Though today I’m keenly aware of the issues created by the fashion industry, I spent my late teens and early twenties as a reckless consumer and a frequent flyer at Forever 21 and H&M. Concepts such as landfills, sweatshops, and carbon footprints were about as foreign to me as the countries that bear the brunt of our Western practices of massive and rapid consumption.
But I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how our buying patterns, our notions of self, and our recognition of value and success are all shaped by societal norms. After questioning my role in this system, I started to think up ways I could shift my own buying patterns while living in Manhattan — a city that measures success and value in incredibly materialistic terms.
One way to test whether I could shift my shopping habits in the long run was through a self-imposed ban on consumption. For 90 days, I committed to not buying any new clothes, jewelry, shoes, etc.
From January 15 to April 15 of this year, I didn’t buy a single new thing in those categories. While I encountered difficulty at times (especially when the weather started to turn a little warmer), the process eventually broke my habit of careless consumption.
Here are five takeaways from my 90-day challenge that any shopper can learn from:
1. Cutting out temptation is half the battle.
Until this challenge, I shopped to fill my time. If I didn’t have plans on a weekend or after work, I set out to Fifth Avenue or Soho to check out what was new on the shelves. By spending so much time in stores, I was constantly tempting myself to buy. By staying out of stores and off retail websites, I gradually started to think about shopping less and less, until I barely thought about it at all.
2. New experiences do NOT require new outfits.
Prior to taking a consumption hiatus, I had a nasty habit of buying occasion-specific clothes that I never wore again. A night out with friends, a weekend away, or a dinner party was an excuse to buy a new top, dress, or jewelry. When I cut out that habit, I got resourceful with what I already have and rediscovered old pieces I could resurrect. I quickly realized that nobody noticed whether my outfit was new or old, and that events are just as fun in a pre-loved dress as they are in a new one. It’s the surrounding company, not the outfit, that makes an experience meaningful.
3. Shopping isn't the best way to pass free time.
By taking away my go-to leisure activity, I was forced to find new ways to spend my downtime. I read a few great books, learned handweaving, and focused more on my schoolwork. Through the process of exploring new activities and getting back to the things I’ve always loved, like reading, I discovered new ways to view my own value. I was reminded that I’m creative and that I love to learn, and those are things that mean more to me than a new sweater.