Hope-Filled Mama

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Tag: clothing

A Year of Fasting

As October 12, 2015, quickly approaches, economic forecasts have been adjusted to include an upswing in the retail sector. This date marks the end of my yearlong clothing fast. On that date last year, I committed to abstain from all clothing purchases for a year. My husband cheered, my friends gasped in shock, and retailers shed tears of grief.

It was a fast I never considered possible, and one I never wanted to partake in. But when our church fasted from technology for a month last year, I took a serious look at what I might really need to fast from.

Technology is not my issue; the love of shopping is. And I knew a month was not long enough to really get to the heart of my issue. You can read more about my early fasting days on my previous post.

Along this journey, I discovered a few reasons why I over-shop. It defies logic, but one of the reasons is that I have too many clothes. With too many clothes, I forget what I have, and buy more of the same, more than I need. To combat this, I’ve begun to purge my clothes and focus on the pieces I really enjoy. I plan to build my wardrobe around those pieces so that they work together to give me more options.

I’m also addicted to the deal. I’ve never met a clothing sale I didn’t like. I receive multiple mass emails a day, each with a “special” sale I must get to before it’s too late. I often fall for this Marketing 101 trick. During my fast, I ended up deleting those emails each day as a discipline. They reminded me that a new deal comes each day, there will always be another sale, and there will always be more clothes to buy.

But my most significant insight during my fast is that I turn to shopping when I feel upset or insecure. Doing so fills a temporary need and distracts me from the real issue at hand: a sense that I never have enough or am enough. Shame researcher Brené Brown describes the heart of my issue in these words: “We live in a world of scarcity. Which means we feel like we never have enough.”

Writer and entrepreneur Sarah Peck writes:

Living in a world of scarcity means that we’re constantly searching for the next thing to fill us up, the next destination or achievement to make us whole. Our world is filled with messages that tell us we don’t have enough space, enough stuff, enough clothes, enough fitness. We’re never skinny enough or pretty enough or good enough or rich enough.

This scarcity model drives consumption and accumulation; it spurs us to want more, to buy things because we think it will fill the void. We press to work harder, to get fitter, to buy more clothes, to acquire more things in the name of filling the hole.

The problem with scarcity, however, is that you can’t fill it or fix it with things.

The answer to scarcity, ironically, isn’t more. It is enough.

What you have is enough. Who you are is enough.

My fast has forced me to look for satisfaction in the things I already have. It’s given me an opportunity to be more creative in the way I use my clothes. But the biggest gift of all has been the mental space it has given me. Knowing that I can’t spend time shopping has freed me up to spend my time writing, exercising, meeting with friends, and focusing on my kids.

Surprisingly, I haven’t really missed it like I thought it would. Fasting from shopping has been life-giving, instead of the sacrifice I thought it would be.

As I approach the end of my fast, I don’t want to fall back into my bad habits. The real challenge begins now: I want to choose to be satisfied with what I have and who I am.

The Clothing Diet

I am attempting the impossible. I am four months into a twelve-month-long clothing fast. A fast from buying clothes. For a year.

Back in October 2014, we my husband took the opportunity to analyze our finances. Turned out the clothing expenses were way abnormal. Not abnormally low, but abnormally high. And it forced me to face the harsh truth that I have a problem. A problem with buying clothes. Buying way too many clothes. I like clothes. I love clothes.

For years I have suspected that maybe I had a problem, but it was easy to dismiss that nagging concern. I could always look to someone else who bought more clothes than me, say for example… Heidi Klum.

I’ve always loved clothes. I started working in the corn fields at age thirteen so I could afford nice clothes. I would spend all summer getting up at 5:00am to get in the fields by 6:00am and work all day detasseling corn. It is hard, dirty, and tiring work. But it was well worth it when it came time to buy school clothes in the fall. I would make a grand total of $300-500 each of the four summers I did this. That could buy you a couple of super cool Esprit sweaters, some rocking Jordache jeans, and a hip pair of Reeboks.

Once I was fully supporting myself in my twenties, I still loved clothes, but my budget was limited. That taught me to shop for sales. So I learned to bargain hunt at places like TJ Maxx and Marshalls. But those stores can play a siren song. Invariably I would find something that I really liked, but it was in the wrong size. I would buy it. Or if something was a really good price — I would buy it. Always convincing myself that I was getting a good deal, and ultimately “saving” money.

When I got married, my budgeting concerns lessened, and my spending increased. Our son was born a year after we married and a new opportunity to buy clothes opened up. Baby clothes! If there’s one thing better than buying clothes for yourself, it’s buying baby clothes. Especially for your first baby. And then for your first baby girl. I ended up with a LOT of baby clothes. As my children outgrew their baby clothes, I donated, sold, and gave away loads, and loads of baby clothes. I have probably outfitted a dozen babies as a result. 

Which explains why I needed to fast from shopping for clothes. I thought about doing it for the 30 days which coincided with our church-wide media fast. But I knew that wouldn’t be long enough. I need a long, dry period to really dig up the reasons why I over-shop and to teach myself to appreciate and use the clothes I have.

I’m not the first person to go to such extremes. My friend, Grace Hwang Lynch, writes a blog called HapaMama. I got the idea of a clothing fast from her when she decided to go without buying clothes for one year. After an online search, I discovered there have been others who have braved these icy waters of self-denial.

Back in 2010, Eric Wilson wrote in The New York Times how one woman joined a clothing fast, called the Six Items Challenge,  which only allows you to wear 6 items of clothing for a month. She choose her six items carefully. At then end of her month-long abstinence… no one had noticed. Not even her husband.

Caroline Mayer wrote in Forbes about how she was inspired by three women who went on an all-day shopping binge. One of the women was so exhausted at the end of the day, she ended up suggesting to her friends that they abstain from shopping for a year. Surprisingly, they all agreed to no new clothing or accessory purchases for a year. Exceptions included underwear, or necessities like a new pair of sneakers to replace worn-out ones, or clothing for a special event.

These women were motivated by a desire to spend less. Others have organized clothing fasts for additional altruistic reasons. Labor Behind the Label is motivated by a desire to educate consumers about abuses in the garment industry and help protect these workers. Lucy Siegel writes about the impact that mass production and global transportation of increasingly cheap clothing has on the environment in To Die for: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?Elizabeth L. Cline continues that theme in Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.

What motivated me was a desire to break free from my addiction in order to help save our family money and make healthier choices for spending my time. Time I would have spent shopping in-store or online has turned into time for writing. I have also been forced to be more creative and focused on using the clothes I do have, along with borrowing clothes for special events.

I confess, I’ve had a few moments of weakness. Last week, I had a minor panic attack when I ran into a pair of Frye boots that were 40% off. I immediately began to try to find a loophole in my fasting rules. Luckily when I tried them on, they didn’t fit and disaster was averted. But for the most part, knowing I don’t have the option of shopping, allows me to delete my daily sale emails and keeps me out of the stores. I’m happy to report that so far I haven’t felt deprived, I love the extra time I have, and the freedom from my compulsion.

As a reward for my efforts, I am traveling to Scotland this summer with my mom to visit my younger sister. A reward well worth the sacrifice.

 

If you think you’d like to join in the fun of clothing diet, you’re in luck! There’s a Six Items Challenge starting next week that runs Feb 18-Apr 4. Or you can check out the book The Shopping Diet by Phillip Bloch. He delves into the reasoning behind shopping addiction and offers up helpful solutions.

 

But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting. Psalm 35:13

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