Lessons from a year without buying new clothing

In this year aside from partaking in the 333 challenge I decided to commit to not buying any new item of clothing, including second-hand clothing, shoes, bags etc, in 2018. One reason was to become more mindful of my spending and my consumption. On average Germans purchase up to 60 pieces of clothing a year per person (adding up to about 10 kg of clothing, consumers in the USA about 16 kg and Africa about 2 Kg per person per year), while sorting out over a million ton of clothing per year, with the average person throwing away (not donating or recycling) about 32 kg in textiles per year. Secondly most of the clothing we buy is being produced under horrendous working conditions for those making them- have a look at The True Cost. And then there is the impact on our environment: the production, transport and usage (washing,ironing etc) of our clothing leads to the release of over 850 metric tons of CO2 per year; it takes 715 gallons of water (roughly 2700 liters) to produce the cotton for one t-shirt, that is without the extra water for production, dying etc. just to name two examples. 

I am not going on a crusade and saying we should all stop buying clothing and should go back to the stone age, but we should all be more mindful about the impact of our consumption not only on our wallet but also for others. I think a year without buying clothing is a good step in that direction!

Here are a few things I have learnt:

Ok I should start with some honesty … the title should really be “a year buying less clothing”: I cheated and bought three pairs of socks to replace those that had too many holes to be repaired, and a pair of thermos leggings and a long sleeve top at a festival for which I had packed far too little warm clothing. Nonetheless the lessons learnt remain the same and have added an extra lesson.

Proper planning helps against unnecessary buys:I guess the one lesson learnt from the above mentioned (the socks not included) is that proper planning would have saved me from unnecessary buys. I have enough warm clothing at home, and should have just packed extra for the cold and rain. The same goes for any other kind of trip: thinking about and accounting for all possible scenarios helps us from buying duplicates because we have forgotten something at home.

Sharing is caring: An argument against such an experimentthat comes up every now and again is the possibility of needing something we don’t already own. And while such situations do arise, generally someone we know has the thing we need. In Germany we have the concept of “Umsonstläden”: basically free stores to which you can go and take up to three items you need for free, which are all in good condition. Another is “Kleidertauschparties” which are parties to which you bring two to three pieces you have sorted out and someone else gets to take them home if they want- and someone else might just have what you need. So go ahead and ask around– you don’t need to buy something new just for that one occasion.

The pull of advertisement: I never thought advertisement had such a huge pull on me, until this year. A pop-up add here and suddenly I am scrolling through an online shop I have never heard of because I “just wanted to have a quick look at that gorgeous dress” or going into a store because of an eye-catching window display. It also showed me how susceptible I am to impulse buys (even though I considered myself to be fairly responsible), seeing a top and thinking it would be perfect for situation xyz, I often had to remind myself of the challenge, as well as asking do I really need this?

Wanting is not needing: away from advertising but still within the topic, wanting things and actually needing them are two very different things, even if advertising would like us to believe differently. The year helped me to find out what I am actually missing in my wardrobe or really needs to be replaced because it is beyond repair. There are a few questions I keep coming back to and they might just help you:

  • Do I really need this?
  • Do I already own something similar that could also serve this purpose?
  • Would it really add a benefit to my life and does this out way its maintenance cost etc.?

Things can be repaired: so this one I thought would be an obvious one, and something I have been practicing before this year, but the amount of posts/ articles I have read about spending this one year running around with holes in the wrong places have left me more than astonished. Not buying new things doesn’t mean the old cannot be fixed! For one this mentality describes a society in which we rather just throw away the things that are broken and buy new things, and secondly,we no longer learn how to fix things or that we even should. Now I am not saying we all need to become wizzes at fixing clothing and shoes, and luckily for those of us who feel we just don’t have the talent, there are people willing to do it for us- for a reasonable price and often for less than we would pay for a new item. Go find out where your local seamstress and shoe repair servicesare! They have saved many a pair of shoes and jeans for me!

Less stress and time saved: so I know many enjoy going shopping, I really don’t. I find it too crowded and too loud, then there is the queue for the changing room, the things don’t fit and then there is that unflattering light. If you opt for online shopping you have to order different sizes and send back the things you don’t like, which is often more than you actually keep… So in this year I didn’t have all these stress factors and as an added bonus I saved time to do things I enjoy more- such as write.

I also stopped feeling like I didn’t have enough to wear or the pressure of there is a special event coming up and I need to buy something extra special just for that particular event.

Clothing as an investment: in this year I have realised I am willing to spend more money on clothing that lasts longer and is produced fairly (there are quite a few brands that produce fair trade clothing and are worth looking in to). I also started taking better care of my clothing because it was no longer quickly replaceable.

I don’t maximize my closet: after the 333 challenge I reduced my wardrobe but still I don’t use everything in it regularly, in the case of my ball gown it makes sense, it would be slightly overkill for university, but when it comes to skirts, blouses etc. there is definitely room for a further reduction- so even less rather than more.

As this year grows to an end I recommend trying the challenge in the coming year (which is a scary two weeks away)! It is a great way to reduce consumption, save money (unless you start spending it on books instead like me), have more time to do other things, spend less time stressing out about what to wear and make a positive impact!

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