Around this time last year, the 25th August to be precise, I wrote a post called “No to new”, which was a bit of a spur of the moment decision to go a whole year without buying any new clothes or shoes. I was allowed to make my own clothes (which I did) and buy second hand (which I did) but that was it.
This all started when putting washing away, I couldn’t fit everything neatly in my wardrobe because I simply had too much stuff. In a fit of frustration mixed with guilt, I decided I didn’t actually need most of the clothes in there and was met with an overwhelming urge to dump the lot at a charity shop. It was a response to some slow burning thoughts about fast fashion, waste (the fashion industry is one of the world’s largest polluters), fair employment and about taking it for granted that if we have cash (or credit) we can have anything we want right here, right now, regardless of the cost to others.
I wanted to challenge myself to remember what it was like not being able to just have everything on a whim without thinking about it. No more casually putting a pair of trousers in the trolley at Tesco or sleep shopping because society dictates that I MUST have something new for that night out!
The marketeers tell us that shopping makes us happy… and they would never lie to us right? Here was my chance to find out.
Now I’ve almost hit my year end, I want to tell you firstly, if I succeeded and secondly what I learned from the challenge.
I would say I completed the challenge successfully, but, in the interest of full disclosure, here are the 3 things I actually bought…
1: “The babe with the power” hoodie. This was a design inspired by the 80s film, and slice of my childhood, Labyrinth, and it was part of a campaign by Jessica Jumpers to fund her husbands cancer treatment. I couldn’t not buy one! If supporting a cause like this is failing then I would not want to succeed!
2: The dungarees: I got some Amazon vouchers as a birthday present and used some of them to buy a pair of cheap cotton dungarees. I justify them as being a gift though admit this is borderline and I probably should have waited, but it’s the only thing which stopped me giving in and buying a pair of Lucy and Yaks (which are first on my list to buy when the deadline has passed!).
3: A pair of white ankle boots. These were bought new for a fancy dress party (I fulfilled a childhood dream by being Penelope pitstop) and only after hours of searching eBay and charity shops for something which would work (I found some amazing elbow length vintage white leather gloves but no boots!).
That’s it. Personally I think that’s a pretty good effort! You could say that I broke the rules, but actually, these purchases demonstrate why I wanted to do the challenge in the first place. To think about what I was buying, to consider if it was necessary, what the motivation was behind it and thinking about whether it was the best option.
I’ve always been pretty good at stubbornly sticking to a quitting challenge. Once I’ve decided something in my bones, I stick to it because the guilty feeling of lying to myself or cheating is not worth it! I simply stopped considering buying something new as a choice I could make, so I stopped looking. Once I had internalised this, it was actually pretty easy!
There were occasions however where I would go into a clothes shop and suddenly want everything in there. This gave me a bit of a lightbulb moment about the nature of wanting, or feeling like you neeeeeeeeed something. By removing myself from it’s clasp, I began to realise the power which marketing and more specifically branding held over me.
I rarely read fashion and beauty magazines or follow fashionistas on any socials. The last time I bought a copy of cosmo, the pages which weren’t adverts impacted me in two ways. They made me feel inadequate (for not having the right shoes, lipstick, jeans etc or having the wrong things, wrinkles on my forehead, grey hairs on my head) and they made me want stuff which I did not need (or did not know I needed until I read the magazine).
I’m aware that this is essentially the sole purpose of a lot of these magazines. They sell an image, a dream and lots of face creams. The goal is to make money. I don’t want to dismiss all the hard working creative designers out there, this post is not about belittling the fashion and beauty industry, merely about seeing the marketing side of it for what it is.
In the TV show Mad Men, Don Draper described advertising as selling freedom from fear. That guy was on the money! Think about the last advert you saw, how much did it play on your fear of something?
The part that troubles me is that many industries actually create the fears which they then promise to free us from.
We are told that wearing these jeans will make us more attractive, the wrong trainers will open us up to ridicule, having wrinkles will make you a social pariah, if your teeth aren’t whiter than snow then no one will want to kiss you, this cream will rid you of that worse-than-leprocy-cellulite (it won’t), not being able to bench press your body weight will lead to an early death, eating the right fruit will stop you getting cancer, if you wear this lipstick it tells the world that you are a sassy woman, this brand makes you cooler than the next person, the more expensive it is the more awesome you are!
Brands want you to think that owning or using their ‘stuff’ identifies you as belonging to a certain group, or that not having it means you are missing out. This is not an attack on marketing, it’s more an exercise in recognising the purpose of branding. It is what it is and it’s not going anywhere soon. There are positive aspects to it, for a start it can help us narrow down what would work for us in a sea of overwhelming choices. Shopping is everywhere 24/7, there is no escape, and whilst branding kind of perpetuates this, it can also help us navigate it the consumerist maze.
My word of caution is to stay vigilant about when marketing starts to make you feel shit about yourself! When the fear based approach starts to play with your insecurities, making you scared of being too fat, tall, short, ugly, weird, smelly, imperfect…unlovable, alone…
I could go on about this forever but it’s not what you’re here for so I’m going to pull myself back out of the rabbit hole leaving it with you as food for thought. It’s actually a bit depressing isn’t it?
However, here is the positive…
You don’t have to drink the cool aid!
Once you recognise that these are sales techniques, you have the choice not to take the bait. For me, they key is to be mindful about these traps. Try to stop those impulse buys and think about why you are buying something. Are you really missing out or is it just your monkey brain making up a story to make you think you are? Some times you know those shoes will make you happy in a hundred ways, other times you might just be trying to fill a hole. Be honest with yourself about which one it is!
Marketeers spend a lot of time and money cultivating FOMO and it’s a hard thing to escape from. But this last year has given me two ways to tackle that little demon which I want to share with you.
Firstly, if something in your life cultivates FOMO then cut it out. I believe, in this case, that what you don’t know won’t hurt you! Change your habits. Stop following that social media account, reading those magazines, having that glass of wine, buying the £50 face cream. If you don’t know what you’re missing then you don’t want it. If you don’t know about that amazing new dress Zoella wore last week, your life is not going to be any worse for not having it.
It’s a bit like an exclusion diet. Cut something out and see if it changes things.
It doesn’t have to be for a year like I did, but I know that cutting out clothes saved me time and money. It led me to sew my first ever item of clothing, to support charity shops and to discover the second hand underworld of ebay (it’s a time vampire so not sure if that’s a good thing or not but it’s something new I’ve learned!).
Celebrate the Joy of Missing Out
I mentioned earlier that when I went into shops there were times when I wanted everything. But there were also times when I saw it all as unnecessary tat. As an illusion of materialism. A dress is not going to make me feel better about myself for more than the few hours I wear it.
It’s so liberating to go somewhere and just go – nope – this is all off the cards for me. It means you don’t have to even think about it. In the time I’ve saved over the past year trying on jeans alone I’ve probably written about 5 blog posts and crocheted a sweater or two! This is the joy of missing out, of saying no, I’m not getting involved, I’ve got my own stuff to be doing. It’s really rather lovely!
Think about all that energy you don’t have to waste thinking about fitting in or looking the part or conforming. It’s utterly liberating and bit of a revelation frankly.
I know this has been a long post, but it’s been a year in the making so thank you for indulging me!
Once the deadline passes I won’t feel the urge to rush out on a spree. The past year has definitely shifted my attitude towards shopping, clothes and fashion to a more positive place of awareness. I have continued to strip down my wardrobe as well as declutter my home and find a lot of satisfaction in dropping off bags at the local charity shop for other people to find use in. I just don’t want any unnecessary excess ‘stuff’ in my life. For me, a year of self-denial has been a hugely positive challenge in terms of increasing gratitude for what I do have and awareness of my consumption.
I would recommend to anyone thinking of giving something up to try it, for a day, a week, a month or forever. Whether it’s shopping, gaming, drinking, social media or anything which takes up a disproportionate amount of time, just have a go at breaking the cycle.
You never know what it might make space for.
Then let me know how you got on!