At the end of last year I started to become intrigued by people who didn’t buy stuff. Beauty products or clothes or sausages or fishing rods. Anything. They were trying to save money usually. Sometimes it was a challenge, other times an ethical stance.
Michelle McGagh from the UK didn’t buy ANYTHING for a whole year and she saved $37,000. She limited herself to spending money on the essentials (bills, broadband, mortgage etc) and when her moisturiser ran out she didn’t even replace it.
I was looking down the barrel of a fiscally tight 2017 (three kids, mortgage, school fees, orthodontist, bills, groceries, bras, shoes, toilet paper, mobile phone chargers … everything). I was getting stressed by it.
I had also started questioning consumerism. I wasn’t anti consuming, I was beginning to feel as though my purchasing of stuff was contributing to something I wasn’t proud of. I’d seen the documentaries. The world was being pockmarked by piles of rubbish that would not degrade until 3129 and children were working in unsafe factories making rich people’s bargain t-shirts.
So I made a deal with myself. Don’t buy any clothes for a year. Try to pay off your credit card. Fun times. Yay!
In November last year I wrote down on a rogue notepad on my tallboy that I would not buy any clothing, footwear, accessories or fashion of any sort for a year. ONE WHOLE YEAR.
(I did make a deal with myself where I could buy underwear and running shoes if mine wore out because exercise is important to me, but my running shoes are still going strong).
Michelle McGagh didn’t buy ANYTHING for a year.
No spend year spirit still alive. Fruit & flask of coffee for a visit to serpentine pavillion. Shame about the rain pic.twitter.com/0j99cHqjdj
— Michelle McGagh (@mmcgagh) July 22, 2017
I started November 2016 and I’m up to day 266. I’m in my ninth month of not buying a single fashion item.
I realise this may not be a big deal for a lot of people but to put it simply: I really like clothes. I like looking at how people put outfits together and touching fabrics and admiring the shape and impact of a flattering, interesting sleeve on a jacket. I’ve worked on fashion magazines. Twice in my career.
My mum worked in the fashion industry and some of my most vivid memories of my childhood are the two of us driving into the seemingly empty, windblown city on weekends to unpack a new clothing range that had just arrived in casket sized dusty cardboard boxes.
I distinctly remember the very first time I was tall enough to try something on, not just hang clothes up. I must have been about 13. It was a pair of dark blue denim overalls with an overly baggy pant and shoestring straps. Oh, how I thought I had arrived. Arrived where – I still don’t know.
Having a mortgage and kids I’ve had to be careful with my discretionary spending for years, but this is the first time I have gone fashion cold turkey. Nada. Nothing.
I have 99 days to go until I reach my one year no fashion purchases goal and, to my surprise, I have been okay. Up until now.
Lately, I’ve started to peruse online shopping sites. I’m wandering into clothing shops just looking. In the mornings I’m becoming so bored with what I put on my body, my feet feel heavy as I walk out the door. I’m looking at a fridge and, you know, only seeing a cool pair of trainers THAT I HAVE TO HAVE.
My willpower is melting. It’s pooled around my feet and I’m slipping all over the place.
Last night as I moaned about wearing the same dress to work my quietly strong middle daughter (she gave up sucking her thumb at four using the cold turkey method too) said, “Mum you can do this. You can’t give up now.”
How can I give up now? I have a 15-year-old staring at me in the kitchen telling me to not give up. I feel like one of those mothers they profile on 60 Minutes who is running a marathon after being in a life threatening car crash only I’m not running a marathon and I haven’t been in a life-threatening car crash. I’m just not buying shit.
I can’t stop now. I’ve told too many people and I’m such a ridiculously competitive person I have to finish. Tomorrow it’s 98 days until my year is up. The end of next week I’m in the 80s.
I know they are only clothes, it’s just fashion, but avoiding this part of my love life has taught me a few things:
- It is more empowering to say no to purchases than to say yes. I know this sounds like some waffly new age gobbledygook kind of like The Secret crossed with healing crystal therapy and finished off with mainlining turmeric but hear me out. Spending money you don’t have will make life tough so don’t spend it.
- I needed to tell people what I was doing. It helped me stay accountable and explained why I was wearing that dress again.
- Stay away from any kind of window shopping – virtual or real. If you don’t see it, you don’t want it (delete fashion Instagrammers from your feed).
- I have let canny marketers with expensive watches they never look at influence my behaviour. That knife pleat silver skirt will not get you a promotion or make someone love you.
- Mindless consuming hurts everyone. The environment, workers, communities.
- There’s plenty in your wardrobe already that you don’t wear.
- Do the old fashioned thing and don’t throw out items that require mending. Mend them! Mind blown.
- People don’t notice you are wearing the same thing (it’s kind of depressing to realise they’re just not that into you) and if they do notice, that is their issue.
- It’s amazing what a bit of time can do between coveting an item and purchasing. Covet all you want and then walk away. Sleep on it. See what you feel another day.
I know I will buy something at the end of my one year challenge but my thinking has shifted.
Has my self-image changed because I'm not spending money on my wardrobe?
Short answer: No, not really. I'm very clear about what my aim is and why I am doing it. I'm the same person with slightly more worn clothes.
I still love fashion and want to have fun with it but when the time comes, and it will come, I'm going to be much more mindful about what I spend my hard earned dollars on.
It probably sounds strange but I felt immense satisfaction when I had the rip in my favourite jeans fixed and re-soled an old pair of shoes. I've pulled out jackets from the back of my wardrobe, aired them, rolled up the sleeves and worn them for the first time in years.
I've worn my daughter's sneakers. I've borrowed my friend's dress for a wedding.
I've started to think differently about fashion. Yes, there is magic in there somewhere. Yes, it is about how I look. It is also about how it makes me feel, and I feel best when I am not its slave.
Because surely enjoying fashion is about freedom. All the freedoms.