I recently moved (again). When I did, I sorted my clothing into piles of things to keep and things to donate or sell. Bags of the donate-or-sell clothes sat in a corner of my bedroom for a few months. Getting those bags out of that corner was my one thing to do for the month of January; doing so required committing to a block of time to rent a Zipcar. I finally booked one for a Saturday morning, figuring I’d sell what I thought was buyable at Buffalo Exchange, which has recently opened some locations in D.C., and take the rest to Goodwill. (I, while out drinking the night before, coerced a friend to go with me so that, in my thrashing, pathetic, hungover state the morning of, I wouldn’t cancel the Zipcar reservation. This is a thing I’ve done. I did not do it this time.)
Buffalo Exchange will schedule appointments, but I walked in; there was no wait. I carried one of those enormous blue plastic Ikea bags, full of clothes, from my apartment to the Zipcar and from the Zipcar to Buffalo Exchange. I piled everything onto the counter, and the buyer—who was nice and funny and repeatedly complimented my awesome taste in clothing, thereby assuaging my hangover—unfolded, stared at, and assigned prices to the dozens of items I brought in. What she didn’t deem a good fit could be donated to Martha’s Table, a D.C. charity.
I came in with about 50 items and Buffalo Exchange bought about 35. Most were from J. Crew. Some were from Madewell and American Apparel. A few were from Forever 21 or H&M. Nearly everything was very, very gently worn—if worn at all. Buffalo Exchange will buy your clothes for 30 percent cash or 50 percent store credit; if your cash value exceeds $100, you get a check. I got a check for $153. This means that Buffalo Exchange will resell the clothes it bought from me for $512 total.
I wish I had taken better notes of how the buyer priced things (I asked her if she could print me an itemized list, but Buffalo Exchange doesn’t provide such information unless your clothes are consigned). What the buyer assessed things to be worth seemed to correspond loosely with brand cache, seasonality, and her personal knowledge of trends. A new-with-tags neon-pink J. Crew shirtdress was deemed sellable for $42, and a Saint James tee was $17. A Land’s End Canvas windbreaker was worth $27, and a Martin & Osa peacoat was $19.
“I’m not supposed to take sweaters because we have so many of them, but this is just so fucking cute,” the buyer said, holding up a loose-knit BCBG sweater with cropped sleeves. I cringed. I had toted the sweater through five or six moves, but never wore it. My mom, who rarely bought me clothes, sprung for it; in high school, there were moments (admittedly selfish, misguided ones) when I wanted nothing more than for her to take me shopping.
“I’m going to take this blouse for $12,” the buyer, onto the next one, said. “So do you, like, just buy clothes and not wear them?”
With the exception of the aforementioned, emotionally wrought sweater, nearly everything I brought to Buffalo Exchange had sat untouched in my dresser. I’m horrified, but not surprised, by my tendencies. I know that clothes are my material weakness, but I don’t really know why. There’s certainly no practical reason: I’ve worked jobs without dress codes since I graduated college, and have adopted the practical uniform of boots, black jeans, T-shirt, and water- and windproof jacket that I need to appear as if I did not ride my bike somewhere. Regardless, I’ve bought a lot of clothes over the years, entirely new, as rewards for finishing projects, when I have extra cash, when I don’t have extra cash, because I can.
Selling my clothes was humiliating—I can’t even begin to calculate the amount of money I lost by buying things, rarely wearing them, then reselling them at a small percentage of what I paid for them in the first place—and a relief. I cleared out a corner of my bedroom and got paid for it. By getting paid for it, I actually understood my financial loss. Unlike tossing a black plastic bag into a Goodwill cart and driving away, watching Buffalo Exchange’s buyer tell me what my stuff was worth was an incentive to never again accumulate a pile of unworn clothing.
I’m not the first person to realize that a shopping ban is a net positive because it keeps you from throwing money into a void (and exceeding your dresser’s capacity). Not mindlessly adding things I might wear that might look good on me to my J. Crew Factory or Forever 21 or ASOS or Madewell basket, then clicking “check out,” is a significant challenge. And I don’t know how long I’ll do this: One of the two pairs of black pants I wear is starting to sag, and it’d be nice to have an extra pair of chamois shorts for bike touring in warmer weather.
But I’m keeping track of my progress through a chains.cc account—a site that helps you “stick to good habits and break bad ones.” Every night, I swipe the bar that says “not buying clothes” on my iPhone, and it tells me how many days in a row I’ve maintained the habit. I’m into the 40s now, and, for once, I’m wearing most of the stuff in my dresser—which I paid for.