Why I Gave Up Shopping for a Year (OR How I Identified the Problem in My Closet)
In April of this year, I made the commitment to go one full year without clothing shopping of any kind. WHY? Because I finally realized it was the problem with my closet.
For years, I have complained about my closet being too full, overcrowded, and ineffective because I still ended up with piles of clothes outside of my closet on the floor, dresser, and laundry basket that wouldn’t fit in the closet. I bemoaned the fact that I had clothes I didn’t even realize I had, and that I wasn’t wearing about seventy-five percent of what I had in my closet because I either didn’t like it, didn’t know I had it, or couldn’t get to it. It was that bad, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit it. However, after talking to friends, I realized that this was a very common situation. We all admitted that we had lots of clothes we never wore, but confessed that it felt scary to give them away because it felt like relinquishing our options, even if we weren’t using them.
It wasn’t until a church retreat in April with the theme of “living simply” that I realized that a radical way of dealing with my closet was possible. There was a panel of members who were finding creative ways to live more simply and less-consumingly. Thought-provoking ideas for sharing, reusing, and rethinking our resources were given. However, it wasn’t until a multi-generational conversation about why it is so hard to give up long-held-on-to possessions that someone told me about a young person that they knew who had decided to go a full year without buying any new clothes. After the year was over, they want back into their closet and gave away anything that they didn’t wear during that year.
I was instantly reminded of my own closet situation: what if I would get rid of everything I didn’t wear during the course of a year? The thought was scary, because it felt like I wouldn’t have much left. But a small part of me thought the idea sounded liberating. No more struggling in the dressing room with jean sizes, rushing through stores to find something “cute” to wear for that special occasion, or feeling guilty about all the unknown items lurking in my overcrowded closet. It was a challenge worth thinking about, but altogether, it felt a little too challenging to be realistic.
I went home that day and decided to take stock of my closet to see what I could give away to Goodwill or Salvation Army. As I started to sort through my closet, I realized again how many clothes I had that I was not wearing on a regular basis, mostly because I had many other items like them that I liked more. So why was I keeping them? I started to box up items that I felt comfortable giving away. After ending up filling three large boxes, I realized that I had a problem. I was putting too many new things into my closet without realizing what I already had or getting rid of what I no longer wanted. Suddenly the idea of not buying any new clothes for a year sounded challenging but worthwhile, not just because of the way it would transform my closet, but also for how it would transform my mindset and lifestyle. So I decided to take on the challenge.
It has been about three months so far, and surprisingly, it hasn’t been as challenging as I thought in these early months since I made the resolution. It has not been cause or a platform to criticize others who do buy new clothing, because it is something I’ve needed to come to terms to for myself after realizing my own situation. It has helped me to learn new things about myself and be a more mindful and creative user and re-user of my resources. I’ve realized that a reorganization of my closet was in order, and that alone has helped me to utilize more of the clothes I already own. I’ve also come to grips with the fact that I often equal new clothes with beauty and feeling good, rather than seeing it in acceptance of myself as beautiful. Finally, I’ve been reminded by others who I’ve shared my story with that this is a more realistic way to live for the rest of the world. Mindlessly buying new clothing is a luxury that I was taking for granted, that many others around the world (and in pockets of our own country) do not have. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2010 Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average American consumer unit (about 2.5 persons) spends $1,725 just for apparel each year. On average, someone in the third world makes less than $2 a day, which is about $730 or less of income a year (Source: Stanford University’s Social Entrepreneurship Startup 2003 research studies). Needless to say, I doubt that my previous way of life would be very viable or necessary for most other members of the world community.
I’m sure that as I continue to go through the next nine months of my no-shopping challenge, it will become more difficult and bring new temptations. However, for me, this is an important challenge of my self-will, view of what I truly “need”, and a chance to spend or save my money in more giving and necessary ways.