5 Lessons Learned from a Year of NOT Buying Clothes

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5 Lessons Learned from a Year of NOT Buying Clothes

5 Lessons Learned from a Year of NOT Buying Clothes

The end of the year is always good for reflection on lessons learned. The resolutions we made last year are tallied and deemed successful or not. Did we do as well as expected?

This time last year I made a pledge to go a full year without shopping for clothes. The Ready-to-Wear Fast was a challenge created by Sarah Gunn of Goodbye-Valentino. Sarah has been RTW free since 2011!

Reflecting back on 2017, I realized I had only bought a handful of items. 2 pairs of jeans and 1 cute floral top were my final purchases from NY&Co. I knew I could do a full fast without much effort.

The rules were simple: no buying clothes you can make (excluding unmentionables and socks). Wedding dresses and MOB dresses were also excepted. Nearly everything else was free game.

There were allowances for emergencies, thankfully. Like when I found myself stranded in Canada without pants!

Here are the lessons I learned along the way:

Lesson #1: if I can make it, why buy it?

This one is the most obvious reason for the challenge. But it goes even deeper for me because I used to have a severe retail therapy problem.

5 Lessons Learned from a Year of NOT Buying Clothes

Prior to meeting my husband, I routinely dropped hundreds of dollars on clothes I didn’t need. But I thought they were pretty and I was impulsive and figured I could always return something if I didn’t use it (guess how often that happened).

This presented a problem when we moved in together. I had to get rid of at least 1/3 of my clothes because we just didn’t have the closet space in our new apartment!

After I had been sewing for a year, I finally weaned myself off this nasty habit. I learned that if I really wanted something, I could learn to make it. I still regularly take pictures of clothes in stores for inspiration. Sometimes I can look at a garment and immediately remember a pattern for it. And yet, I still haven’t made all—or maybe any!—of these inspiration pieces. But if I had given myself the option to buy them, I’d have at least another 25 items in my closet that I DON’T NEED.

So that’s a very long way of saying I’ve learned to live with less.

Lesson #2: I have too many clothes

Towards the end of the year, my closet started getting full again. I’ve learned to only put out the seasonally appropriate clothes, so half of my stuff already lives in boxes under the bed. But with the crazy challenges I threw myself into (100 makes in 2018, 52 Weeks of Sewing), I had really churned out a lot of clothing.

And I didn’t even like all of it!

That’s when I stopped sewing. It wasn’t even intentional. Sometime in September I suddenly didn’t want to sew much anymore. It was only later that I realized it was partially because there was nowhere to put any new garments.

5 Lessons Learned from a Year of NOT Buying Clothes

This leads to the next lesson learned…

Lesson #3: clothes deserve to take time

I have a LOT of clothes. But few of them are well-made clothes. I might as well have thrown $5 away at a fast-fashion store for how crappy some of my self-made garments are. The reason for that is I was used to speeding through projects.

This is both good and bad. I made a lot of things that made me into a better sewist. But I also made a lot of things that are just plain terrible (on my way to becoming a better sewist)!

I finally started taking my time with my projects. One of my anniversary dresses was a purple-blue Colette Myrtle.

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This simple dress took me twice what I normally gave myself to finish a project. It took a total of 4 days. You might think that’s fast—but I also no longer have a full-time job. I can sew all day every day if that’s what I choose. So 4 days is a long time for me.

I made bias-binding for it. That always takes more time that I think it will.

The teal leopard hoodie took 8 days. A hoodie! A knit item that was mostly serged! It took me 8 whole days. At least it has some nice finishes

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The haori took a full 11 days. I made an IG post about how I specifically wasn’t rushing that one because I needed a mental break.

None of these are couture pieces. But they aren’t going to fall apart in the wash either. I’ve had that happen. My poor Suki is trashed. Why? Because I didn’t know that wovens have to be sewn together and NOT simply serged. The fabric shreds right out of the stitches. So much for cutting corners.

I’ll no longer plan to rush through projects. I’m no longer going to put some random production number on myself, like 1 make per week or 100 items next year. I’m not a sewing factory, so why pretend to act like one?

There might still be some quicker makes next year. But then again, I have a full closet, so we’ll see about that. It might just be my year of sewing for others. Or the year of bag making. Or bra making?

Lesson #4: buying patterns/fabric and making clothes are 2 different hobbies

This is a common joke among my sewing friends. I’ve recently joined a group specifically for people who have more fabric and/or patterns than they’ll ever be able to use in a lifetime. Are we makers or are we hoarders?

5 Lessons Learned from a Year of NOT Buying Clothes

I would like to stop being a hoarder and return to being a maker. Even though my new home has a studio for me, that doesn’t mean it has a ton more storage. So I strongly feel like I need to get out from under my heap of fabric and USE it.

The pattern heap…well it’s mostly digital. But I still need to chill on the pattern buying front. Since I’m a #sewmystyle leader next year, I know I’m definitely going to buy a few more, but that might be my limit. Or if I do buy anything at all, I’m definitely waiting until Black Friday 2019. While I fully support small businesses making money, I also run a blog that brought in a grand total of 70 cents in 2018. So I’ll shop the sales when I can.

I didn’t even buy anything this year during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday madness. Probably because I learned this lesson by then. But if I can hold off on ALL pattern buying until November of next year, how great would that be?

Lesson #5: sewing is no longer my sole creative outlet

Maybe it’s because I’m making fewer things, or simply because I’m burnt out, but I no longer turn to sewing to release my creativity. I’m writing a lot more than usual. I’m reading a lot more than I have all year (finished 2 books just this month already!). But I have little desire to sew.

5 Lessons Learned from a Year of NOT Buying Clothes

And that is okay. Sometimes a creative outlet goes dormant for a little while. I know it will be back. I already have an itch for a certain cardigan I bought purple fleece for LAST YEAR. Maybe it will be the first thing I make in my new studio?

In his book Create or Hate, Dan Norris talks about creating more than we consume. Even if I’m not sewing so much, I am still creating.

I added a blog newsletter this year! That’s a whole new creative outlet that didn’t exist before. And it’s given me a space to connect with other makers outside of the sewing medium. I love that. I crave that!

I want to keep exploring other outlets this coming year. Of course, I’ll still sew. But maybe I’ll also go back to crocheting. I learned to do that when I was 8! I gave up knitting a few years ago because I had wrist issues. But now that my weightlifting is helping strengthen my arms, maybe those issues have disappeared?

I guess we’ll see!

2019 Fast?

I do plan to continue to “fast” into 2019. That’s mostly fueled by my lack of space for new clothes though, not my sewing plans. I simply don’t need more stuff! But I also know now that I won’t feel bad if I do need to buy something I could make. Like workout leggings. I’ve never made myself a pair that fit right. And I can buy them more cheaply than the cost of fabric + my time, so it will be nice to be able to get more of those soon.

I’m also looking forward to doing more upcycling this year. Whether that’s on my own existing clothes or some thrifted items, I don’t yet know. But I’m enamored with what YouTubers Annika Victoria and Coolirpa do, so maybe it’s time to throw my creativity in that direction.

Do you have any lessons learned for 2018? Were you also on a ready-to-wear fast? Do you plan to continue next year? So many questions! Feel free to answer down in the comments.

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Meg M
Meg M
Dec 21, 2018 9:18 am

Greetings – I just discovered your blog, via the 2018 RTW Fast. If you are seeking, or interested anyway, in quality clothing patterns with excellent instructions, check out Louise Cutting, at . Her styles are lovely, instructions so well-written that they have won awards!, and she has tutorials and also DVDs about fitting, and many sewing tips. See what you think. Every time I’ve made one of her designs, I get compliments on it, and I wear them with confidence – unlike some of my other home-sewn items. Happy Holidays — Meg McKinnehy

Dec 21, 2018 9:26 am

I really enjoyed reading your post – so much I identified with, it was helpful to have it all expressed for me 🙂 I too joined the RTW fast and I believe I will continue into 2019 b/c there were several occasions when I ALMOST bought something then stopped myself remembering I was committed to the fast! But the problem was that my pattern & fabric stash ballooned right out of control. My husband absolutely had a fit when he realized how much I had when we went through a tidying/rearranging project of our apartment. I was so embarrassed! So… Read more »

Dec 21, 2018 2:12 pm

This was my first year officially fasting, but I actually only bought one thing the year before so it wasn’t too hard to keep up. My problem has been buying more and more fabric in the hopes I’ll get to making xyz project… I do need new clothes but I usually prefer to sew for my kids so 🤷‍♀️. Maybe next year I’ll make all those jeans I wanted to make this year! I’m also joining the sew your stash challenge in 2019 but since I do so many strikes in a year, I’m not sure if it will make… Read more »

Dec 23, 2018 1:49 pm

Wow what a coold resolution and well done for doing sew well (pun intended hehe!). Seriously though… amazing job! We’ve also tried to cut down on our buying of clothes, but sports wear and hiking gear often needs replacing so we haven’t done as well as we’d hoped! Good luck for next year!

Raluca Zagura
Jan 10, 2019 8:27 am

Not big a shopper, but I still have to do lesson 3 – it’s something I learned last year too, not by not buying clothes though, but by trying to create a minimalist wardrobe. I still have to work towards this goal! And one more thing: congratulations for not buying clothes for a year! It couldn’t have been easy!

Jan 10, 2019 9:49 am

What a hard challeng you took!! I am not a compulsive shopper but I could never give up shopping for an entire year… especially because I know nothing about sewing! Surprisingly my 8 years old daughter ask Santa a sewing machine for Christmas… I guess it’s time to learn sewing!!! And maybe teach her your lesson: why buying it, if you can make it yourself!