I made a pact with my bestie to not buy new clothing for one year. Looking through my closet, I have a wardrobe that spans many genres and seasons. I have aspirational clothes for the corporate job I will never have. The edgy designer clothes I don’t feel comfortable wearing. The dresses I feel like I should wear but never do because I’m just not a dress girl. The pants I keep because I really like them, but I’m honestly too afraid to put them on because I don’t think they fit anymore and I don’t want to know that. The painting clothes in case I ever decide to splash around in a bucket of paint. It would be so easy to take a year to really and truly assess what I have rather than adding to it with mindless spending.
As I’m sure many of you can relate to, I have a fraught relationship with my body. It has taken me a while to realize just how much emotion is tied to my clothing. I’ve used new clothes to help comfort me, to feel better about a changing body, and to reward myself for an accomplishment. I’ve also used new clothes to feel like I could fit in at a new duty station, a new job, a new season of life. The list goes on. A striking body of evidence exists for how our quick-fashion world is hurting the planet. But it’s damaging us as humans as well. There are so many messages out there telling us we aren’t good enough as we are or that we need more in order to be our best selves. That’s just simply not true.
With Marie Kondo fresh in mind, I’ve had to reevaluate my relationship with the clothes in my closet. However, the question I’ve been asking myself is not, “Do my clothes spark joy?” The real question in my mind is, “Do these clothes serve me?” Through this lens, it’s much easier for me to make decisions about giving up the clothing that I have a strong emotional connection to. I most likely will not need the clothes from the super-professional government job I had years ago. My love for those clothes and how they represent that time in my life has made keep them despite the fact they no longer serve me. I want to purposefully invest in clothes I have. The jeans that I have always needed a super intense belt system for? I’m getting them tailored because I love them and wear them every week. This time of assessment is also giving me a list of items to upgrade. The rain jacket sitting in my closet is an awesome piece of clothing, but I got it 13 years ago when I was a different shape. While it doesn’t fit me anymore, I still need a rain jacket. The 13-year-old rain jacket served me yesterday, but it cannot serve me today.
In the past, I’ve been looking for the next piece of clothing to complete me, but I’ve never found it. I’m taking a hard look at what I have and what serves me best for the life I’m living now. If I’m honest, I have two pairs of jeans and four tops that I’m pretty much in all the time. It has become my accidental, unofficial uniform, and it works for me. The more time that goes by without getting any new clothing, the less I want it. I’m focusing less on buying and more on how my spending is aligning with the life I have and the life I want to cultivate with my family.
I’d love to encourage you to go on this journey with me or share stories with you about your experiences. I set up some rules that worked for me. Hopefully, they work for you as well or at least can serve as a starting point for your own endeavors.
1. No new clothes with two cheats:
We had a formal military ball coming up, and my newly not-pregnant body didn’t fit in anything I had. I did get a $35 web order dress for that.
Birthday and holiday gifts don’t count. If someone gifts me a store certificate or new clothes, I happily enjoy those!
2. Investing in tailoring or making my own clothes don’t count as new clothes. This really just helps my existing clothes serve me better.
3. Accessories such as shoes, belts, and jewelry don’t count. However, I am investing in quality pieces from sustainable companies that not only accentuate outfits I already have but also make me want to wear my favorite clothes more often.
4. Get rid of what doesn’t serve me. I donate clothes frequently, and I’ve actually had great luck selling online. I then re-invest that money into my family’s adventures.
In the end, this may not be a huge money-saving tactic. It’s a money-spending tactic. Asking which of your clothes still serve you will help you to think closely about how your spending aligns with your values, and it will help you to truly spend with purpose.
Originally published 4/23/2019
Lindsay Williams is a freelance graphic designer and Army spouse of thirteen years. She is currently prepping for a 3,000 mile, 21-day PCS move with her husband, new daughter, two dogs, and two cats (as one does).