Yes You Can Go a Year Without Buying Clothes! I Did It And So Can You

Think about new outfit ideas when you’re bored?
Only feel calm and clear-headed when you’re at the mall?
Envision clothing items before you’ve seen them at a store?
Dream about manicures that will match your outfits?
Buy items that you never end up wearing?

You, like me, have a clothes addiction and would like some help putting the kibosh on your most expensive and time-consuming habit/hobby.

It is working for me, and it will work for you.

1. Don’t give up shopping immediately. It could take you months to prepare for this. First, give up clothes for a period of time that’s unnatural for you. Last year I gave up shopping for Lent. Forty days was a stretch for me, but I did it. A week after Easter I made up for the lost time, but I’d restored my confidence in my own willpower.


2. Clean your closet. If you do this right, it will take you several hours or even a whole weekend. You have to look at—and even try on—every item you own. You have to match each top with several different bottoms, and vice versa.

Find the items that match nothing. Are these items meaningless, regrettable impulse buys? If so, pack them in a bag for your cute little cousin or the local goodwill. Are these unmatched items well-thought-through purchases that you’d wear every week if only you had the right shoes/pants/cardigans to go with them? If so, make a list of items you need to complement your unused pieces. When I did this activity, I found that my whole fall wardrobe would be more tenable if only I owned a pair of brown ballet flats. Easy.


3. Consider a year in your life. What outfits are you going to need? If you give up shopping in May, but you have three weddings to attend in July and you don’t own a fancy summer dress, you will fail at this. If you can wear jeans to work but you don’t own a pair of jeans you love, you will be miserable. Make a list of the things you need and stick to your list. Do not make an extravagant list. When you go to the store to buy the items on your list, do not give in to whims. Do not treat yourself to an extra. The list is it. This is your first test.


4. Draw up the rules of your game. Try to be as extreme as possibly with your rules. If you give up buying clothes but not accessories, you’re on a slippery slope. If you give up buying clothes in your home city but you’re allowed to buy things when you travel, you’re going to have sad vacation bills. If this is the year you’re honeymooning in Italy, this is not a good year to give up shopping. Wait until you get home from Italy.

My rules are pretty simple: I’m not allowed to buy any new clothes for any reason for 12 months. In an emergency (such as: The airline has lost my luggage for the first four days of my trip) I can make an exception, but I have to attempt to solve my problem at a used clothing store. I also have one free pass for myself: I can spend a delightful day consignment shopping with a friend if the opportunity comes up naturally. It hasn’t so far, and I’m six months in to this challenge.


5. Don’t give yourself a free pass on shoes. You have to give up shoes too. Sorry.


6. Don’t give yourself a free pass on accessories. What isn’t an accessory?

7. Confess your plan to people who love you and see you often.
These people are going to hold you accountable. Put together a list of clothes-loving coworkers and friends and email them (all on the same email, even if they don’t know each other. Do not bcc them.) on your start date. Your friends won’t ask you to go on superfluous shopping trips anymore, and your coworkers will know your wardrobe well enough to sniff out a slip-up. My mom got me a beautiful yellow cardigan for my birthday. The day I wore it to work, my boss started asking about the new sweater before she even said hello. According to my rules, I’m allowed to accept gifts.


8. Hope and pray that your mom or aunt or someone takes pity on you and buys you something. But do not ask for anything. Don’t even hint.


9. Keep a running list of the things you want. The moment a clothing vision comes in to your head, write it down. Some interesting patterns will emerge. I found out that I really want to buy clothes the day before I’m traveling somewhere, whether for work or pleasure. I also get cravings for brightly colored socks.


10. Keep a running list of things you already have. And I don’t mean clothes. You have friends; you have access to a community exercise class; you have a library card; a local museum is free on Wednesday nights. All of these things will fill the void when you stop shopping. Because the thing is—and this aspect of the project surprised me—there is no reason to pop into a store for minute if you know you can’t buy anything. I envisioned myself shopping just as often, but not bringing anything home. Instead, I’ve almost completely stopped looking in stores.


11. Call your sponsor. If you do breeze through your favorite store in the coldest month of the year to find a gorgeous spring collection, and find that your mouth is actually watering, call up one of those friends. Okay, you’ve confessed your temptation. Now go home.


My year is up September 23rd 2013. When is yours?

Alexa Mills lives in Boston.


53 Comments / Post A Comment

Megano! (#124)


This is most definitely a sign I have a problem, isn’t it?

After an extravagant holiday over Christmas, I told my husband I was only going to buy new clothes if they were replacing old clothes…i.e. if my jeans got a hole in them, I was allowed new jeans. I put this in place for the first three months of the year, which is nearly up.

It’s REALLY hard. And I didn’t count shoes. Or accessories.

You have my respect!

loren smith (#2,300)

@Hayley Judd@twitter
Yes! I’m trying to half heartedly convince myself that low heeled suede ankle boots are a replacement for my durable oxfords, because I want ankle boots for no real reason… What is it with clothes! My husband goes to the Gap outlet once a year and is set while I find something new I want basically every single day, I don’t get it.

loren smith (#2,300)

@loren smith Well, academically, I do *get it* but still….. maybe it is an addiction.

@loren smith Yes! Why have I lived 29 years without owning a white peplum top, but now I’m convinced that if I don’t get one immediately I will have literally nothing to wear all summer? What’s wrong with me?

loren smith (#2,300)

@Hayley Judd@twitter Why can’t I be happy with one pair of work jeans, three identical dress pants, eight dress shirts and a drawer full of tee shirts!

sea ermine (#122)

This would be so very easy if I stopped not fitting into my clothes! I don’t think I’ve bought clothes or shoes or accessories for fun since…like 5 years ago. But for for years my weight went up and down like a yoyo (but when I lost weight it was never enough to fit into my old smaller clothes, so I had to constantly replace) and then after that I’ve had constant problems with clothes shrinking. I’ll dry everything on low or delicate and they still come out half wet half dry and shrunk.

I’ve finally got enough semi well fitting clothes to carry me through a week or two without laundry but if I didn’t have so many issues that left me with nothing to wear I would probably buy clothes once every couple years, just to replace what fell apart.

olivia (#1,618)

@seaermine Don’t put anything in the dryer except underwear and socks and pajamas. Hang dry it all and then steam it with a handheld steamer (Samsung makes a great cheap travel steamer that I use) or fluff it in the dryer if you have to.

Aside from shrinkage, dryers destroy your clothes because the heat breaks down the fibers. Also, don’t wash your clothes unless they’re actually dirty or stinky. My clothes always look brand new for YEARS because I basically never wash any of it, but if I do, I wash it on cold and then hang dry it.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@olivia Please teach me how to steam. I got one for Christmas and every time my clothes end up looking exactly the same as when I started and then I get frustrated and give up.

sea ermine (#122)

@olivia This is one of those situation where I know that drying my clothes is bad and that I should hang them (although, I once had a dress shrink after I washed it on cold and then hung it to dry, thanks forever 21) but my apartment is too small for me to hang all my clothes unless I do laundry every other day (I have a drying rack that fits my most delicate stuff though, and I hand wash things I’ve made myself and also bras and hang them there too). And that doesn’t even count drying my duvet covers, which also shrink and are massive and I don’t even know what I’d hang them over.

How do you hang your clothes? I’d really like a line dryer but I’m not allowed to put nails in the walls and my fold out drying rack fits like 10 items and since I share it with my boyfriend (there is only room for one drying rack) I don’t know where else to hang things (I can fit maybe two other garments over closet doors but that’s it)

What I’ve been doing this year (and what seems to be working) is buying everything one size big and then just letting it shrink down.

@bgprincipessa my issue with my steamer when I first got it was that I never let it heat up long enough. Now I plug it in when I get in the shower, and by the time I’m out it’s nice and steamy. I’ll put my item to be steamed on a hanger, hang it so it’s flat against my scarves (hanging from a rod on the back of my closet door), and steam it that way. This helps the clothes have a little bit of a surface behind them for some structure.

Steaming > ironing.

@seaermine Do you have a bathtub? Our collapsible drying rack fits perfectly in ours – I just move it out when I want to shower and move it back in when I’m done. Obviously the dampness makes the clothes take longer to dry, but they’re not in the way while they’re doing it.

olivia (#1,618)

@bgprincipessa You need a steamer that gets really hot, and this only works on more delicate fabrics. So if you have a crisp button up, you just have to iron it. But if it’s silk or rayon or a lightweight cotton or a jersey knit, you can steam it. I hang the item and then slowly run the steamer up and down the garment. This is the steamer I use and it works like a charm:

I realize I said it was Samsung earlier, but it’s Samsonite-sorry!

Once I have room for one, I plan to get an industrial steamer like they use in retail stores. Jiffy is the brand that makes those.

olivia (#1,618)

@seaermine I hang my clothes on a collapsible drying rack like this:

I have 2 and I keep them in our basement, but they fit nicely between the fridge and wall too. It isn’t pictured folded up but they fold up to be pretty small and flat. They could go under a bed too.

Also I almost NEVER wash my clothes, seriously. It ruins them and I’m not super sweaty so it’s not a big issue. I wash them more often in the summer but in the winter I’ll wear a shirt 5-10 times before I wash it as long as I don’t pit it out or spill something on it that can’t come off by using a wet paper towel and soap.

I also have some clothes I’ve literally never washed, like my black jeans. They stay black forever if you don’t wash or dry them.

chic noir (#713)

@olivia – if you use the Woolite for dark clothes on the gentle cycle, cold water , your black jeans will stay Black forever.

cryptolect (#1,135)

I could do this with new clothes, but not vintage. Whenever I see a cute vintage dress, I imagine the shrinking supply of good 60s-70s vintage out there, and I panic and snap it up. This is also why the “one in, one out” technique doesn’t work for me…

On the other hand, I haven’t bought a brand-new pair of pants in over three years.

@cryptolect See, I’m the same. I read with interest up to the “used clothes are ok” loophole, because used clothes *are* my weakness. The Gap has basically nothing for me…instead I buy a half-suitcase full of whatever’s at the local Goodwill whenever I go out of town.

@cryptolect Oh my god, I never even thought about it as a finite supply. What am I going to do for decades of my life without sixties dresses??

@cryptolect Oh yes I’m the same way. My new clothes are cycled out (consigned or donated) pretty regularly but I still have vtg dresses I bought when I was 15! It’s a bit out of control since my work consists of sitting in front of a computer all day with an etsy tab open so I made a rule not to buy any more clothes online. And since I never have time to hit my favourite vtg and thrift shops since I work CONSTANTLY, I’ve ended up buying far less dresses than before. I do miss getting mail though!

Smallison (#155)

How do you feel about tailoring? I’m trying to buy as little as possible (although I did allow myself to get a few pieces with my tax refund), but I’ve got a few things in my closet that would work much better if say, they were three-quarter sleeved. I haven’t taken them in yet, but I’d be interested if you allow this sort of thing for yourself.

BananaPeel (#1,555)

@Smallison I’m not the OP but in my mind, repairing or tailoring existing clothing is perfectly in the spirit of not spending needlessly. I just researched Rit dye to re-dye my (faded) favorite Gap black pants instead of buying a new pair.

BananaPeel (#1,555)

@BananaPeel See also: taking shoes to a cobbler for a new sole/heel.

Smallison (#155)

@BananaPeel Agreed. I’m trying to more of this myself (I’ve been fixing holes in a lot of my clothes for years, but that’s the extent of my tailoring skills). I need to just do it! I’ve been wanting to dye things, too. Did you use your washing machine to do it?

BananaPeel (#1,555)

@Smallison I have not yet done it but I think you can use your washing machine. I’m not going to though, because I rent and I’m worried about stains. I think I am just going to use a mop bucket. This post was pretty instructive:

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

Good for you – sounds like you felt like this was a problem for you and you are taking active steps to solve it. Excellent will power!

I couldn’t see myself ever doing this. Given at least 2/3 of my wardrobe is second hand, and clothing is a way for me to bring back a souvenier I’ll use from a trip (wearing my Egypt dress to Texas next week!), I just can’t see my love of clothes and shopping as a problem.

Though I totally second trying everything on and giving things away – just got rid of three full to the brim contractor garbage bags of clothes. Now almost everything fits in my closet, and almost everything fits me or is worth getting tailored. And I made a few friends very happy by giving them the best of the cast offs.

Marissa (#467)

I’m excited to see this piece here because it’s one of my New Year’s resolutions. I’m only allowing myself to replace my basic black flats if they blow out (I live in a city and walk almost everywhere–shoes are like my tires), and a pair of jeans when the pair I currently have on finally unravels. I did pick up a few great things at a clothing swap last month which felt like shopping but without spending money.

I think I used to go shopping if I was bored or had a week where I thought I had nothing to wear. After a massive closet purge, however, I realized that when I thought I didn’t have anything to wear, I actually had *too much* to wear. So many options made it so hard to settle on an outfit.

So far so good! No sudden urges to pop into H&M.

EM (#1,012)

@Marissa “shoes are like my tires” – holla

@Marissa I second the too much to wear – now that I have about 20% of what I used to have, I feel so much more put together because I can actually see what I’ve got. And it forces me to get a little more creative with the things I already have instead of just buying something new because I’m tired of wearing the same outfit all the time.

EM (#1,012)

This is probably not a helpful piece of advice but I found that once I started a habit of leaving new purchases in the bag for a few days or a week and then taking them out and contemplating them, about 3/4 of the time I ended up returning whatever I bought, and the rest of the time I felt really good about keeping it. The cooling off period and then contemplating it away from the store and the pressure from salespeople in the harsh light of your own closet is a good reality check.

This works if you buy from somewhere with a return policy (not a stupid exchange/store credit policy), and is also obviously sort of a waste of time, but seriously cut down on regrettable purchases.

BananaPeel (#1,555)

@Michelle SUCH a good practice! I will often buy things with the expectation that there is a 50% chance I will return them once I try them on again at home — that way I don’t feel obligated to keep something it turns out I don’t really love. There’s a DSW bag at home that is headed back this weekend :)

rorow (#1,665)

this is SUCH a great idea. i am in for the challenge, especially because i am trying to save for a BIG LIFE CHANGE. i am going to set my start date as April 22nd, because by then i will have had time for steps 2-4. i am only going to do it until the end of October though, because i’m hoping BIG LIFE CHANGE will happen then which will require a massive purge and potential acquisitions.

praying for gift cards already.

Ahhh! I’m so happy you posted this – I put myself on a shopping ban right before Christmas. I am DEFINITELY a stress shopper, went to clean out my closet and ended up giving 6 garbage bags of stuff to Goodwill. A lot of it was new with tags, and now I can’t even picture ONE thing that I gave away.

I, too, gave myself rules (and shared them with my boyfriend in case I tried to break them):

1) NOTHING – no jewelry, no shoes, no bags, no “it’s 30% and you always need a black cardigan!” exceptions

2) When I feel like I’m about to crack, I go through my makeup bag or my toiletries and see what needs to be replaced soon. Then I go to Sephora or CVS and buy that. So far this has only happened twice.

3) I’m going to Italy for 10 days this summer. I’m bringing $500 “fun money” that I’ve been saving up. I’ll let myself use that money and NO MORE for jewelry, clothes, shoes, etc. A lot of this money is money I saved by NOT impluse buying things off the internet.

4) I unsubscribed from all of my retail emails – too much temptation and they make it SO easy to buy things!

Ever since I gave so much stuff away and pared down my closet, I’ve been feeling SO much more put together because I can actually see what I’ve got and store things in a way that doesn’t crumple them as much. Once I get my summer things out of the space bags under my bed, I think I’m going to do another purge.

And I just realized – today is my 4-month no shopping anniversary! Hopefully I’ll make it to December 20.

Beezus (#1,007)

I have a similar challenge for myself for this year: Buy no books. No books! Do you know how many books I bought last year?? Neither do I, but I do know it was a lot. It feels like a smart, healthy thing to do, so I have never kept track of my spending on books ever, at all. And now, it’s so easy to download them onto my Kindle – it removes the feeling of purchasing, of spending actual money. It’s just, look, a book has magically appeared!

I counted it all up, and I currently own 35 books that I have not read. WHAT. That is ridiculous. And that is only physical books – I know there are a few on my Kindle I impulsively bought but haven’t read, either. So this year, I’ve decided I’m going to read ALL of them, and sell or give away the physical books I just really don’t care to read. I’ve also been frequenting the library much more regularly.

And so far, it’s working out GREAT, you guys! I’ve been keeping track since the start of the year, and I’ve already read 10 books. FOR NO DOLLARS. Absolutely NO DOLLARS.

And I’m still reading great books! I just finished Emma Forrest’s “Your Voice in My Head” (oh god so great, just so great) and this morning I got an email from the Seattle library telling me that both non-“Gone Girl” Gillian Flynn books are available to download, so that will keep me busy for a few days.

Cup of T (#2,533)

@Beezus Books! You sound like the best kind of addict ;)
Happy reading!

Flora Poste (#2,586)

@Beezus You should read Susan Hill’s book “Howards End is on the Landing: A year of reading from home”, she does exactly that!

Beezus (#1,007)

@Flora Poste Oh, cool! Just requested from the library – AND discovered that Karen Russell’s “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” is on hold for me! I was actually going to break my no-books-bought-in-2013 thing and buy this tomorrow, as a birthday present to myself. (I’m turning 28!) And now I don’t have to! Amazing.

cryptolect (#1,135)

@Beezus I don’t have a Kindle, but apparently you can get any public domain books for free. Does that count? Also, does something like Bookmooch count?

Cup of T (#2,533)

Hot tip for people who don’t want to accumulate anything, like at all: move all the damn time and be forced to physically carry everything you own with you. I’ve been living out of a large suitcase for the last year and half (with the occasional switching out of items when my boyfriend comes to visit/I go there) and while it’s tough to have to constantly say to myself “no, I can’t buy x, my suitcase barely closes as it is” it’s been very effective in limiting my purchases.

That said, as soon as I get to stay in one place for longer than a few months I will be nesting like craaaazy! I’m embarassed to admit how much time I spend looking at rugs, bookshelves etc. for a future apartment.

EM (#1,012)

@Cup of T YES. I moved six times in three years and it made me really unsentimental about giving stuff away.

LaurenIpsum (#3,413)

Selling some items that still have value and are in good shape on Ebay is a great way to bring in a little income and clean out your closet. That way, if you, say, sell 5 items, you can maybe use that money to invest in 1 piece that will bring out the best in the rest of your wardrobe. And the practice of evaluating your closet, which you need to do to figure out what you want to sell, is helpful for figuring out what you have enough of and what pieces you should invest in next.

blair (#1,962)

Not tryna brag or nothing, but I have literally NEVER had this problem–shopping for clothes used to make so me RACKED (get it) with guilt that I only ever bought secondhand things and as a result always looked just a bit ratty and ill-fitted.

Nowadays (as in, the days where I have a salary), I’m trying to the OPPOSITE: train myself that yes, it’s okay to buy sensible (or even expensive) pieces to built a wardrobe, you are not being wasteful, you cannot go to work naked, you deserve clothes that have never been worn on a stranger’s body, etc. It’s harder than it sounds…I am currently grilling my conscience over whether or not to buy a pair of pants on super-duper sale at J. Crew for the whopping total of forty bucks.

Catface (#1,106)

@blair Buy the pants. You are not being wasteful. $40 for pants you love at J. Crew will not happen very often, trust me. And if you take care of them (seconding everything up above about washing as infrequently as possible, drying racks, etc.) they will last for years.

honey cowl (#1,510)

I hate shopping. It is the worst. Therefore I do not have this problem. Good luck Alexa, your one year sounds like basically my whole life! You can do it, it’s not that hard!

kellyography (#250)

@honey cowl Ditto. I used to love it when I was in high school, and wonder why my mom hated it so much. Now that my mom and I are the same shape, I get it. Trying on clothes makes my soul cry.

msmuses (#1,935)

Ugh, I read something somewhere about how clothes should only take up less than 10% of your net monthly income and it depressed me (although I am trying to abide by that rule). It’s not that I’m a shopaholic, it’s just that I’m underpaid!

BananaPeel (#1,555)

@maddog I recently read 4% (in a magazine, I think, which means it was probably a fashion magazine!) and that seems barely workable if you have to dress up for work.

gidge (#601)

I have done this! Not for a year, but for a long enough time to break me of my insane shopping habit. Two things that really helped me:

I hit UNSUBSCRIBE every time a shopping email came into my inbox. Gilt Group? Unsubscribe. J.Crew? Unsubscribe. Hautelook? Unsubscribe. Etc, etc, etc. I also would immediately put new catalogs into the recycling bin and try to unsubscribe from them, as well.
If you have any store credits cards, take them out of your wallet and leave them at home. I had a Banana Republic card, and I stuck it on a shelf. If I passed BR and wanted to go in, I would say “Come back with your card so you can get the discount” and by the time I was home the temptation had passed.
Also, I did a mega closet clean out and consigned quite a few clothes. Instead of taking cash, I took credit at the consignment boutique. This meant I had a few guilt-free cheats where I picked up a new top or shoes because I had the credit stored up there.
Happy non-shopping!

CaddyFdot (#2,686)

If you need a little visual display of your achievement, try It lets you set up a chain for each habit you want to track (like “Did not buy clothes,” “Flossed teeth,” or in my case “Did not order pizza”) and then you check off every day you succeed in maintaining the habit. It gives you both the number of your longest chain and most recent chain, and you can scroll down the whole length to see the successful days displayed in bright colors.

I started more than a month ago and have had NO pizza, and had gone three weeks without purchasing clothes until I had to acknowledge my weight gain with a couple new bras and jeans (and then bought new sweaters and shoes to make myself feel better about needing bigger bras and jeans).

kellyography (#250)

@CaddyFdot Oh my god, not having pizza is really difficult for me, too. It is my favorite thing. So once a month, I let myself order a pan pizza from Domino’s, and eat pizza for like three meals straight, and it is my favorite day of the month.

Sorting through your closet and re-evaluating your clothes is an excellent way to figure out your own shopping habits.

Having lots of cheap stuff I’ve never worn says to me that, NO, ten dollars is usually not a good price for something if it is so weird I will never wear it. My overflowing cabinet says that I am pretty obsessed with humorous t-shirts and fancy summer dresses, and I should probably cool off on that for a while.

Best-used items: the two thermal leggings that I wear almost every day of the week in the wintertime, my plain v-neck t-shirts, and both light-weight and heavy cardigans <3

Beaks (#3,488)

This might sound strange, but I’ve started laying out my outfits (including accessories) the night before (per UFYH’s un-f your morning posts), and I totally feel like I own twice as many clothes now. Taking time to pick out outfits at night when I’m not in a rush means I try new combinations and rotate in more clothes rather than grabbing the same two things in a mad rush out the door.

happy (#3,511)

I broke my shopping addiction by baking biscuits for my dog on the weekends. I tried baking for humans for a long time first but the stuff wasn’t edible. Dog treats only have around 3 ingredients so they’re harder to mess up.

My additions are:
Investing in a good hair iron/products. Shabby clothes aren’t so bad when you’ve got a salon quality hair style every day. My $150 titanium babybliss has served me well for the past 7 years.

Also, spend some dough on good facial care products. For $200 I can give myself a weekly 5-step facial at home for the cost of two annually at a salon.

Cheap fresh cut flowers by the kitchen sink where I spend 1-2 hours per day prepping food and cleaning also make me feel prettier for some reason.

Finally, when I feel poorly dressed, I smile and stand up straight. Doesn’t matter what you wear, how much you weigh, whatever, (according to Cosmo) this is an instant appearance booster (which i really need to work on…). I find myself doing this when I’m going into a restaurant or party in 10 year old sneakers and an overcoat…

A trick I’ve recommended to a few people now, and they all (seem to) like it: Whenever you’ve just washed clothes that go in a drawer, put them in the bottom of the drawer and move the clothes from the bottom of the drawer to the top. Also, make sure the clothes you have hung up in your closet that you haven’t worn in a while are plainly visible.

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