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I didn’t buy any clothes in 2017. In 2018, now I live out of a backpack. Here’s how it changed me.
My partner is one of the most low-maintenance people I know. The only clothes I have ever seen him buy are from second-hand stores, and he regularly wears a fleece he’s had since the fourth grade—he’s now 27. To give you an idea of just how low-maintenance and frugal he is, a year or so ago, I was getting rid of a pair of elastic-waist, teal, knee-high hiking shorts that I never wore. As I tossed them in with the other donations, he said, “Hey those are nice!” He pulled them out of my “to donate” trash bag, tried them on, and currently wears them as sleep shorts. They only go to his mid-thigh, but they fit him (I guess?) since they have an elastic waist.
I also consider myself to also be low-maintenance—I rarely wear makeup, I cut my own hair, and I’ve only gotten my nails done once (Junior Prom 2008!). But, like many women, my closet was filled to the brim with clothes. In late 2016, I started applying to grad school and also began planning for some long-term international travel with my partner after that. Since this would be approximately two years with making little to no money, I was forced to cut back on my spending.
And when I actually combed through my bank account and saw how much money I was spending on clothes month-to-month, I made it my New Year’s resolution to quit them cold turkey.
My “No New Clothes Year” idea was truly solidified after watching two documentaries, The True Cost and Minimalism, both of which are on Netflix and both of which I highly recommend. The documentaries discussed that buying cheap clothing we don’t need is not only materialistic, but it can be seriously detrimental to the environment as well as to the people producing them. Though I consider myself to be environmentally-friendly in other areas of my life, I never considered the impact that buying clothing could have.
I also never thought about the industries I was supporting through buying clothes, which often rely on factories in third world countries employing individuals who receive low-wages and experience dangerous working conditions. Personally, I couldn’t claim to be an environmentalist and mindful person and not seriously evaluate and change my clothes-buying habits.
This challenge ended up being the best New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever made. Here are five reasons why:
Though it’s hard to average out my spending prior to my no-clothes year, I was probably dropping about 200 to 400 bucks a month on clothes. That adds up to about $2400 to $4800 a year! However, one of the greatest benefits of this challenge was that it also made me want to be careful with spending my money on other items besides clothes.
During this year, I found myself asking myself a few key questions before purchasing something: Will this be something I can use for a long time? Is this something I truly need? Is this purchase truly worth the price? Most often, my answers were no. Cutting back on all of my purchases was what seriously ended up saving me the big bucks.
As this mindfulness and thinking about which objects I valued continued, I realized that I had a whole bunch of things taking up space in my closet that I didn’t even like. As I went through the year, I kept donating trash bags full of clothes, even though I wasn’t buying anything new. This cut my wardrobe in half. Now, not only was I saving money but I had more space and fewer clothes to look through in the morning when I was figuring out what to wear.
For many of us—women especially—we tell ourselves we will be a more appealing or interesting person if we have cooler and newer clothes. Often, I would buy items that I thought I could wear, even if they weren’t “me.” Or, I would buy things that were “trendy,” but then would end up not even liking them within a manner of months.
However, with fewer clothes, instead of rummaging through a closet filled with things I semi-liked, my closet became filled with ones I valued, which were usually high-quality, durable pieces that I loved. When you’re not often scrolling through outfits online or rummaging through sales racks, you forget about what you “should” or “could” be wearing, and you just wear what you want. As a result, during this year, what I wore began to feel more and more like me.
When I started this journey, I had this nagging feeling that people would realize that I was wearing repeat outfits too often. But no one ever noticed. Ever. When it comes to appearances, we truly are our own worst critics and care about how we look way more than anyone else would. Media and clothing companies try to sell us things and tell us that people care about this type of minutia, but they really just want to make money. And honestly, other people seriously don’t care about how often you wear certain items.
When I first announced this challenge to family and friends, I always made sure people knew that there might be exceptions. New underwear! A dress for a special event! I thought for sure I would struggle through this whole thing and would have to force myself out of buying new stuff or cave in every now or then. But guess what? I didn’t make any exceptions, not once. And when 2018 came around, I ended up not buying clothes until late February.
Though I have bought some clothes this year, it is nowhere near the amount I was buying before. And happily, all of my purchases have been items I feel good about and wear often. Now, almost two years after starting my no-clothes year, I have finished school and am currently in Peru living that previously mentioned dream of long-term travel. For the trip, I only brought one backpack full of clothes.
This includes one down coat, one fleece, one sweatshirt, one raincoat, two sweaters, two dresses, two skirts, seven shirts, six pairs of pants, two pairs of shorts, four pairs of shoes, five pairs of undies, five pairs of socks, four bras, a warm hat and a baseball cap, a bathing suit, gloves, and a scarf—all for about a year of travel. See below:
What I have now actually feels good, as if it’s all I need. I barely notice that I live out of a backpack because I am learning and doing so many other things. Final conclusion? I think there are lots of things more important than what you are wearing. And as I travel and go throughout life, I am sure I will learn that time and time again.
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