I went a whole year without shopping and it was a complete eye-opener
A year of no clothes shopping sounded so completely insurmountable to Sophie White that initially, all she had planned to try was a month off. After 12 months, she reflects on a year without retail therapy.
It all started last January. I do not mess about when it comes to sales. I am such a die-hard sales fanatic that five years ago I brought a 6-day-old baby to the Brown Thomas Stephen’s Day sales. I traipsed the January sales 12 months ago and found them wanting. I was picking up and putting down various notions, propelled by some baffling drive on through the shit fight that is Zara post-Christmas when I realised my main concern appeared to be getting a deal on something that I barely liked and definitely didn’t need.
It was an epiphanous moment, I left the sweating, heavy, bargain-addled crowd and went for cake. Later that day, I regarded some of my wardrobe(s) and reflected that I could probably go a year without shopping and never be stuck with nothing to wear, such was the excess evident there.
(Full disclosure, I have several wardrobes, when it comes to dresses and shoes I’m like someone off one of those hoarding shows. This is not a brag, believe me.)
I began to feel more than a bit icky about the sheer levels of mindless consumption on display there. Yes, I have lots of things that I love dearly and wear again and again, vintage finds and designer hand-me-downs but I also had the leftovers from many a Penney’s flash spend, where I’d drop €50 or €100 on stuff that I barely thought about. It was this habit of knee-jerk spending that I wanted to break.
According to Newsweek, only “0.1 per cent of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled into new textile fibre”, and according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “84 per cent of unwanted clothes in the United States in 2012 went into either a landfill or an incinerator.”
These grim stats debunked a comforting little lie I’d been feeding myself for years: that amassing vast quantities of clothing wasn’t doing any harm as I brought them to the recycling centre. In the last decade, textile waste has been the fastest growing waste stream in the United Kingdom. With the rise of micro-trends, shopping haul videos and consumer demand for cheap clothes and a move towards more disposable consumption, output in the fashion industry has exploded. I am not anti-high street, it’s not as simple as that, I’m mainly anti what had come to be a concerning problem for me: shopping as a form of entertainment.
I decided to try a shopping-free January but once I’d hit that milestone I realised I wanted to continue. In those first four weeks, I’d already noticed a shift in attitude and I wanted to see where this would take me. The rules I made were fairly basic, I could buy underwear, receive gifts of clothes and I got a shoe voucher that would run out so I used that for a pair of boots. As gifts, I got two shirt dresses and a skirt and top. That’s it clothes-wise which may sound like loads or little over the course of 12 months depending on your own habits but for me in terms of new purchases that’s virtually nothing compared with what I’d usually buy.
The first few months were fairly easy so long as I didn’t go browsing online or IRL, it’s amazing how far ‘out of sight out of mind’ will get you. It was really in the summer that I first started to want new stuff. Everyone was doing those fun summer trends and I was at a bit of a loss for what to wear. That was when I first began customising some of the clothes I already had to scratch the retail itch.
I’m not that handy but I’ve got a sewing machine so I was able to alter summer dresses that I had but that didn’t fit me. I also made cute skirts and revived an old pair of dungarees to make some shorts dungarees which I was seeing everywhere. This got me started on a much more creative approach to my dressing. I was still buying magazines and reading about fashion but instead of going out and dropping cash on clothes that were basically a passing whim (shorts dungies anyone? ) I was looking to my own wardrobe to update my look. I was also fixing things like coat linings and fallen hems, where once I probably wouldn’t have bothered.
It definitely helped that the conversation around sustainability is becoming much more mainstream so I had loads of inspiration from people I follow online and it also really motivated me to keep going. Influencer Rebecca Flynn started a hashtag #smallchangetuesday to encourage people to share their ideas on how they’re making a difference to the environment.
Also in November, I attended my first clothes swap event which was brilliant. The system was great, I brought four old dresses and at the start of the night I exchanged them for four pegs, these acted like tokens or currency. My offerings were hung up beside all the other clothes and shoes and accessories then you “shopped”. It was really fun and satisfying to see someone delighted with your old rejects and equally nabbing something new to you. I was practically high off the “shopping” given I was 11 months shopping-free at this stage.
How much did I save?
Now that I’ve hit the end of the year, I genuinely don’t think I’ll ever go back to the kind of shopper I was. I’ll start shopping again – I definitely need to retire a couple of the sweatshirts that I wore the absolute crap out of this year! – but I know I’ll approach purchases in an infinitely more considered way from now on with a focus on independent shops and smaller Irish labels – I’ve been eyeing up The Pod Collection and Stiall lately.
So! I suppose you’re wondering how much money I saved? My conservative guesstimate based on past behaviours is… Drumroll…. €3,400. Yikes. And what did I spend it on? I went to New York. And I didn’t shop.
Somebody give me the damn Nobel prize or something.
This article was originally published in September 2021.