In December of 2017 I signed up for the Ready to Wear (RTW) Fast — no buying any clothes during 2018. There is SO MUCH to be learned from a buying fast, and I highly recommend the challenge to anyone, even non-sewists.
First, a disclaimer. I didn’t get through the whole year without buying RTW clothes. I gained weight in the spring and summer and when school started up in the fall I realized that all of my jeans were too tight. Could I have made jeans? I’m sure I could have, but only given enough time and brain space to do it right. With the crunch of the beginning of the semester I was too time-poor and needed something to wear fairly urgently. For some reason it made sense in my head that if I was going to fall off the wagon, I might as well fall off spectacularly, so not only did I buy the jeans I needed, I bought several more pairs of pants as well. I hate to admit that, but there it is. And here’s what I learned from falling off the wagon so spectacularly: I didn’t need any of those additional pants I bought. The experience of fasting, and breaking the fast, taught me how very little I actually *need* to buy.
Falling off the wagon also taught me that it’s okay to fail. At first I felt quite ashamed — not being able to fulfil a promise I’d made to myself, feeling embarrassed that I didn’t make it through the whole year, that sort of thing — but then I realized that the world wasn’t going to end and no one was pointing and laughing at me in the streets! Failures are learning opportunities and I did learn from mine so I’m chalking it up to a positive experience.
The RTW Fast helped me gain a deeper understanding of my own motivations for shopping for clothes:
- FOMO — fear of missing out — plays a part: “what if there’s something in that shop that I’m going to love?”
- Sometimes the need to feel I’m ‘accomplishing’ something makes me head to the shops. When that feeling kicked in, I mollified it with sewing or baking or cleaning or knitting or enjoying a good book instead.
- Sometimes I used shopping as an emotional balm or a way to soothe the effects of a stressful day. (This one is completely incomprehensible to my dear husband, who strongly dislikes shopping and can’t imagine how heading to a crowded shopping mall would be any kind of balm whatsoever. Can you relate?)
- Having something new is a good feeling. There seems to be something in our hard-wiring that makes us crave new and novel things, and buying things is an easy, accessible way to satisfy that craving. (It’s what makes our unsustainable capitalist economy tick.) However, we all know that the feeling does not last very long at all, and soon after we’re craving something new again. Here’s something I’ve known for a while now and the RTW Fast helped reinforce for me: accumulating all those ‘things’ causes more stress and anxiety in the long run. It all needs to be maintained, cleaned, stored, shlepped around during a move, and ultimately re-sold or donated (a task that takes up valuable time and energy) or thrown away (which may inspire feelings of guilt and remorse). Those ‘things’ all take up valuable space in our mind and in our homes, and then pile up in a landfill. Ugh. Thinking of all that cures me of the urge to just go ahead and buy that cool top I just spotted on the rack.
The RTW Fast changed how I sew a little bit. I spent more time this year sewing fairly basic items such as cozy sweaters and T-shirts. It made me think about what I enjoy sewing. Previously, I’d say my biggest motivation for sewing was to be able to make something unusual, something that you couldn’t easily find in a shop. And I definitely still love that! But during the fast I discovered I also really enjoy knocking out a simple t-shirt and being able to wear basics that I have sewn on a daily basis. I have no plans to strive for a completely me-made wardrobe, but fasting pushed me into sewing some things I might not have otherwise.
All in all, the RTW fast was an excellent experience. Going forward, rather than continuing to try to fast completely from store-bought clothes, I intend to simply keep the spirit of the fast top of mind and resist the urge to shop or make spur-of-the-moment purchases. I will try to avoid the siren call of trendy fast fashion that is doing so much harm to our planet. I will spend more time thinking about what I actually *need*, how often I should treat myself to something I *want*, and whether or not buying that thing will actually turn out to be a positive thing for me in the long run. And this will apply to all potential purchases, not just clothes.
If you’re thinking of trying a clothes-buying fast yourself, my best advice is just stay away from the shops! Going shopping ‘just to look’ leads to discovering something for which you had no need or desire until you happened to see it in the shop (or online). Here are some other tips:
- Unsubscribe from all marketing emails from clothing stores. You’ll get over your FOMO faster than you think.
- When you see a sale: remind yourself that getting a bargain is pointless if it’s not something you need, love, will wear often, and won’t take up your valuable time and emotional energy while it’s in your life.
- Find some other activity to replace clothes shopping. This may require a bit of stock-taking as to what your personal motivations are for shopping, and finding the right alternate activity that fulfils similar needs. If you’re reading this blog, I can safely assume that sewing your clothes is going to be that alternate activity!
- Find someone or a group of people to be accountable to. Fast with a friend, or find an online group of people doing the same. Check in with them when you need some motivation to keep going.
- Decide on a period of time that is comfortable for you. You don’t have to go a whole year (in fact, this might produce a lot of anxiety and a desire to ‘stock up’ before you begin, which seems a bit counter-productive). Try three months or six months. Maybe you’ll discover it’s easy and want to keep going.
On a related note, today I heard an interview with David Cain, author of the blog Getting Better at Being Human, who suggested the concept of a “deep dive”: taking a year to “go deeper, not wider”. A year of, say, not acquiring anything new and not starting any new hobbies, but rather using what you already have and exploring it in a deeper way. You might find the interview inspiring, especially as we prepare to begin a new year.
Now over to you. Have you done a clothes-buying fast, and if so, what did you discover? Or are you thinking of trying one? What aspects make you nervous about it?
Thanks for stopping by and being part of this blog in 2018. All the best to you for 2019!