Monday, 18 January 2016

One Yea of Fewer / Better

I've been trying to buy less stuff and focus more on quality for several years now but 2015 was the year when I made a conscious effort to see how far I could go with the fewer/better motto.

Let me start by saying that I didn't find the fewer part easy at all. I thought I was completely ready for a year of conscious consumerism, and really, an ideal candidate for this "experiment":

  • my default tendencies are of the frugal kind (having been brought up by a very frugal, yet stylish mum and auntie who always put quality above quantity); 
  • I'm surrounded by a frugal environment; and 
  • I follow the kind of information and social media diet that makes me less likely to be drawn in by marketing stunts. 

I even thought I had my impulse-buy in check. But boy was I in for a ride. It's all very good an well to want to be a more mindful consumer but practicing that, in this day and age, on an everyday basis, truly tests your resolve. 

The Figures

Let's start with the numbers. In 2015 I had a total of six shopping experiences, one for multiple items. Of those six, two were for hiking garments, one for casual wear (my one regret), one was unplanned (and avoidable had I not left a similar item back in Portugal in 2014), and two were for my everyday wardrobe (which is office-focused).

OK, looking at the figures, it doesn't sound like I did that bad. I didn't engage in seasonal shopping, bi-monthly "capsule" overhauls, or went on shopping trips without purpose. I even resisted the sales! 

I guess I wasn't completely unsuccessful in my endeavors. But it was the process of achieving this that I personally found harder than expected, especially during the first half of the year until I got used to it.

The Strategies

The single most useful strategy that I used to help me buy less stuff was the listTaking stock of what I had, the condition it was in, and whether it could last another season, helped me have a clear idea of what I really did need to buy. Taking time to think about what my ideal minimal wardrobe could look like helped to define my needs even further. In turn, having a clear list helped bring focus to every shopping trip or online perusing - if it wasn't on the list, it became easier to say no.

But the list only covered the purpose of a purchase (i.e., do I need to buy this). Versatility and quality were two other essential aspects of a mindful purchase. To cover those, I used the guide to buying fewer things I had put together earlier in the year.

The Learnings

1. Buying fewer things is easier said than done 

While those strategies started to work very well towards the end of the year, I struggled with putting it all into practice until I realized I wasn't really keeping my impulse-buy habits in check.

I had already made good progress with my online habits - using Polyvore to play around with an item, removing myself from mailing lists, un-following certain brands, etc. But I soon learned that I didn't have similar coping mechanisms in the shop environment. 

Take my one regret purchase as example. This particular dress ticked all the boxes in my book. It was even well priced and found at an awesome second-hand shop. But I completely overestimated its versatility and actual fit into my current style.

Thing was, I was looking for an everyday dress to replace two that were much loved but too worn to last another season. I was getting anxious with Autumn coming to an end, saw this one in the shop and just thought it was it. I clearly recall feeling that if I didn't get it there and then someone else would and it was one of a kind. I didn't even try it on!

Warning bells should have sounded but I was using my own strategies to make a completely superficial and anxiety-based judgement. I just wanted something and found a really neat way to justify getting it.

I had to learn my impulse triggers and then take literal steps back - which, at the start, took the form of avoiding shops altogether - sounds extreme but I really wanted to feel in control. It took me the best part of the year to feel so.

2. Buying better things is not breezy either

Better things are either not available (fast-fashion is the still the ruling monarch after all) or are just too expensive to consider seriously. And try asking more established brands for details on the provenance and quality of a garment! It's like talking to a higher being: you like to believe they're there but you really don't have any proof.

To save me some time when trying to find the right kind of item, I now keep a running list of conscious/ethical businesses local to New Zealand and Australia or that ship worldwide (although this is another conundrum for the mindful consumer living down under which I won't go into in this post).

Bottom line?

Shopping less is possible but definitely not easy. Not only do you have to swim against the stream of consumer goods being thrown at you 24/7, you have to work on yourself, your motivations and your default behaviours.

Unless you grew up completely removed from a consumer-based society, you'll find your shopping behaviours are deeply rooted. So deep in fact that your brain will find ways to justify a purchase, even if you're full of good intentions.

So, unless you want to live off the grid, find your triggers, best coping strategies and don't underestimate how much wanting something can influence you.

But take it as something that needs practice. Exercise wanting less, and it just becomes a lot easier as time goes by...

What's next?

Well, 2016 has started with a list with zero items in it so, really, I should be able to go from minimal shopping in 2015 to no shopping in 2016.

As I write that sentence, I'm already starting to feel uneasy - I really don't want to commit to zero shopping. What if Everlane finally starts shipping to New Zealand and I can get my hands on that sweater that I actually need?

What I do want to commit to this year is slow fashion and zero tolerance to the unknown. No more excuses. I want to be 100% sure that the maker of my clothes receives a fair wage and works in a secure environment. I don't want to wonder whether my purchase supports child abuse, female oppression, environmental decay or any kind of inhumane work conditions.

I have previously tried to respect the unknown maker by respecting the clothes I've purchase. But now I just need more reassurance.

2016 will be the year to demand better - better quality of clothes but also better quality of life for those who make them.

Have you tried shopping less? Do any of my experiences sound similar to you or did you have a completely different approach? 


  1. This has given me so much to think on, I'm not sure I can process it all right now. However- I do think you are being hard on yourself. You did an incredible amount of work before to really understand your wardrobe and its/your needs with it. You only made six purchases. And only one of which you regret and only 3 of which even fall under your "main" wardrobe.

    With the dress- something I've noticed with people who have posted about their capsule/smaller wardrobe experiences is that when an item is missing, it really becomes very obvious because there isn't something else in the wardrobe to do that items work. Its not something I'd have ever thought about and that sounds like your dress situation. Yes, some anxiety motivated that purchase, but it also sounds as if you recognized a real need in the wardrobe and a time limit. Learning to recognize those seems like part of the process. Also, another marker that you were successful in your shopping/wardrobe goals is that you are able to do an (almost) zero shopping policy this year. So impressive!

    I tend to do the list thing as well, and I don't go to shops much (because there are no shops near me...that helps!) and avoid a lot of adverts online. But I've been very hesitant to take the plunge to really doing a smaller/capsule wardrobe like this. So it is so nice to hear not only how you prepared but your experiences with it as after you implemented those plans.

  2. Thanks Kristian. As always, you're very kind. It has been quite the experience and I hoped to convey a bit of that. It's definitely a work-in-progress and maybe the zero item list at the moment is more about a feeling of exhaustion at reflecting on my wardrobe needs and working on wanting less than a actual reflection of what I may need to buy this year (for instance, I still haven't found the right dress).

    I don't think I have the smallest of wardrobes but I think it has reached an optimal point for my current needs. This, of course, is a very subjective measure. For instance, I mentally separate my work wardrobe from my hiking clothes as they serve completely different purposes and there isn't any overlap. I do, however, overlap my hiking wardrobe with my gym/exercise stuff. So it's all about finding that balance.

    I hadn't thought about that dress situation but you're right! Because I often have a single piece serving a purpose, when it's gone, it really does make a difference. But what I ended up doing was getting a bit creative with other items or pairings.


  3. Hi. I just found my way here from Seasons + Salt. I am impressed with your 2015 shopping tally! I personally did much worse and have a lot more work to do to avoid unnecessary purchases and shopping mistakes. However, I would like to suggest that there should be less guilt in mistaken second-hand purchases than in poor choices made retail shopping. A second-hand item has already been discarded once. Buying it does not add to retail demand. Yes, trying it on first and thinking through how it would work with the rest of your clothes would have been a good idea. But sometimes when buying second-hand I decide I'm paying for the opportunity to play with it in my wardrobe. If it doesn't work, it goes back to the thrift store with no harm done except to my wallet. Does that make sense? Because the item didn't go from new to used; it went from used to -- still used. Hopefully it will work better for the next person who tries it out.

    1. Hi Heather - thanks so much for that. Actually, it makes a lot of sense and you're absolutely right. There's also the fact that probably the thrift shop is independent and you end up supporting that bit of your local economy as well.

  4. I just found your blog via Kristian's blog, and I just wanted to say HELLO Fellow New Zealand Blogger (fellow academic fashion blogger as well, possibly?)! :D I loved reading this post because I tried a year of no shopping (Oct 2014-Oct 2015) with mixed results.

    I think we face a lot of challenges here in NZ as fashion bloggers as we don't have access to the same brands as US bloggers, consumer goods are more expensive, and high quality affordable secondhand goods are like a mythical unicorn. So sustainable shopping is... frustrating. I do a lot of my shopping when I go overseas, or online (from US sites or trademe) and again, the choice is so restricted. In the meantime, I'm trying to overhaul my existing wardrobe, and have toyed with the idea of a capsule wardrobe.

    Anyways, just wanted to say hello as it seems we may have some things in common. :D

    Idealism never goes out of fashion

    1. Hi Rebecca, thanks for getting in touch! I have to agree that I also found that a bit challenging about moving to NZ. None of my favourite brands either exist of ship here so I was really lost for a while there. But then really that's what prompted me to get a bit more creative about my wardrobe and consider my shopping choices more carefully. So, after years of wishing Zara and Mango were here, looking forward to the day H&M opened somewhere near, and nagging brands to at least ship here, I'm actually grateful they were not.

      I do agree it is very hard to be a more "traditional" fashion blogger in NZ. We are a very small market and brands wouldn't really be working with bloggers as they do in the US. But maybe there's an opportunity there to explore to create something different.

      xo R.

  5. I've just found your blog and been reading through your wardrobe experiments which are a great read. I am totally impressed by only 6 purchases in 2015. Wow! I have been keeping a spreadsheet of my clothing purchases since 2013 which I find really helpful to see what I buy, what I sell/give away and most importantly what stays and gets worn. I also used Stylebok to record my outfits which is really helpful too (nerd alert??!!).

    I have some similar strategies to you in trying to shop intentionally: I have a list; I don't go to the malls very often; buying from smaller designers (yes, I love Kowtow!!). These have really helped. I also stumble in 2nd hand stores, thinking ah it's only $8, why not, but I'm really going to work in this.

    Thanks for the great blog. I'm in NZ too so really cool to have a Southern Hemisphere blogger!!

    1. Hi! Thanks for letting me know - I really appreciate the feedback. I'm glad you're enjoying and getting some ideas for yourself. I haven't been blogging much lately but I do like to put some interesting stuff together and share it here. That idea of keeping a spreadsheet sounds so helpful! wow, very organised. I haven't checked stylebook out - I like to use hardcopies and pen and paper - so old school! Thanks again for having a check at my little blog - very glad you're also in New Zealand! It's always hard to talk about Autumn when it's Spring in the Northern Hemisphere so I'm glad some of my readers will relate!! xox