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What I learned from a year of not buying clothes

An ATB team member documents her year-long commitment of not buying clothes, along with tips for your own year of less.

By ATB Financial 31 May 2024 7 min read

The spark of inspiration 

While browsing for my next read at the library, I swung by the staff picks section. There’s always something there that catches my eye. I wasn’t disappointed—and I wasn’t prepared for what would follow—when I came across The Year of Less by Cait Flanders. The subtitle read: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store. These words would come to have personal application in my very-near future.

The challenge

I’ve frequently mentioned to my partner that I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was younger, and as an adult I still felt the pull to learn how to make my own clothes. One day, as I was reading Cait’s book at the table, my partner challenged me, “Why don’t you commit to a year without buying clothes, so you give yourself no choice but to learn to make your own?” 

So we agreed to it: 2022 would be a year of “consuming less and creating more”, bound by my commitment to not buy any clothing—aside from necessities deemed to be socks, underwear and bras—and my partner’s commitment to not play video games. What came next would be deeply revealing for the both of us.


The state of life pre-challenge

Beyond the desire to create, I had a feeling that clothes were beginning to take up more of my mental energy then I wanted to admit. While I intentionally bought from socially conscious brands and niche designers, that didn’t seem to quell the unease I felt when I made a purchase. I had a rhythm of researching a specific clothing item, dropping a significant amount on it, wearing it for a season, then reselling it on Noihsaf Bazaar(back when it was an IG resale platform). Using the money from my clothing sales, I could continue the cycle.

For some folks, this is a sustainable way to fuel their appreciation of fashion. But I was sensing that this didn’t feel sustainable for me.

I also had to face my spending habits. At this point, we were living on my income alone, and recovering from two financially hard years. All signs pointed to creating my own year of less.

What I learned along the way

I was buying for a future-me, a different-me—not real-me. 

During my year of less, I was confronted with my relationship with social media. When I scrolled Instagram and Pinterest, I’d get these ideas of who I “should be”, or who I wanted to become—and how that translated into buying something that would align with that version of me. While there’s nothing wrong with setting goals, buying an item of clothing (or anything, for that matter) won’t change me, no matter what influencer says otherwise.

A phrase began to rise up in me during my year of less, becoming my mantra: “essence over image”. I understand my essence to be the real me, accessed through intuition, while my image was informed by outside sources, curated based on what’s perceived to be celebrated or shamed. By removing my ability to buy, I could connect with my gut and make decisions that I wanted, instead of taking action based on image. For me, this was far more fulfilling than any aesthetic could ever be.

It’s not about the clothes—it pointed to something much deeper. 

Going no-buy exposed some deep-seated financial trauma. When I was in elementary school, my family didn’t have the means to buy new clothes, which made me stick out at school in a predominantly wealthy neighborhood. I still vividly recall lacing up my hand-me-down Walmart shoes in gym class, when a popular girl said, “Nice shoes!” and laughed with her friends. 

As core memories like these began to surface, I realized that they were driving my purchasing habits. A fear of being judged for my clothing led me to believe that I had to constantly buy more to protect myself—no wonder I was leaning on outside sources to dictate what I should buy.

By acknowledging and managing my clothing addiction, I could discover what truly mattered to me, not what I was told should matter.

As I began to differentiate what was trauma and what was my intuition speaking, I began to have clarity on what I was told I should care about, and what I actually care about. While I was prompted by social media to constantly cycle through clothes or have a full closet, I realized I valued creativity, environmental and social sustainability, one-of-a-kind handmade goods, owning less while having more versatility, and simplicity. 

This fueled my motivation to learn how to sew and knit, lean into the initial discomfort of being bad at something, and eventually make garments I’m proud of. I’ve since created two pairs of pants, two knit sweaters, overalls, linen shorts, two tops, a tiered midi skirt, a puff-sleeved maxi dress and a satin bridesmaid’s dress (along with a few failed projects).

Clarity on my values also led me to clean out my closet about half way through my year—leaving me with less than 20 items total—and donate it all to a friend’s clothing swap. I felt deeply liberated, both from clothes that didn’t align with me and from the compulsion to earn money from clothing sales to fuel an endless string of purchases.

Knowing what I care about has given me an ease when I do buy clothes—I know what I want, I can discern a want from a need, and I can make choices that align with my real life. Plus, now my personal style is actually personal—not a replica of outfits on my feed.

Tips for your own year of less

  1. Remove (or at least moderate) outside influences: unsubscribe from promotional emails, take a break from social media or unfollow accounts that prompt you to consume. Constant exposure to messages that encourage buying only makes a no-buy year even more challenging—especially when you get those sale ads and emails!
  2. Set clear guidelines: before you start your year, outline the rules you’ve set out for yourself. It’s not so much about “doing it right” as it is about putting boundaries around the things that are getting in the way of you meeting your goals, so you’re set up to thrive during the year and in the years after.
  3. Share your commitment with those you trust (and don’t be afraid of saying “no”): taking a step back from the constant consumerism of our culture takes guts, and isn’t the norm. Naturally, friends and family might invite you to go shopping or talk about their purchases. Share your commitment with them, along with any details or boundaries you feel comfortable disclosing. I found it helpful to clarify that I’m not judging them for making purchases, and I’m happy to celebrate something they’re excited about. I also would try to steer conversations towards topics that didn’t revolve around purchases, and suggest budget-friendly activities like going for a walk or bike ride to connect.
  4. Commit with a friend or partner: even though my partner didn’t have the exact same commitment, knowing that he was going without video games gave me the motivation to continue with my year of less—especially in the moments when I wanted to break my commitment the most.
  5. Keep track of what you notice about yourself (triggers, memories, revelations, values, preferences): what made my year of less powerful was what I learned about myself along the way. Even the times I broke my commitment taught me so much, and opened the door for me to work through and heal from financial trauma. I would journal about the ah-ha moments I had, so I could give myself space to process them later or revisit it with my therapist. I also wrote down what I liked and insights into my values, so I could come back to them as a reminder and framework for decision making.

And what about my partner’s no video game commitment? He put the time he used to spend on video games towards learning how to woodwork and design furniture, taking an online Havard course to upskill, switching careers, developing a healthy routine and time management skills. I’m so proud of him.

So whatever you’re into, whatever you’d like to take a break from, hopefully this is the encouragement you need to take the leap and discover what you could learn during your own year of less.


Meet Tayllor.

Hi, I’m Tayllor, a full-time digital copywriter, part-time seamstress, poet, cyclist and aspiring herbalist. In October 2023, I published my first collection of poetry, A Year In The Garden, a life-long dream. Having grown up in Alberta, you can now find me living on Canada’s west coast with my amazing partner, Nate. A sensitive soul, my hope in all of my writing is to encourage folks to reconnect with themselves and the natural world around them. 

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