3 Months of NOT Buying Clothing, Shoes, and Accessories

January through March of this year I decided to do a bit of a shopping detox. I chose not to buy any clothing, shoes, or accessories for those three months. I was inspired by multiple friends doing similar things and I believe that many of them were inspired by Cait Flanders and her book (about not shopping for a YEAR). I haven’t read her book yet, though it’s on my list. But I didn’t let that stop me from setting my own mini detox challenge, and I thought I’d share with you how it went.

What was the goal?

Obviously there could be a LOT of reasons to do something like this, like saving money. But my goals were mainly to:
-Waste less time. I think I shop online as a form of avoiding other tasks (some people browse Facebook, I browse online stores).
-Identify items I might actually need. I had a theory that constant shopping meant I was never being very intentional, which I wanted to change.
-Appreciate and USE what I already have.
-Bonus points if I saved money, of course. 🙂

Probably the number one thing friends asked me about the experiment is, “Was it hard?” Which for me, I’d say yes and no. I think just like any detox, or times when you’re trying to change habits, there are moments where you mess up (or almost mess up) because you are simply in a habit and turn on that cruise control setting in your brain. And this definitely happened to me. I had multiple times, especially the first month, where I almost clicked over to a shopping site but then remembered my challenge. There was also one time I had pulled into a store parking lot, thinking I’d just kill a few minutes between two errands, and then realized I had no reason to go in the store because I was not shopping that month. Probably the toughest moment though was when a small business I follow online (they mostly sell T-shirts and apparel) was having a really great sale for Valentine’s and I REALLY wanted to buy this sweatshirt they have. I started to justify it in my mind thinking, “They’re a small business … I should support small businesses” and “I know their sourcing is environmentally friendly and I love that so I should support them.” And I do think these are two awesome reasons for me to buy from them normally, but I reminded myself it was only three months and it’s not like I don’t own a few good sweatshirts already.

So those were the hard parts. But I was also surprised how easy it was in some ways. This probably goes without saying, but as a 32-year-old woman who has not grown substantially in many years I have a pretty full wardrobe as far as having everything I NEED. I have always been fascinated by fashion, ever since I was in high school and buying Teen Vogue and trying to make similar outfits out of thrift store finds. I still love fashion! But in terms of items that I truly am in need of, well, I rarely have any. I did realize toward the beginning of month three that most of my bras were wearing out (I only have 2-3 I wear everyday and then two sports bras for working out). So I decided that would be the first thing I bought after I was done with my challenge.

Towards the end of March, I hosted a giant clothing exchange with my friends. I’ve done this for three years now and it’s always a lot of fun! It’s mostly a good excuse to clean out your closet and drink wine with friends, but it’s a bonus if you end up getting a few items that you love from it. And every year I get something (usually a few things) that I end up wearing a ton and love. This year, I was surprised to see that even though I hadn’t bought anything new in months, I still had plenty of items to swap at my annual clothing exchange. I guess this could make me feel a little embarrassed, but instead I’m choosing to thank the universe and just be super thankful for all I have—clothing and friends wise.

(Did that just get cheesy? Sorry, not sorry.)

Did I learn anything?

Yes! To be honest, it’s kind of hard to put it into words, but I really think even this small shopping detox helped to reshape my inner expectations a little. I feel like I appreciate more of what I have, I don’t feel as much “pressure” to shop (which is probably mostly self induced/just a habit I was in), and I think I better identify items I need but don’t always feel like I have to replace them right that second. I am more focused on shopping from businesses that are small, inspiring, and doing right by our planet. So although I don’t know if this experiment completely changed my life, I do think it had a super positive impact on me.

Five stars, would recommend. 🙂

Have you guys ever tried something like this? Just curious what you found out. Thanks for letting me share. xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photo edited with A Color Story Desktop.
  • Love these kind of challenges that help you grow and are good for your wallet too! I’m currently on a no-shop challenge in order to save money to go back to grad school – which also helps me from getting distracted when I should be studying!

  • This is such a good post, I love the idea. I find myself buying clothes more often at the minute as I’m losing weight, but when that evens out I think I will try something similar!

    LJ x

  • This is amazing, Emma! I’ve been decluttering my closet like crazy lately (why do I have so many brand new clothes I never wore, and will never wear?) and as soon as I’m done, I’m definitely going to go on a buying detox. At least a temporary one like you! I know I’ll benefit so much from it!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

  • I’m doing a challenge like this right now!! I’m not buying any clothes this year (which is a tough one!) because I’m trying to stretch my sewing skills and make the pieces I would have otherwise bought. It’s definitely a learning experience, not only in discovering what I can do or make myself, but also finding contentment with what I already have. There have been plenty of times I wanted to cave and buy a cute trendy top or a new pair of jeans, but I find that I’m learning to be more creative with the pieces I already own, and then devise ways to make or recreate pieces I see in stores or online with my sewing. I know it will take willpower to make it through the rest of the year, but so far, it’s been a good experience!

  • This summer I want to host another clothing swap event which was a huge success last time. Normally I try to buy only vintage or thrifted items anyways, which offers many benefits of course, but now I’m thinking about the larger purchases too. Now if I could just control myself at Target, that would be a miracle! 🙂

    http://Etsy.com/Shop/SouvenirAndSalvage

  • I think this is such a great idea! I recently started cutting back on my shopping and have been trying to re-style some old outfits. It’s definitely been easier to track my monthly expenses (ha!) and it feels *a lot* better having a closet that isn’t overflowing. It’s quite refreshing, actually!

  • Super post Emma! it is refreshing to see women realize that we don’t need to jump on the fashion train all the time but can shop our closets and create wonderful stuff from what we already have and love. And kudos to those who rework thrift finds and sewers who create one-of-a-kind items but home-sewers beware as the fabric store supplies can be just as addicting as clothing stores…trust me I have a very full fabric stash that I am currently working through on my fabric-detox 🙂

  • I have been buying a lot less clothing in recent months and I have found it to be very fulfilling! I definitely feel better about the things I have and less reliant on shopping to relieve boredom or as a habit. I plan set up a spring/summer capsule wardrobe with items I already have. I am in the process of losing weight, but hope to buy any new items I may need second-hand. Great post!

  • It’s funny because I probably go at least three months at a time not buying new clothes. Instead, I buy in weird bursts where I order a huge box of things and then return what I don’t like. Then 3-4 months later I do the same thing. I think I’m temperamental about shopping and I don’t do it as a hobby, so it would probably be easier for me to not shop for a year. However, I do recognize that my closet doesn’t properly display or reveal all the clothes I have, so I end up wearing far fewer things than I own because I simply can’t see it. If we could see many of the things we have, we probably wouldn’t need as much.

    Glad you were able to detox from shopping! I think it’s an important thing.

    Eva | http://www.shessobright.com

  • Nice work, Emma!

    When I moved countries, my whole life was packed into two suitcases and in order to set up and get by, I took any job I could get. As money was tight, for months on end I was relying on a very limited wardrobe. Eventually, I picked up another job and was able to “live” again, but it certainly made me appreciate everything I have and now I really take the time to consider what it is that I actually need. It also encouraged me to buy better quality products, rather than fast fashion, for both sustainability and financial considerations.

  • Future blog post request, since you mentioned bras: Please do a gentle launder routine for intimates! Bras and lacy items. 🙂

    I’ve stopped buying online as much, unless I know that company fits me like a glove and I cannot go wrong, or they have an AMAZING return policy. I was finding that bundling items to avoid shipping and get value or browsing sales was a bigger waste of time and resources as I’d either regret paying a hefty price to return some items or left off sending them and found they were passed their return window. I’d say only 35% of items bought online fit me right or are worth justifying getting tailored just right.

    Since reading through the book and putting Konmari into practice, I’ve noticed that the element of joy sparking is very tactile and that is better done for prints and knits in person so I can see the colors true to life and feel the stretch and fabric quality in my hands.

    I’ve never set a hard rule like NO buying, but I’ve dramatically improved in my decision making and feeling out my sense of style. Just this year I’ve learned I really like black and primary colors and florals. So now I have a better vision of what to get.

  • I’ve done “ethical only” years and months, which totally changed my shopping habits! When I started there were no high street brands that were ethical in my mind, so I could only go to charity shops or shop online… I barely bought anything, and all of the things I did buy I spent time considering a little more! I’m currently breastfeeding which I’m finding difficult to balance with ethical clothing, so I’m being more lenient with myself. It’s always good to have a shopping detox I think!

  • I really appreciate posts like this that really go into your real life feelings. Although, I know the blog is lifestyle oriented and what brought me here is things like crafts. I feel like over the years that I have really got to know the writers for the blog, and I like to know what you are up to. It is nice to have that inside look. Honestly, I think this is why people have loved learning about what your favorites are, what you’re reading, design choices in a home, etc. We care about the people behind the blog, and we want to know more about your story. We like the frills, but we stay for your truth.

  • I love this and am so proud of ya! I just recently graduated from college and moved to a new town and was determined to get thru it all without breaking down and spending 6 hours at the mall buying duplicates of things I already had duplicates of! I did a budget friendly version of the capsule wardrobe and that helped me SO much, honestly. I haven’t bought anything (obviously aside from like, food and the essentials) in ~4 months and it feels amazing. I also save a ton of $ and that feels so goooood. Like you, it’s made me appreciate what I have and is teaching me new ways to use what I’ve got!

  • I’m a quarter of the way through this experiment too. At the start of the 2018 I committed to:
    * no clothing
    * no shoes 🙁
    * no accessories
    * no fabric
    * no sewing patterns
    * no “non essential” beauty products
    I can buy from second hand or vintage stores and I can sew clothing from my fabric and pattern stash.
    3 and half months in and its been challenging but achievable. I agree with you sometimes its the “filling in time and wandering around the shops” that I miss but now I just window shop. I’ve rocked the same dress to a wedding and two trips to the theater (different cities)- no one even noticed!!

  • 2018 is my year of buying only second hand clothes. I’m applying this to anything I buy for my immediate 4 person family. My goals are budgetary and environmental and I’ve actually found that carving out the extra time to spend at the local second hand shops has resulted in some really high quality finds. I’ve bent/broken the rules just twice: New summer swimsuits for the kids and a wetsuit for my husband. I’m excluding shoes, socks, and intimates. So far I’m really happy with how it’s going!

  • That’s great Emma, thanks for sharing. I’m so happy to see people waking up to the horrors of the fast fashion industry and choosing ethical, quality products instead. What helps for me is to write down (I have a specific page in my journal) what I need in my wardrobe, and then I keep an eye out for that in thrift shops or online shops of my favourite ethical brands. I also learned how to sew, which is a fantastic hobby and skill to learn, as you can easily fix things you already own, and recreate what you see in the shops for a fraction of the price, while boasting that you made it yourself haha! 😉 good luck!

  • This sounds so interesting! I’ve been trying to reduce the mass of clothes in my wardrobe for some time now and only keep/buy pieces that I wear often, sort of essential pieces. So far it has worked pretty well, and I haven’t spend so much on clothing this year. But scrolling through online shops and seeing good outfits on Pinterest can really make it pretty hard. But then I always think “Will I still wear this in 2 or 3 years?”. And this usually helps!
    https://www.makeandmess.com/

  • Yes!!!! I’m doing a similar challenge. Building upon my previous “year of thrift” challenge, I’m doing one clothing/accessory purchase a month for this year. For all the same reasons you just listed! Consuming is part of the problem and I realized that thrifting helped me consume PLENTY because it’s easier to justify it for me.

    Something I’ve learned is that failing a monthly/regular challenge of any kind is OK, and doesn’t mean you have to give up 😛 I didn’t manage my first few months, but persisted because it’s not a challenge for the sake of a challenge, it’s for reasons I believe in!!!

  • I did something similar back in 2012 when I was in my second year of university. I didn’t buy any new clothing for the entire year, but allowed myself to do some limited thrift shopping. It also changed my life (in the least cheesy way possible). I was obviously really young at the time, but I would attribute that challenge to really drawing out my inner creativity and has inspired a series of creative challenges since. It was during that year that I really got into reading blogs (that’s when I found ABM), and eventually writing my own, tackling all sorts of DIY’s, investing more time in researching where products were coming from and who made them, and reinventing the clothing I already had. I loved the experience! I actually had a hard time buying again for the first little while because I felt so satisfied at the end of it all. I may just have to try one of these mini detoxes sometime soon!

  • Love this! I haven’t bitten the bullet yet, but I’ve always wanted to do a personal challenge to only buy thrifted clothes. The textile industry can be so harmful to the environment that I think it’s important to minimize impact whenever possible and buying used clothes seems like a really easy solution.

    Can you do a post on how you host a clothing swap? That sounds so fun!

  • I’m doing this right now! I decided in December that I’m going to do a year of no frivolous or unnecessary shopping, with my biggest focus being on clothing. I have more than enough clothes but I was addicted to buying more. I got tired of living paycheck to paycheck and so I made this change. I’ve been successful so far, and I’m sure I can make it through to the end of the year. I’m changing my focus from having “things” to having experiences and I’m excited for what this year is going to bring!

  • I always love your posts, Emma – you’re so relatable! I am currently 7 months pregnant and have had to really watch it with continually buying maternity clothes. We’re having twins, so this will be my one and only pregnancy, meaning once these babies come I will never wear these clothes again! I also want to be really conscious of my shopping habits once’s the babes arrive, as I easily get sucked in by all the cute things that we really don’t need. Browsing Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace kind of gives me that same shopping “high” while saving me money and making me really work for those things I want.

  • Congrats on nailing your challenge! I like the focus on being intentional with what you get. I don’t buy a lot of clothing, so doing a fast with that may not benefit me very much, but you do have me considering a “Craft Store Fast.” I buy materials and projects with no realistic grasp of the time I actually have and/or the space to do it in. I get excited because I think, “I can totally make that!” and then the project sits around with other things I’ve gotten for that reason, making me feel guilty for not using them. Yeesh. I think I just talked myself into it!

  • Lots of us do this type of thing multiple times a year. It’s called being poor. Haha.

  • You really put words on my experience as I’m half way trough a six month detox!
    It has totally changed my mind about buying new stuff and I feel very calm about not even thinking of shopping.
    I haven’t been a big buyer before but noticed that it happens to often that I buy clothes/shoes that I don’t use.
    NOT ok!
    Thanks for beeing an inspiration!
    Love from Sweden

  • I love this!! I actually did the same exact thing, except I had approached it a little differently–one of my new year’s resolutions was to try to only buy 12 new nonessential/clothing things this year, so an average of one per month, and it was actually more of a bonus/non-priority goal. Turns out it was a lot easier than expected and I went three months without buying anything as well! I just got a new shirt with a giftcard for my birthday, so I’m still only at one thing so far.

    For me it has definitely been life-changing. I’ve already gotten more intentional with what I buy in recent years, but I also spend a lot of time window-shopping online as a habit, and this taught me to appreciate what I have, which is more than enough! I got into fashion in my teens as a way to try to combat my insecurities, but it developed into an unhealthy relationship with shopping and fast fashion, and now that I’m in my twenties, it felt so good to realize that I don’t need that crutch, because gratitude is way more gratifying.

  • I’d love to be able to do that, but I can only do it for ten days !!! I can lose 30 pounds but i’m not able to stop buying clothes, i love them so bad, and i work in fashion industry … i could try a whole month for a start … anyway, congrats Emma !

  • Can you help me with the “rules” of your clothing exchange with your friends? I think that would be so fun to do with some of my best girl friends but I’m not quite sure how it would work and if its a lot of work ahead of time. Thanks!!