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My low-spend ’11: buy less than 12 items of clothing in 2011

Posted by on Tuesday 4 January 2011 in anti-consumerism, frugal | 37 comments

In my goals for 2011 list, I’ve mentioned that I’m going to limit the amount of clothes I buy in 2011. I’m not going to buy any more than 12 items of clothing in total over the year.

I could have gone for a complete ban – “no clothes in 2011” – and I know a number of people have done that, and succeeded. But my unexpected “emergency” spending (broken boiler, sick dog) during my recent no spend weeks proved something I already suspected: complete bans on spending or buying certain items are unsustainable for me.

In terms of clothes, I have a lot of them but they’re nearly all extremely casual day wear – jeans, cotton tops & hoodies. Even my idea of smart is smart-very-casual – slightly neater jeans and a nicer top. If something more formal came up – a job interview, a funeral, a wedding I couldn’t duck out of (and I duck out of most of them) – then I’d be stuck. I also teach teenagers one evening a week so have to have appropriate clothes for that (doesn’t have to be smart but has to be, you know, non-boob-flashing decent). And I probably didn’t buy more than 20 things in 2010 and I’ve got a cardigan in semi-regular circulation that I bought when I was 16 (big then, snug now) – so some things may need replacing. Having a ration of 12 allows me some flexibility when things are needed, or hell, just really, really wanted.

(The original goal (which I may have posted about the place and was in my goal list until last night) was that I could buy 12 new items of clothing AND 12 second-hand but I deleted the second bit because that doesn’t really matter – and 12 in total is much more of a challenge.)

My goal with this limit isn’t necessarily to save money – it may do but equally, I might decide to spend more on quality items than I would have done in the past – but to only spend it consciously and on things that I’ve properly considered. I want to have to ask myself “do I really want this? do I really need this? Is it better to buy this wear-all-the-time t-shirt or that wear-once ballgown?”. It’s about reducing consumption and breaking habits.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a confession on Recycle This about my almost-addiction to buying clothes. I had a bit of a hoarding tendency towards cheap clothes – if I saw something that I liked and it was officially a bargain (in a sale, charity shop or super-cheap to start with), I’d buy it because who knew when something like that would come up as cheap again? But in these days of practically-disposable clothes, something always comes along that cheap again, and again, and again. For example, I used to wear an all-black self-imposed sort-of uniform to work every day and whenever I passed a sale rack, I’d check it for black tops to add to my collection. By the time I finished working at the uni, I had about 30 black work tops, including some I’d never or rarely worn because there was a reason why they were on that sale rack.

Already when I wrote that confessional, I had improved my ways a lot and I’ve cut back a whole lot more since then. But I still think it would be useful to consider it more consciously – as I said above, I probably didn’t buy more than 20 things in total in 2010, but that’s off the top of my head now, thinking about the purchases I can remember, stuff that’s now in regular circulation – who knows how many things I’ve forgotten because they were mistakes and got buried at the back of the wardrobe? I want to know exactly what I’ve bought in 2011. I want to break these habits once and for all.

As with my no spend week last month, I’m giving myself a few exceptions though:

  • Essential footwear – to me, some footwear is less a fashion choice and more essential health & safety gear – eg wellies, supportive trainers/boots, work boots. I think I’m all set in this department but I won’t need to buy anything but I’d like it as an exception just in case. (However, if I buy non-essential footwear – like the leather boots I’ve been looking out for – then that’ll be counted in the 12).
  • Essential underwear – ditto to large degree – with my gargantuan sweater cows, I need good bras for scaffolding purposes. As for knickers & socks, I tend to buy multi packs for value – that would wipe out half my allowance in one pack! Again, I think I’ve got enough to last out the year anyway and this exception only covers essentials – “because they’re pretty” pants don’t count.
  • Presents and other freebies – people don’t tend to buy me clothes but I’ve had the odd geeky tshirt as a gift – seems unfair to have to include stuff in my limit if it’s “forced” upon me. (I *won’t* use this as a get-around – “Philip Green gave me this as a present in exchange my gift to his shop of £30” or even “John bought this for me because I wanted it” – just to cover genuine gifts.)
  • Stuff I make myself – another of my 11 goals for 2011 is to make my own clothes – I’m hope not having a steady stream of shop-bought items pouring in will encourage me to take to my sewing machine. I’d love it if it got to the end of the year and my wardrobe was jam-packed with new items – I’d only bought 12 things but made 20. That would be ace.

So that’s it – no more than 12 items of clothing in 2011. Let’s see how it goes!

Have you tried a clothes ban/strict ration before? Any hints/tips?

Anyone want to join me in this one?


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Linda

    My first tip would be never to buy when you first see an item. See if the store will put it aside for you for a period of time. This means you can go home and check through your wardrobe for the 3 similar items you forgot you had, or check just what will actually go with the item, or cool off and realise you don’t need it -especially it it’s just because it’s cheap.
    My second is don’t go to the shops -it’s a sure fire way to not buy things!
    My third is go shopping in your own wardrobe. Pull everything out -even those boxes and cases that are getting dusty and see what treasure is lurking in your historical purchases and is now back in fashion, fitting you, etc.
    Good luck
    Fellow hoarder

    • louisa

      Hi Linda,

      Thanks for the tips – I plan to have a wardrobe purge for decluttering very soon but I’ll also “shop from it” at the same time.

      Your second tip is one of the reasons I cut back on buying clothes when I left full-time employment, and have done so even more now. When I worked at the university, I had to pass through the clothes-shop mecca of the city centre twice a day – the temptation to go in and “just check” the offers was overwhelming. I can’t stand going into the city centre now – altogether far less temptation!

  2. Taphophile

    Good luck with this challenge. It’s something I’d find difficult.

    Even though I buy most of my clothing second hand, I buy too much of it. I’m a difficult to fit size, so when I find something that fits, it’s very hard to leave it behind.

    I’ll join you. Starting now.

    • louisa

      I’m a bit like that too, Taphophile – but I think it’s resulted in me buying a lot of things I don’t really like just because they fit. Here’s to us both cracking that habit, hey?

  3. bookstorebabe

    I need to ruthlessly purge my closet. I shop secondhand, to save money, but still-I have so many clothes I don’t wear. Needs mending, or it’s something that requires ironing, or it’s a lovely jacket, but I don’t have a skirt or slacks to wear with it. That kind of stuff. And the stuff shoved all the way in the back I’ve forgotten.
    I haven’t had a working dryer for a bit, just a washer. And there’s nothing like having to wash small loads and hang it all up inside to bring home how many clothes I have.
    First, I’ll winnow down and try to be ruthless. Then, I’ll make a list of what I need. (won’t be a long list, but still.)
    I don’t think I’ll have the willpower to say 12 and stick to it. But I’ll think, then think again, before I buy.
    Okay, I have a resolution. I think I’ll mark on the calendar anything I buy, so I can’t tell myself “I haven’t bought that much this year.” Bit harder to fool myself if I see I’ve written 2 in january, 10 in feb, ect. :)

    • louisa

      Hi bookstorebabe,

      I think that’s a really good compromise.

      I’m not sure I’ll have the willpower to stick to 12 either – we’ll just have to see! The original idea (up to 12 brand new, 12 second-hand) seemed like it would be a bit too easy, not much of a challenge, but I think just 12 will be a lot harder — when I buy stuff online, I tend to buy a few things at once to make the p&p more worthwhile – if I buy three tops in one go, that’s a quarter of my allowance for the year!

  4. Su

    I am attempting in 2011 to follow the principles of clothes rationing in the war! You apparently got 60 coupons (later reduced to 48) and each clothes item had a value, eg: coat 14 coupons, socks 1 coupon, shoes 5 coupons. I don’t think that I could stick to only 12 items, since the new bras that I really do need, would eat up quite a lot of the allowance. I am going to include charity shop and second hand buys in the total as I am trying to buy better quality stuff that will last.
    I have purged my wardrobe prior to this. In fact I now have ‘only’ 5 coats! Another will go when I see if I can repair the waterproof coat that I prefer

    • louisa

      Ooh fun idea! I think second-hand clothing was exempt from the rationing, wasn’t it? So you could still buy that without using up your coupons. Do let us know how you’re get on with it!

  5. Alice

    Oh dear. I really, really need to do this, and now you’ve dared me. What I also desperately need to do is get rid of all the clothes that I’ve bought but don’t fit me.

    If you think it’s not cheating, send me an email with your sizes and the type of thing you might want to wear. If I’ve anything that might do you then I’ll cycle it round and “gift” it to you, thus you get more clothes for your 12 and I get rid of some of this huge clothes mountain I’ve accumulated somehow.

    This offer also open to anyone else in Leeds!

    • louisa

      I really really need to do that too! Perhaps we should organise a clothes swap afternoon – any other West Yorkshire or thereabouts people interested?

  6. Alice

    Do you have a venue in mind? Maybe we could use my housing co-op.

  7. louisa

    I didn’t have a venue in mind – but that sounds like it might be a good one! I’ll poke around and see if I can get some other people interested too :)

  8. Alice

    Ooh, just seen this clothing agency which is in the St John’s Centre in Leeds. I’ve always been a bit scared of these places, but for a while I’ve been getting into secondhand dresses from Ebay, some of which might just be nice enough for people like this to sell for me…


  9. Aunty Rubbish

    Brilliant idea. I’m going to join you on this one. I like the idea that there’s a tiny bit of leeway with 12. It’ll certainly make me think twice before spending, and also, will fit with my own resolution to shop in more charity shops!

  10. Jan

    I really like this idea, I am on a limited budget and have restricted myself to buying within my weekly spend by saving some of each weeks budget towards bigger items. But this seems to have become an end in itself rather than the means to an end. I will be trying 12 items for the year, but excluding underwear. My other rule is never to pay full-price for clothes, I have managed to stick to this quite easily as the internet alerts you to sales/bargains. Don’t think I can include shoes in the twelve items though!

  11. Jan

    (the other Jan)
    I did a quick check and I suspect that I nearly managed this last year by mistake. When I started including work shirts it was a bit closer to borderline, but still as a guy, I guess it is a bit easier.

    • louisa

      Deb (who regularly comments on here) and I got into a discussion about the challenge with some of our mutual male friends on Twitter the other day. The phrase “12 pieces of clothing should be enough for 5 years!” came up in a number of variations.

      While I hate to admit it (since I really, really hate lazy gender stereotypes), there does seem to a division between men’s and women’s attitudes to buying clothes – not inherent or “natural” but something we’re schooled to do. I do know some boys who are clothesaholics but even the most ungirliest girls I know still tend to have a lot of clothes than at all necessary or at least a higher turnover of them.

      I wonder – and it is just an unsubstantiated wonder – if we’re almost forced into it. Women’s tops tends to be more shaped and use lighter fabrics so perhaps lose shape/look scruffier faster. And perhaps because we-as-a-gender are likely to replace clothes regardless, there is even less incentive for clothes manufacturers to put effort into making them to a standard that will last. Perhaps that’s just an excuse though ;)

      • Alice

        Also there’s more social pressure on women about how they look, plus men’s clothes tend to be more generic so that almost any top will go with any bottoms etc.

        Something like a pair or red cords is probably not going to go with an orange top, for example, but men are steered away from vibrant colours anyway so aren’t likely to end up with many clashes in their wardrobe.

        They also keep changing the cut so that for example waistlines one season will be higher or lower than all the clothes you already have will accomodate, so you have to buy further clothes just so you have anything to wear your new ones with.

        Manufacturers just don’t mess around like this so much with men’s clothes.

  12. Jan

    Just made my first purchase of the year- a pair of cosy cord trousers from laura ashley sale, reduced twice to £17! And I got points on my card for vouchers. As I had vouchers left from last year, I was able to get another £6 off- a really good start to the year. Also persuaded the menfolk of the family to have a declutter and took two large bags of good quality clothing(too big/too small/ not currently upto date fashion) to our local hospice charity shop-and didn’t buy anything either-that in itself is a first!Hope I can keep going in the same vein.

  13. Su

    Second hand clothing was exempt from rationing during the war, but I am including it for 2 reasons. Firstly, clothing was much more expensive than it is now and therefore less accessible. Secondly, and more importantly for me, if I allow myself this exception, I will use it, to extreme! The only exception that I am allowing myself is if I make the item of clothing myself, from materials that I already have.

  14. jan

    Not sure about mens clothing- my hubby buys expensive shoes (I can get two or three pairs for the price) but they are classic in style and last a long time I suppose. My husband used to buy expensive suits and shirts for work as well. As he is now retired he has had to buy a whole new wardrobe of casual and cosy wear to avoid putting on the heating during the day. This seems to be taking a long time to build up and he still buys some more formal wear which does seem to be more pricey than mine. Overall he spends more and buys more items, and would never consider second hand/charity shop items-at least I feel virtuous in comparison!

  15. Mari

    I am SO with you!

    I just posted the second outfit for the I6L styling challenge.

    So excited! What do you think?


    La Copine


  16. Colleen (365lessthings.com)

    I can do this (I think). I will join you in this mission. My wardrobe is probably a little overstocked in some areas anyway and I am working on natural progression decluttering which I wrote about on my blog today http://www.365lessthings.com/?p=888 if you care to read it. I will mark my google calendar now to remind me to check in with you each month and let you know how I am doing with it. Thanks for the idea! Lets hope we both succeed.

  17. Maria

    I’m totally in! I have a number of motivators to help me here, the #1 being my income has gone way down recently. I am also quite crafty with the sewing machine, and have a whole stash of clothes from my closet that I have wanted to upcycle/resize.

  18. louisa

    Welcome aboard Colleen and Maria! I’ve added you to the list – do keep us up-to-date with how you do!

  19. Mrs Green @ my zero waste

    great new years resolution – good luck with that! I’m on a decluttering mission this year and of course, my wardrobe will be getting ‘the treatment’. I find it hard to throw things out; even things I don’t really wear, but my ‘resolution’ if you like is to buy quality rather than quantity. For the first time ever I’ve tried on some decent labels and I can’t begin to tell you the difference. The clothes LOOK good (which means you want to wear them more) and they last well. They don’t go out of shape and it’s been quite a revelation. So although I couldn’t commit to only 12 items, I will certainly be steering clear of disposable fashion. I’m also trying to achieve my goal of creating a capsule wardrobe, it’s not easy as I don’t have a good eye for this sort of thing but I’m getting there….

    • louisa

      Hi Mrs Green!

      Yes, it’ll be hard to break my lifetime of frugal habits but I’m going to try to make sure my up-to-12 items are good quality that will last — there is a possibility I might spend more on my 12 items than I would have done without a limit, but the hope is those 12 items will last.

      I’ve mentioned before that I struggle to find quality items in some fields though – gone are the days where we can use price as an indicator of quality. What labels do you go for? Are there any particular things you look out for to show quality workmanship?

  20. Mrs Green @ my zero waste

    Personally I think making spending limits isn’t as helpful as buying quality, but of course it depends on the budget. I feel it’s important to get away from the ‘cheap’ things we all take for granted and begin to understand value and true ‘cost’ – ie cost to the environment, to other people etc…

    Regarding quality and labels to look for; I really can’t comment. I think they key is to lots of shopping around until you find something where the fabric feels wonderful, the cut is great and you feel amazing in it. Then you could do some background research about how the company is run. A good starting point is Ethical Consumer magazine and the Gooshing site too.

    Have fun!

  21. Chiot's Run

    Great idea, a five years ago I did the buy no clothes for an entire year, on top of that I went through my clothes and minimized them to what would fit on 15 hangers and in my dresser without stuffing. I’ve never been much of a clothes horse, but I did tend to buy sale stuff because it was cheap.

    Love what you’re saying about investing in quality rather than quantity. Doing the no buy clothes exercise really made me take stock of what I like to wear and helped me realize what I like and what I don’t. It also helped me realize that being ‘in style’ isn’t necessarily needed, you can buy good quality classic pieces that don’t really go out of style, you aren’t necessarily on the cusp of fashion, but you never look outdated either. I now have a clear picture of what I feel good in and don’t buy otherwise. It also freed me up to spend more on individual pieces. I don’t mind paying $130 for a hoodie that’s made of 100% wool, will last forever and is made responsibly with no children being taken advantage of in the process. I may spend more on each piece, but overall I’m still spending less because I don’t buy as much and my pieces last longer.

    It’s kind of like buying a good set of pans, they’re expensive, but they’ll last the rest of your life, so in the course of 50 years you end up saving a ton.

  22. Jan

    February was a short month so less time to be tempted by bargains, but I did buy some sale items. Have been looking for a useful jacket for a while and persuaded myself I could afford to replace my barbour jacket as the last one went to freecycle when it became too tight-I had owned and loved it for over twenty years!But when I tried them on I decided the styles were a bit old fashioned and looked for something with a bit of shape. They had one jacket that didn’t come in my size(20)so had to do a bit of hunting-two near misses, one a gents waxed jacket in Debenhams sale and one from Hawkshead sale that had to be returned as it just didn’t look right. Finally found one in the Boden sale for £62 plus p&p- funky lining, waxed exterior, biker style with lots of zips and a good fit. However, as we we were off to Edinburgh and County Durham for a break it felt a bit cold so I bought a zip up fleece in the Hawkshead sale to wear underneath-so lovely and cosy I am now trying to persuade my 85 year old mother in law to get one!Luckily we visited a factory shop in Peterlee on the way up so I could stock up on underwear at really good prices too-three pairs of Pringle socks for £5 and 2 pairs of control pants for £8, so not a bad month as I am well stocked up now.

  23. Maria

    As of today, I think I have kept to the resolution quite well. Other than a pack of underwear, I have not bought anything new.
    I have a theme party coming up on Saturday, where we are supposed to dress up as pirates. For the costume, I found 2 shirts at Goodwill ($3.50 each). The 1st one is a black colored dress shirt that I converted into a tight-fitting vest, lined with a satiny remnant that I already had. I will wear this over the 2nd, a white-off-the-shoulder flowy shirt. I also found a remnant of black vinyl at a fabric store, which I am making into a pirate hat.

  24. Maria

    Oh, and as follow-up to my last post: Only a few months ago I had given a huge bag of old clothes to charity, in which there were 2 shirts I could have used for my costume! I make myself feel better by saying the $7 I spent at Goodwill for the 2 shirts was a donation to Goodwill. : )

  25. Maria

    Today was the first day in a very long time I spent a significant amount of time in a mall. I spent 3 hours in the mall while I was waiting to have my car fixed. I did a lot of browsing, but I didn’t but one piece of clothing!!! Yay!
    And no, I have not bought any pieces since I got the clothes from Goodwill.
    Oh, and I recently learned how to darn socks. So now I don’t have to throw them out every time they get a hole!

  26. louisa

    Hi Marie, sorry I missed your previous comments!

    Well done on resisting the lure of the mall! I need to learn how to darn socks properly – it doesn’t seem worth it with the super cheap ones (which start to go threadbare after a few years – but around the same time that they’re losing elasticity etc) but I’ve got a few nicer pairs that are worth repairing. Did you follow an online tutorial? If so, care to share the link?

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