The year of not shopping

BlogHer Original Post

Recently, I wrote about The Story of Stuff, the short film that walks you through the origins and destinations of stuff. I am big believer that less is more, and that you can have a very small wardrobe of well-fitting, well-made, well-cared-for pieces and be completely stylish.

But this year, it seems, not shopping is the new chic, and frankly, I couldn't be happier about it.

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I gave up shopping for the entire month of October, primarily to make a point: you DO have what you need in your closet -- or maybe you don't, but until you know what is in there, you will never know what you need. I documented my outfits at Flickr, for the entire month. I wore the same things over and over, but I didn't really mind. It was actually a lot easier to get dressed, because I knew that this was it, these were my only choices.

What surprised me the most wasn't how easy it was to get dressed; it was the realization that I shop mostly out of stress or boredom or anxiety. The days that I most wanted to BUY SOMETHING, ANYTHING AT ALL, were the days when I was overwhelmed by some other catastrophe in my life -- a new job, for example, or a nonfunctioning refrigerator. I rationalized my desire to spend, saying that I had earned something new, just for showing up for work or dealing with a household problem. And honestly, I found that a little -- okay, a LOT -- horrifying.

I am not the only one with bad shopping habits, and I'm not the only one experimenting with a shopping fast to help identify them. Stara at Random Rantings is giving up shopping for 60 days, not because she can't afford it, but because, in her words, "I have too damn much stuff. Way too much." Her shopping isn't enjoyable any more, and it's not serving any real purpose. She's got the classic Closet Full of Nothing to Wear, and she's tired of it.

So, I’ve got a theme going- The Purpose Driven Wardrobe. It sounds boring, but it doesn’t have to be. Because one of my Purposes can be to look cute. But I want to have cute that I can utilize with a greater frequency in my every day life. I have a lot of short sighted purchases hanging in my closet that I love, but hardly ever wear because they have no purpose, or a very limited purpose. And that is really just wasted money.

I think The Purpose Driven Wardrobe is a brilliant idea, and I think that Stara's approach is also brilliant, because she is doing two important things: she is defining her terms, and she is stepping back to take stock of what she has and what she needs. What she is trying to eliminate is not shopping itself, but mindless consumption. I am all over that.

Stara is not the only one giving up purposeless buying. Rachel at The Simple Family is living greener these days, which means not buying new, for one thing. She and her family have also given up shopping, for the entire month of January. Like Stara, Rachel is trying to simplify, but she is thinking about more than just her wardrobe.

If you are reading this, it must be January. While the rest of the Northern Hemisphere is anticipating Spring (except for Texas, we’re still really waiting for Winter), I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Why? Well, this month, we have decided to “compact.”

What does that mean? Well, for one month, we are cutting back. Cutting way back. Cutting back to the basics. Compacting the amount of junk we own, compacting the amount we buy. I also look at it as a pact to myself to really try and make an effort. We’ve been buying used for awhile now, but I’ve still let myself buy more than I should have just because it is “used.” While we’ve been pretty good about not buying anything ridiculous, well, we could be doing better.

So, for this month, we are putting the kibosh on shopping. With the exception of food/personal items, we’re not shopping. Of course, there are a few exceptions. If something big comes up that must be replaced and must be replaced new, well, we will. (Hopefully, that won’t happen.) Otherwise, say, all our dishes break tomorrow? We’ll buy a used alternative.

I have been watching Rachel's project closely since she began, late this summer, because I think that this idea of simplifying is an important one. What has fascinated me the most, though, is not what Rachel and her family are doing -- or NOT doing -- in order to life more simply, but the response she is getting. Commenters at her site regularly berate her for depriving her children of things like cable television and molded plastic toys.

Teaching our children to live -- and be happy and satisfied -- with less is perhaps the greatest challenge of my generation. How do we do that? By not shopping. BlogHer's own Chris has risen to the challenge; she and her family are forgoing unnecessary spending for the entire year. Chris will be chronicling her efforts at A Year Off.

It is about our family’s New Year resolution. We are taking a year off from spending money. Obviously we still have to buy things like food, toilet paper, heating oil.

But for an entire year there will be no impulse Target buying, no new shoes for people who have feet that are no longer growing, no new t-shirts, pants, sweaters… nothing that we don’t need.

For us this isn’t an exercise in saving money, though my husband may disagree with me here.

Nor is it an effort to live a more green life, though that is also a nice benefit.

For me it is an effort to lessen the amount of stuff that comes into our house. To take a step outside of the mindless consumerism for a time and assess the real differences between what we want and what we really need. I suspect that it will be an ongoing process of negotiations, both internally and within the family. What do we really need?

Chris has gotten a lot of positive support for her project, but she has also had readers who are concerned about her children, because they will be deprived during this year of mindful shopping. She has also had readers who say, "Oh I could NEVER do THAT!" which, while less disturbing than accusing Chris -- or Rachel -- of abusing their children is still saddening to me. The shopping that all of these women are talking about -- extras, add-ons, things we either already have or don't need in the first place -- should be easy to walk away from.

So why isn't it? Because we live in a culture where shopping is sold as a means of self expression, where you earn new things simply for showing up, and where having it all -- even if you don't have room for it all -- is a measure of success. But in your closet and your home and your life, less really IS more. And so it's time to stop shopping.

Could YOU give up shopping for a month? How about two months? A year?

Do it. I challenge you.

Susan Wagner writes about fashion at Friday Style and The Working Closet and Fashion Find. She will not be shopping for clothes or shoes or handbags for the next sixty days.

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