Curbing Consumption with a Clothing Fast

One way to curb your consumption and spending is to have a clothing fast! Here's how you can save money and get the most of your wardrobe, while simplifying your life!

Ever considered a clothing fast? You won’t want to miss Hilary’s story!

Guest Post by Hilary Kimes Bernstein

Until New Year’s Day 2013, retail therapy was one of my favorite pastimes.

If I was bored, I loved to window shop. If I was frustrated, I loved to window shop. If I was feeling depressed, I loved to window shop. If I had a rough day with my infant and toddler, I loved to window shop. (Notice a pattern?)

Typically my window shopping would lead to bargain shopping. If I happened to find a deal when I was out and about, I had a very hard time passing it up. As a result, I didn’t exercise self control when it came to shopping.

Granted, I never spent large amounts of money because I found great bargains. But all of the little amounts of money and possessions added up; a shirt here and a kitchen gadget there led to a home that was utterly filled with stuff.

It took a major move and the majority of our belongings being boxed away in storage for two years to open my eyes to my shopping tendencies.

As I moved box after box of our possessions into our new home, I realized how I had needlessly and thoughtlessly frittered away the money God had entrusted to my family on a bunch of rubbish. Sure, it was cute. And sure, it was affordable.

But it had absolutely no eternal value.

I knew I desperately needed to change. I wanted to be a good steward, and I had to reign in my spending habits, but I had no idea how to take any baby steps to curb my spending. So I stopped cold turkey.

Curbing Consumption with a Clothing Fast
Eight white T-shirts? I think I have enough.

Because I was a little scared of the outcome, I decided to wait to make it a New Year’s resolution. And, on New Year’s Day, I challenged myself to take three months and not buy any clothes for myself.

My typical weaknesses were thrift stores and clearance racks, so as a way to prevent temptation, I simply stopped going to stores – with the exception of the grocery store. Even then, I tried to cut back my grocery trips to once every three weeks because I quickly noticed my tendency to overspend on food deals.

When I was tempted to go shopping, I found something else to do. As a result, I saved gas money, got more accomplished at home, and cut out a lot of unnecessary spending.

Once the first three months were over, I knew I needed three more – my desire to shop without purpose still was strong. In this second three-month stint, I realized exactly what a hold shopping had on me. Instead of facing my problems or running to the Lord, I turned to retail outlets instead.

Did I miss having new clothes?

During the first six months of my fast, I didn’t even miss an influx of new wardrobe pieces; I  just missed the thrill of a good deal.

Because of my home’s modestly sized closets, I keep a season’s worth of clothing in my closet. I store the rest of my clothes – sorted by season – in big plastic totes in our basement. Since I’m changing up most of my outfits every three months, it’s hard to get bored with my wardrobe.

Curbing Consumption with a Clothing Fast

In the spring, when stores typically are filled with fresh colors and summer fashions, I did hold a clothing swap with a couple of my friends. Through that, I was able to freshen up my wardrobe while trading clothes I didn’t want anymore.

With the exception of the clothing swap, I didn’t bring any new clothes into our home – yet I still was able to find clothes I didn’t want and donate them. Even after keeping my same clothes and purging unwanted outfits, my closet and storage bins still are very full.

A nationwide epidemic

I’m not alone with my shopping habits. The shopping patterns of Americans contribute to debt and a lot of waste. Nationwide, 11.1 million tons of clothing are added to landfills every year – according to the National Resources Defense Council, the average American annually contributes 68 pounds of clothing to that total.

USA Today has reported that some communities have actually instituted the curbside pickup of textiles, so you can recycle your used clothing right along with your paper, plastic, and aluminum cans.

Remember, just because you can get a good deal, it doesn’t mean you should.

If you’d like to reduce the amount of clothing you purge, recycle your used clothes. This is easily done – pass them along to a friend or family member, participate in a clothing swap, or donate your clothes to collection sites like Goodwill. When you do buy clothing, look for well-made, timeless pieces, and buy used clothing from a thrift shop.

Curbing Consumption with a Clothing Fast

Where do I go from here?

Now that I’ve surpassed the nine-month mark in my clothing fast, I’m confident I can make twelve months.

At six months, I thought I’d end my fast – I was on vacation and stopped at a Goodwill with a phenomenal selection. There was only one major problem: when I was faced with racks and racks of clothing that looked like they would be perfect matches, I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything. All of my desire to shop was gone.

I couldn’t believe I finally broke the grip of shopping. Within a few weeks I did find an amazing deal on some wardrobe staples – 99 cents for a brand-new, name brand black T-shirt and white T-shirt – that I knew I would frequently wear. I spent the $1.98 and haven’t bought anything since that time – even in the back-to-school shopping push.

Finally I feel like I can make rational clothing decisions. I know what I need, what I don’t need, and I know that I don’t have to worry about going shopping unless I truly do need to make a purchase.

I’m thankful for the money saved – but more importantly I’m thankful I spent the better part of this year correcting my frame of mind.

Are you in control of your shopping habits, or do they control you? How have you managed the size and cost of your wardrobe? Have you ever considered a clothing fast?

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  1. I have the exact opposite issue. And I think I’m very weird because of it. I never buy any clothes. Well, not never. I bought a shirt last year to replace a shirt that had holes in it.

    Part of my problem is that I’m plus sized and it is hard to find stuff I like and that fits well. But the biggest problem is that I have a hard time spending my husbands money. After almost 15 years of marriage, I still feel like I’m using someone else’s money to buy stuff. Crazy, huh? And my husband does NOT say that or act like that, either!! It is simply me not being able to think of it as “our” money.

    Soooo glad that your fast has done so well for you!!!! Keep pressing on!!

  2. I personally never had a compulsive shopping problem – simply because I’ve always been on a tight budget and had to save for more essential things, from my student days to my first job and now as a stay at home mother. But I really don’t mean to judge, and I think it’s great you realised it and managed to change your habits. Who needs so many clothes, especially when the kids mess them up with their dirty hands all the time? 😉
    I just wanted to add that the reason people in America and Europe can afford all these cheap clothes is because they are manufactured in Asian countries by very poorly paid and overworked people, sometimes children who should be at school instead. You will all remember the tragedy that happened in Bangladesh recently, where hundreds of people died when the clothing factory they were working in collapsed on them. That’s the reality behind the cheap retail price we get on the other side of the world. With that in mind, let’s all re-think whether we really need all these “cheap” shirts, or shouldn’t we buy only a couple of high quality/expensive garments per year instead (ie that will last).
    And good point about the millions of tons of waste generated by all this. Complete shocking non sense.
    It’s time shopping habits change worldwide.

  3. I manage my wardrobe by only buying a couple times a year and only getting the things I need. My mother raised me in the habit of not buying too much frivolous stuff so clothes has never been a problem for me.

    However, I work in retail selling women’s clothes and I can’t tell you how many women tell me they have clothes hanging in their closet’s with the tags still on them, while buying new ones. It never ceases to shock me because I hardly ever got new clothes when I was younger, or even now as a sales associate. I always feel torn between the two because my job requires me to make a sale, but my lifestyle and personal opinion sometimes would rather tell a woman she doesn’t need to get three of the same shirt in different colors.

  4. I read somewhere that shopping can trigger the same endorphin response as chocolate and, urm, spousal enjoyment.
    I also spend too much. I’ve tried living by a cash budget but find this difficult as my credit cards are just too handy. Thankfully for us we’re able to pay off our credit card every month so interest has never become an issue. I find, when not overshopping for the kids, food is my next overshopping hot spot, with myself then coming in third, if I’ve managed to momentarily curb the other two.

  5. Thank you so much for writing this article!! You put into words the exact problem that I, too, struggle with, and helped me see it for what it really is. I didn’t think I had shopping “issues” because I only bought practical, inexpensive items, often used, and almost always deeply discounted on sale or clearance. But I was absolutely using shopping as therapy, and then even congratulating myself on “saving” so much money, all the while allowing my closets to overflow with clothing we didn’t really need. (I’m even more guilty of overindulging on purchases for my daughters, since I always have the added justification of needing to constantly update their entire wardrobes as they grow.) You have inspired me to take a cold, hard look at my spending habits, and to begin the long-avoided process of paring down our overabundant piles of Stuff. (I have the same issues with groceries, art supplies, kids toys, gardening, and home improvement items… sigh!) Thanks for illuminating a pathway out of all this waste and clutter — I think cold turkey may be my best hope for success as well! I will strive to be more mindful of my spending in general. Just because I COULD use something doesn’t mean I NEED it. Best wishes for your continued success in your own mindful pursuits! 🙂

  6. Yes! I used to be the same compulsive shopper and bargain hunter you said you were. I’d buy anything if it was a good deal. Rarely did I wear any of those things. When I started staying home with our daughter, I bought less because I didn’t need work clothes. There’s not much to do in our area so, as she got older, I used shopping as a way to get out of the house.

    I don’t know when my clothing buying hiatus started or even why, but it’s been so freeing and certainly helpful to our finances. My closet doesn’t stress me out anymore and I actually really enjoy trying to find ways to pair the clothes I already own into new outfits.

  7. Great article, just as I’m heading out to the thrift store for my son to get some jeans to be aware of the tiger within me wanting to look for bargains for myself.

  8. This was something I really needed to hear. Guilty, as charged! I’ve been doing better with passing up things “because they’re on clearance”. I had been justifying my purchases because I lost a ton of weight and nothing fit any more. But once I had the basics in my new size, I kept on adding, bit by bit. I absolutely love the idea of the clothing swap with friends! That could be such a fun day! Do it twice a year and it becomes a semi-annual event that you can all look forward to! Thank you so much!

  9. As my husband and I live on a very tight and strict budget. We don’t have the extra cash for luxury spending. We both have long term, full time jobs. My my so-called “shopping trips” are necessity only shopping, food, gas, livestock/animal feed, supplies. With the economy going the way it is I don’t see it getting any better.

  10. Moving in suitcases got me to kick the spending habit. My family have moved internationally three times in the past five years (with another move coming up soon) and every time I have to pack all our belongings into two suitcases each I purge my wardrobe and it forces me to keep it small. Whenever I want something I have to think, ‘Will I actually bring this with me when we leave?’ Sometimes the answer is ‘yes’ but it’s usually ‘no’ so I’ve had to give up my shopaholic ways. Good for your for realizing you needed to change when most people would just get another storage unit!

  11. I generally think of myself as a person who hates shopping – I sit on the bench with the old men while my husband shops 🙂 And now that I am home with my kids all the time I find very few excuses to buy clothes . . . plus my body keeps changing sizes. What’s up with that?? But, oh my goodness, do I have a weakness for kitchen gadgets! I always have a list of just a few more tools that I need. After boxing up a bunch of my kids’ toys I was thinking I really need to do this with my stuff as well. I wonder if the “If you haven’t used it in 6 months, pitch it” rule would work in the kitchen . . .

  12. I’m married to a spender who does a lot of what you describe here. Another point I would like to make is how shopping habits can put a lot of stress on a marriage as well. It can come down to issues of trust. The poor stewardship of money also steals money away from the rest of the family. It prevents debt repayment and depletes savings/prevents it altogether. I have lived through all of that. I also understand though that the real problem is the mindset. It’s a form of addiction and it’s something that is often taking the place of God.

  13. Great article! I especially like the comment about staying home and getting more done. When I have no money or my budget is tight, why go out and shop? Thanks!

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