I took the challenge twice (once in winter and once in summer). The cool thing is, once you finish the challenge and start adding your own clothes back into your wardrobe, it feels like you are shopping!
  • The underdog wardrobe: The majority of the people have a couple of items in their wardrobe that are there… why exactly? They are just there, but you hardly ever wear them, maybe even never. Challenge yourself to wear these underdog items for one month and you’ll be surprised how your feelings towards them can change. 
  • Upcycle: If you are friends with the sewing machine or the good old needle and thread, you can transform your clothes into something completely different. 

Are you ready to change your relationship with fast fashion?

Imagine yourself one year and three months from now. A friend shows up at your house, wearing a new shirt.

And you? You realize that you have surpassed your goal of taking off one entire year of clothes shopping. What you considered to be science fiction turned into reality.

And it doesn’t even feel like e challenge.

You don’t miss the shops. You don’t feel the urge to buy something new. In fact, you feel more relaxed, with more space in your wardrobe AND your head for other things.

Sound impossible? It is not.

You got the motivation (and tips on how to stay motivated), you know how to limit your temptation and you have your eco-friendly ways how to still add “new” items to your wardrobe.

All you need to do is to mark the first day of your non-shopping year. Why not make it today?


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