Breaking Old Spending Habits: What I’ve Learned From Not Buying New Clothes for 6 Months (& Counting!)

How I got to this point

Before I dive in I think it’s important for me to give you a little backstory on how I got to this point of not buying any new clothes for over 6 months now. I say this because it wasn’t intentional. I know a lot of people set the intention not to buy any new clothes for X amount of time to save money, make an impact, or to just see what they learn – I just wanted to be clear that for me this wasn’t the case.

The last pieces of clothing I purchased for myself were:

  • my wedding dress (June 7)
  • a white sundress (June 10) to change into for dinner with our parents after our ceremony.
  • a cheap blue robe (June 20) to wear on my wedding day
  • about a month before those purchases I bought a cheap (under $20) basic black sweater from H&M

My shopping & spending background

For most of my teenage and early adult years I’ve been a shopper. I remember the days of roaming through the local mall in the evenings during middle school and buying things at Garage that I didn’t need, just because I could.

Throughout my undergrad I was pretty good. Yes, I shopped and probably had a Forever 21 delivery every other week, but I never spent beyond my means and I always had a decent amount of savings. Fast fashion exploded during this time so it was easy to buy cheap one off pieces for a night out and not think twice about it. So yes, I still made unnecessary purchases.

When I went to law school I had to take out a line of credit (school was almost $20,000/year + rent & living expenses) because I wouldn’t have been able to make it through without it. I had never been in debt and was terrified of using the line of credit for a few months. I was “good” for a few months and tried to stay within a budget and really contemplated the purchases I was making.

Soon enough law school got the best of me (and a lot of others). I started to spend more money on frivolous things to “treat myself”. Before I knew it my budget was out the window. I was treating my line of credit like it was free – something I always frowned upon and told myself I would never do!

By the time third year rolled around I was starting to think about how I would pay off all of this debt. I didn’t have a job lined up at the start of third year which was an added stress. Slowly (ever so slowly), I started to make more conscious choices. I say slowly because I was still spending WAY too much money on groceries and anything health related, but I was doing better with not buying unnecessary extras (including clothing) and thinking about things before I impulsively decided that I needed it.

Throughout late 2018 and early 2019 I knew that I’d be moving to Toronto and that I needed to save as much money as I could. I actually stopped buying things that I “loved”, unless they really would serve me and have a purpose in my life – random beautiful decorations I have no place for were out. I realized that the small efforts that I had been making over the past 1.5 years or so had really paid off and I was so proud of myself.

This might sound silly if you’ve always been “good”, haven’t spent beyond your means, or purchased impulsively. For someone who has though, this was a major breakthrough. I began really appreciating my purchases and when it came to clothes I stopped buying things I “liked” and only bought things I loved and knew I’d wear longterm. I was paying more for the pieces I bought, but they were pieces I loved and was willing to wear over and over again. My wardrobe got a little more basic, but also pretty versatile.

Before I knew it I had reverted to old (healthy) financial habits. I started playing games with myself about how long I could get my grocery bill each week. I started selling things on Kijiji & Shop and Swap. I was developing a more appreciative relationship with my money again.

So why did I stop shopping in June?

I wish I could say it was intentional – for the environment and the people that make our clothes – I really do. The truth is that it was purely for financial reasons, although I did start trying to shop more ethically as well. I haven’t had an income since the end of May, 2019, so my husband and I have been living on 1 income + we moved and got married during this time. Needless to say, new clothes haven’t been a priority. We have purchased a handful of new items for my husband that he needed, but nothing for me (no clothes, underwear, bras, bathing suits, socks – NOTHING!).

What have I learned?

So much.

Saving money is fun. I used to feel this way before law school. I loved saving money wherever I could and then I would let myself feel great when I decided to spend it. I’m learning to feel that way again. I don’t think it’s healthy to hoard money with a fear that you’re never going to get it back if you let it go. If you do that then you’re energetically closing yourself off to allowing that money come back to you. It’s all about the intention. It just feels good to have more control over my spending and brings me more joy when I do spend money.

I am more thoughtful about what I allow in my life with regards to both material items as well as experiences. I no longer buy things or do things to please others and I honour myself – do I really want this or am I buying it to fit a mold? Do I really want to go there and do x, y, z or am I just doing it because I don’t have other plans or to please someone?

My perspective has shifted. I no longer have the urge to buy everything in sight and I really contemplate how things fit into my life before making a purchase. The things that I do choose to bring into my home bring me more joy.

I don’t put pressure on myself to jump on all of the latest style trends and honestly I love it. I’ve decided that a lot of “trends” aren’t really for me. I’d rather buy pieces that I know I’ll wear for more than 2-6 months and that I will appreciate long term. I want the clothing I buy to feel like it’s a reflection of me and I often didn’t feel that way when I was wearing really trendy clothing. I don’t need the newest seasonal line of clothing to feel good. Turns out, I still do love some of the pieces that I bought last year.

More isn’t always better/less is more. It’s funny that the more clothes I owned the less of them I actually wore. I would open my closet and say “I have nothing to wear”. I was fully aware of how awful it was to be doing that when my closet and dresser drawers were quite literally overflowing. I realize that I felt I had nothing to wear because half of my wardrobe was made up of impulse buys or a one-off outfit – they weren’t items that truly reflected me.

Now I actually know what’s in my closet and I wear more of my clothes. I feel lighter & I don’t get overwhelmed when I open my closet – there is less mental clutter in my life.

I have so much more time for other things because I’m no longer spending hours each week online shopping and filling my cart with things I’ll probably never buy! I’m not missing out on anything!

So am I itching for a shopping spree?

Yes and no.

This is tricky to answer because part of me sometimes thinks about all of the things that I want to buy as soon as we have more disposable income: a new winter jacket & boots, some new sweaters and shirts, new sneakers, etc. The other part of me is content. I really don’t “need” too many new items as most of my clothes are in fine condition. The problem is that I have a lot of clothes from years and years ago that I don’t feel fit with this current version of myself. While there’s nothing wrong with the clothes and I still like them, I feel like I’ve energetically outgrown a lot of my wardrobe.

I got rid of boxes and boxes (seriously SO much) of clothing before we moved in July and only kept 1/3 (or less) of my wardrobe. There was nothing wrong with most of the clothes I parted with – lots even still had tags on them. If I could I would cut my current wardrobe in half and replace it with some staple items I would. I would love to go out and buy some new pieces that I feel reflect where I’m at now.

So I guess the answer is still yes and no. Do I want new clothes that reflect who I am today instead of who I was last year or two+ years ago? Yes. Am I dying to go shopping? No.

Key takeaways moving forward

This experience has been truly rewarding. While I wish I had more disposable income for a lot of reasons, I actually have learned to value this time on a tighter budget because I learned a lot of important lessons along the way and it’s also been a good experience for my husband and I to prioritize things as a team.

I feel like I’ve regained a lot of really healthy financial habits while also completely changing my relationship with clothing. Moving forward I will continue to be thoughtful with my purchases. I’ve learned the difference between something I want and won’t wear often versus something I want and will be a staple in my wardrobe. I can now tell the difference between an impulse buy and a purchase that will bring me joy longterm.

I’d be lying if I said I was going to only buy ethically sourced brands and that I’d never step foot in an H&M again. I don’t think anything needs to be an all or nothing approach. Will I try to buy from more ethically sourced brands, purchase quality pieces that are versatile and will last longer, and thrift? Absolutely. Will I still buy cheap basics from time to time at stores like H&M and Zara? Yes.

Would I recommend taking a shopping hiatus?

100% yes. I don’t think the things I’ve learned could have fully taken effect without actually going on a “no buy” streak. I’m not saying everyone should stop buying clothes for 6+ months. I think that it can be different for everyone and that 1 month might be realistic for someone that shops constantly and 3 months might be better for someone who just needs a little perspective shift. Also, setting a clothing budget per month could be just as effective!

Tips if you decide to quit shopping:

  • avoid going in shopping centers or places that you’ll feel the temptation to shop
  • get creative with what you have
  • borrow from friends or family for special events
  • do a clothing swap with friends
  • have a reason or motivation to keep it going
  • be realistic or bend the rules if you have to (ex: your winter coat breaks or gets stolen)
  • check how much you’ve spent on clothing in the last X amount of months and then put that amount away in savings for each month that you don’t buy new clothes – plan to do or buy something exciting with the month you’ve saved

Things you can to improve your money mindset & shopping habits without taking hiatus.

DECLUTTER. This might seem counterintuitive to get rid of clothing while you’re also trying to cut back on buying new items. Trust me, it’s not and it actually really helps. Go through your closet. Organize it so it has some sort of system that works for you. I like to organize by colour and type of item. All of my sweaters are in one area by colour, shirts in another and tees/tanks in another – they’re all organized by colour so I can easily sift through to find what I’m looking for. this method might not work for everyone – it just serves as an example.

Organizing your closet can serve many purposes:

  • you’re forced to recognize just how many pieces of clothing you have;
  • you will realize what you do and don’t wear regularly;
  • you can get sell or donate things that you don’t wear or no longer serve you;
  • you might find a lot of items you forgot you had or haven’t even worn yet;
  • etc!!!

Decluttering (getting rid of ) and organizing your closet and drawers brings so much clarity and can free up a lot of mental space. When you are going through this process try to part with as much as you can. A lot of people will struggle with this and that’s ok. When you hang things back up in your closet put the hanger on the rack the opposite way that you normally do – this way you can check back in a month or two to see what you’ve been wearing and what you haven’t thought twice about. This little trick will make it easier to part with items you haven’t worn because it’s proof that you don’t gravitate to it when you’re getting ready in the mornings. This means it’s time to move on. I find after the second or third time of going through my closet I become more and more willing to part with items that I initially wanted to hold on to. *Obviously if it’s seasonal clothing feel free to wait until that season to decide if you’re ready to let it go.

OH and get rid of things that don’t fit you anymore!!! Too big or too small, keeping them isn’t doing you any favours. If you lose or gain wait you can repurchase clothing accordingly, but holding on to them is only giving yourself permission to lose or gain the wait again (pregnancy clothing is different). Do yourself a favour and say bye bye to things that don’t fit or don’t make you feel your best. Clothing is meant to make us feel good and confident, not sad or upset. You can thank me later!

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