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