A couple of years ago, I decided to set myself a challenge of not buying anything I didn’t really need for a whole year. For me the main challenge was not buying clothes – I’m not a shopaholic, but I’m a female who likes to express myself through what I wear and will happily fall for the lure of a dress from my favourite shop or a bargain from TK Maxx.
My main reason for setting myself this challenge was environmental. According to statistics published last year by the United Nations Environmental Programme, the amount of clothing produced annually has doubled in the last 15 years, and the clothing industry globally was responsible for 10% of all carbon emissions, more than all international flights and shipping combined.
Scary statistics like this often dominate the headlines, so I was keen to set myself an environmental challenge and also explore the other side of sustainable living – could a change in lifestyle that benefits the climate also benefit me psychologically?
How did it go?
A year is a long time, but I managed to buy nothing new apart from a couple of pairs of socks. At times I missed the fun of shopping and novelty of having something new, but did I feel badly dressed? Not once!
A new attitude
‘Shopping’ became a new experience. Although I didn’t go shopping by myself anymore, I still went out sometimes with my teenage children. Now instead of wandering off to search for something for me, I spent more time talking with my children, or just taking in the general scene. On a trip to Camden Market we started talking to one stall owner who had set up his own brand of streetwear. When he was a sociable youngster, his first sales pitch in Camden Market was selling cannabis to tourists, but since then he’d turned his life around and was now running a business selling eco-friendly clothes to provide jobs for youngsters who needed a second chance. Talking to him was truly inspirational, but if I’d been in standard browsing mode, I would have missed the opportunity for that conversation.
My gratitude for my existing wardrobe increased
Faced with not buying anything new, I became more appreciative of what I had. When I got bored of wearing the same things, I dug out things I hadn’t worn for a while and tried to put things together in a new way. If I didn’t wear something during that year, then I realised I never would wear it, and off to Oxfam it went.
My birthday presents were truly exciting
Halfway through my year of not buying, my birthday felt like Christmas as a seven year old! After six months of no spending, anticipation and savouring massively increased my pleasure in a new dress from my husband and other small gifts from friends. It also increased my gratitude to them for buying me gifts that felt truly special.
A creative way of refreshing my wardrobe became a social occasion
At another point in the year I held a clothes swap evening with my friends. We all brought along three things that we didn’t want any more and after a glass or two of wine, started swapping what we had brought along. We had a great time, and we all left with something new – even my friend who doesn’t ‘do’ second-hand found a new handbag that someone had brought along. Two years later, I still often wear a necklace that I acquired from another friend on that evening, and now when I wear it, it makes me think of her and reminds me of our friendship.
Along the way I shared my experiences with my friends
During my year of not buying, I started a blog to write about my experiences. Initially I was too shy to publicise it with my friends, but when I worked up the courage to share it, I had some lovely responses from friends telling me how I had made them think and they too had made small changes to their lives to reduce their environmental impact.
At the end of the year I reviewed my experience
Lots of people asked me if I had saved money, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise. Instead of ‘buying’ I had focussed on ‘doing’ and in the process I’d had more social connection with other people, increased my appreciation and gratitude for the things I do have, taken a small step to reduce my environmental impact and encouraged others to take action too.
A couple of years down the line, just writing about my experience has allowed me to once again savour the good feelings that I felt along the way. I do shop now, but I am much more mindful about what I buy and if I really need it. I allow myself freedom to splash out in charity shops, where I can keep my carbon footprint low and have the benefit of helping others with the proceeds of my purchases.
When I set out on my challenge, I had not discovered the subject of positive psychology but I discovered the hidden benefits that living a more sustainable lifestyle could offer. Now with my positive psychology hat on, I can see my experiment increased my social connectivity, gratitude and savouring, and combined with the added challenge of blogging about my year, helped me grow and develop as a person too.
About the author: Sarah Cramoysan is currently studying the MAPP course at Buckinghamshire New University. She is also a long-time Oxfam volunteer and has an interest in climate change and environmental issues. Sarah’s blog is at fledglingproject.blogspot.com