What not buying clothes for a year taught me

What not buying clothes for a year taught me
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Back in 2019, I decided to set myself a ‘no new clothes’ challenge (even before I knew it was a thing). As an ex-retail clothing buyer where my actual job was buying clothes, it promised to be a genuine challenge. Here’s why I did it and what I learnt.

What is the no new clothes challenge?

It’s pretty much what it sounds like – not buying new clothes for a set period of time. Books like Cait Flanders’ The Year of Less and Ann Pratchett’s Year of No Shopping show that cutting back on consumerism is a challenge die-hard shoppers have risen to.

But rather than cut back on lots of things like Flanders and Pratchett did, I decided to go cold turkey just on clothes for one year. I knew it would be a challenge but one I could meet on a practical (and emotional) level.  

In the spirit of all good tests, I did make up some rules just to give myself some sort of structure:

  • No new clothes, even for ‘special’ occasions
  • No new shoes (I was particularly upset about this one)
  • New underwear, socks and tights were allowed (second-hand underwear is a step too far for me)
  • New accessories to enhance clothes I already owned were allowed but I had to wait 24 hours before hitting the buy button
  • Second-hand clothes were OK but preferably in natural fibres such as silk, wool and cotton. No man-made fibres (if possible).

Why stop buying clothes for a year?

For me, the clothes challenge was about saving money. I have two wardrobes and several drawers full of clothes, and a cupboard full of shoes. Also, I work from home, my kids get a school bus and I have my food shop delivered. I am literally the last person who needs new clothes.

Although my goal was to save money, I wasn’t oblivious to the amount of clothing we waste. According to Clothes Aid, who collect garments for charities, around £140 million worth of usable clothing ends up in landfill every year in the UK. We’re also the fourth biggest textile waste polluter in Europe based on data collected by sustainable menswear brand LABFRESH.

My previous job as a clothing buyer also meant I was very aware of supply chains and how much it actually costs to make clothes.

So, when you can buy a dress for a few quid or a bra that has nearly 50 component parts for less than a fiver in some stores, alarm bells start to ring. While it’s a great deal for us, we should be mindful of what this means for people at the other end of the supply chain. Although I also appreciate that lots of people don’t have the luxury of choice when it comes to affordability.

What did I save by not buying clothes for a year?

ONS figures reveal UK households spend an average of £24.40 per week on clothes and shoes. That’s a hefty £1,268.80 every year. 

I never spent that amount on clothes but I probably got through about £50 a month or £600 a year just on clothes for me. In my no new clothes challenge year, I bought one pair of tights in a sale for £2. 

And although my rules did allow me to buy pre-loved clothing, when I look back at my purchases, I can see that I bought exactly zero clothes. In fact, the only other item of apparel I did buy in 2019 was a leather rucksack at £65. With a total annual spend of £67, I saved £533 on clothes in one year. 

What did I learn from the no new clothes challenge?

Basically, I learned that I didn’t need any new clothes. I didn’t even need new shoes (which was harder to admit).

Since then, if I want to buy clothes, I try and stick to the second-hand market except for things like shoes and underwear.

If I need to buy anything new, the item it’s replacing has to be unfit for purpose. Since doing this challenge, I’ve bought three new t-shirts and a new pair of wellies (because the old ones had holes). 

Is it worth doing the no new clothes challenge?

Not buying clothes for a whole year can genuinely help you save money. But it’s important to set realistic rules that you’re more likely to stick to. For example, if you can’t manage a whole year, break it up. Try it for a month or just say no to one particular category like shoes, jumpers or t-shirts. 

If you can’t resist the urge to buy, then why not try selling your old clothes to make way for new ones instead? 

Either way, decluttering through selling or not buying can make you feel surprisingly good. 

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