Not Buying Clothes: Year Three


So, it’s that time of year again when I fondly recall that the last time I willingly purchased a piece of apparel for me and K was July of 2012. I say “willingly” because I’m still miffed about having to shell out cash for a couple of t-shirts and a pair of knit capris last year on an unplanned trip. I’m going to disregard that particular incident and act as though my three-year track record of clothes shopping abstention is unblemished.

What makes this truly remarkable is that I used to love buying clothes with the kind of insatiable fervor of an addict. Loved loved loved loved clothes shopping. Well… it was more of a love/hate relationship. I loved the possibilities that a shopping trip held, that slightly chemical and perfumed scent of brand new garments on a rack, the thrill of a bargain. But the ugly side was the woes that filled the fitting rooms, the vast difference between what I imagined the clothes would look like on me and the reality of how they actually fit. Secretly, I obsessed about the tiny printed numbers on the tags — I experienced a boost of confidence if the tags showed a smaller size, and a sharp dip in mood if the numbers seemed too high. I have been known to buy a piece of clothing just because it sported the words, “size 6”, even if the seams strained to burst. “It fits!!” I would tell myself. I also did not enjoy tallying up the financial damages these sprees incurred.

But all of that is behind me. Sort of. I worry that I’ve just transferred my excessive predilections to sewing. I’ve been watching with growing concern as K’s DIY wardrobe continues to balloon and my own collection of handmade clothes overflows out of my rather large IKEA Hemnes dresser that was already crammed to the hilt with ready-to-wear.


A few months ago, I eagerly embraced the KonMari method from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and purged like a madwoman. Then slowly, inevitably, stuff started to pile up again. I made more clothes. I accumulated fabrics and props for the book photo shoots. K brought home a mountain of papers from school. Christmas and birthdays happened. Also, I hadn’t eliminated as much of my own clothes as I’d thought and I had difficulty rolling the clothes in the way Marie Kondo described in her book, causing some untidy storage issues.

During one of the photo shoots at my house, we shifted the IKEA dresser out of the way and moved the hallway dresser into my bedroom for a shot, and I gushed over the way the antique elevated the feel of the room. That’s my lovely flea market 1920s dresser at the very top. But it’s small and I’ve been using it to hold extra linens by the bathroom, and it would only accommodate about 1/4 of my clothes, if that. In a surge of inspired action, we played some musical dressers, and K inherited the IKEA behemoth to replace the tiny dresser that had been inadequate for a few years, and I vowed to slash my wardrobe.


I ruthlessly applied the “Does this spark joy?” test and filled four trash bags. I was fairly blasé about my store-bought garments as I tossed them in the bags, but I could feel the resistance bubble up when I tried to let go of my handmade clothes…the hours I spent on them! The beautiful fabrics! The truth is, many of the clothes I made don’t fit very well, and I rarely reach for them. And quite a few that I do wear regularly look shabby and tired. I did hold onto a number items made out of prized Miss Matatabi fabric to repurpose, but stored them away out of sight. You can see my work-in-progress in the images above. I still have a little more work to do to trim down my clothing stash, and I might go all out and get super minimalistic. Am I ready? I don’t know…

I do know that I’ve been eyeing people’s outfits a lot lately, thinking “Ooh, I want to make a summer dress like that one,” or “That shirt with the placket and subtle horse print is so fun…” I’ve been sketching a plethora of sewing ideas and jonesing to make more clothes for myself. How to balance these diametrically opposed desires to purge and make? It’s my perennial quagmire, but for now, I’m patting myself on the back for not buying any clothes for three years. No matter what else, I’m happy to chalk that up as a major accomplishment.

P.S. I’ve been mulling over the whole concept of shopping since reading this quirky and charming little book. Among interesting observations on consumer behavior, the author spent a year painting all the things she didn’t (but wanted) to buy, including items from her Pinterest board. I think I might start painting things from my Pinterest board, but that might take me a few million years…

24 thoughts on “Not Buying Clothes: Year Three

  1. I can relate to this, Sanae! I have Marie Kondo’s book, but haven’t finished, because there are so many books I’m part way through. Books.. one of my weak points. So I haven’t done clothes yet, and am still no closer (in fact back to where I started 2 years ago) with my weight… I can’t bear to part with lovely suits that I one day hope to wear again. They are classics.

    Anyway, I think the painting is a good idea. I had the idea to photograph things I wanted to buy, a while ago. Somehow, having the picture gives me some pleasure, without having to buy it. I’m not always successful, and sometimes shops don’t allow pictures, but it’s a good method!

    1. I like the idea of taking photos! Books are a major weakness for me too, and I have to admit I indulge more than I should, but I’ve been trying a couple of methods to curb my desire to possess every book I find interesting. I’ve started keeping an Evernote list called “Books I want to read” and whenever I come across a book that catches my fancy, I write it down on the list. If it’s a book I really, really want to read, then I search the library to see if an ebook version is available. It definitely helps! 🙂

      Thanks, Jenny!

  2. I started really purging about a year ago and you are so right, it is hard to get rid of the home made clothes. Even if they don’t fit or look right. I have now gone with a mostly capsule wardrobe which I switch out in the fall for fall/winter and in the spring for spring/summer. That way things that I wouldn’t be wearing in the next season aren’t taking up space. This has helped me a ton! Also I look to see what I’m missing in my wardrobe and try to sew things that fill it in. Good Luck and congrats on the purging you’ve already done!!!!

    1. Ah, the capsule wardrobe. I can’t tell you how long I’ve had “create a capsule wardrobe” on my to-do list, Kristi! But I WILL get around to it, I’m determined. So many things I want to do…But one by one, I’m getting there, and the purging is going very nicely indeed. Thank you!

  3. Good morning, Sanae! How are you managing in this heat? I find I only want to wear sleeveless and thin cottons so even double gauze feels too warm! Crazy!

    It’s hard to get rid of your handmade clothes. I have gotten rid of a few now and actually felt much better for it. However, the ones with Nani Iro fabrics I am keeping them aside. As you say, you might refashion some of it for you or for K. It sounds like you’re doing well with your purging.

    It’s funny the old “rule” that if you haven’t worn something for a year, get rid of it. I’m glad I hung on to some that are for hot weather but I rarely had a chance to wear before. With THIS summer, I am wearing those things a lot!

    BTW, the link to that last book (about painting what you want to buy) is not working.

    1. I fixed the link, thanks so much Melissa! This heat is outrageous! We are now on day 6 of sleeping in our creepy basement in a makeshift bedroom, which is actually manageable. 🙂

      It feels so great to take the plunge and get rid of the handmade clothes that weren’t fitting all that well, doesn’t it?? I felt so much lighter after I tossed the donation bags into the chutes (Seattle has a bunch of metal “boxes” around the city in which you can donate clothing, etc.). I did think about the one year rule too, but mostly I relied on the “spark joy” part. My wedding dress, for example, I would never get rid of because it brings me so much joy, but I won’t wear it again (fingers crossed) and it occupies a very special place in the closet :-).

      Stay cool, Melissa!

  4. Well done – 3 years?! That’s great going. I have finally started sewing with jersey cause that was my biggest shopping temptation and my biggest sewing fear… 2 years though – wow. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. 🙂 As a former shopaholic, I’m having a hard time believing it myself, Clare! I am, however, a lover of habits, and now it’s just routine for me not to buy clothes. In fact, you can probably tell that it’s a point of pride and I’m curious to see how long I can go without any RTW purchases 🙂 I should really consider replacing/adding to some of my undergarments at some point, but I think I’m good for the time being. 🙂

  5. Oh how this post resonates with me! I also have read that and it’s always at my bedside. The reason is the word “joy” in the question. I need to remember that word when joy is hard to find. Yesterday for the first time ever I took clothes I’ve made and put them into bags for Goodwill. Someone else might love them, like I did in theory and in the imagining and the making but not in the wearing.

    But apart from justice and economics, I think it’s the actual thought impulse/desire juggling that’s the important part. Because sewing for me is such a creative act, even in making clothes for myself, that I refuse to stop doing that even though I have enough clothes. Probably for the next ten years. Sewing brings me so much joy. One partial solution is to make sure I wear the older things I’ve made, and keep them in rotation. It takes the edge off the statement “I need….” because then I see how untrue that is.

    And lastly, I started following a blog called YouLookFab. This blogger does not sew, but explains in gorgeous detail why and how clothing works on various bodies, and yes, she shops for everything for her clients. But I have learned so much from reading her. For example when she travels, she starts putting her wardrobe together with her shoes! because that’s the most important thing for comfort when you are walking around. So everything else she picks has to look good with the shoes. And if they do, she can’t make a mistake.
    So when i sew something, I’m now much more aware of how it works with any shoes I have, and what other pieces it will work with, if any. I wear a lot of cardigans, so I won’t sew something that I do not have a sweater for already.

    1. Donating your handmade clothes is a big step, Annelieke! They really do feel so much more precious given the investment we’ve put in…I loaned my Marie Kondo book to a friend, so I don’t have it on hand right now, but I feel like the basic joy guideline does the trick for me.

      And yes! I hear you on sewing being a creative outlet with the added weight of “do I really need this?” It sounds like you’re going in a direction of filling holes and/or considering your whole closet like Kristi does, so bravo! That’s something I want to do more of too!

  6. I couldn’t help but smile while reading this. I also suffer from Make-all-of-the-things syndrome, while at the same time feeling buried in stuff. I also completely understand the part where things keep creeping back in even before I’ve finished my KonMari cleaning. (My thrift store addiction and sewing “corner” may be to blame lol) I still LOVE that you’ve hit the three year no-retail mark though! Crazy 🙂

    1. Thank you, Kathryn! I think the best part of not buying any clothes for so long and incorporating regular sewing is that even when I go into boutiques or other clothing stores, I feel zero temptation. I get curious about how garments are constructed so I’ll stand there examining seams and finishes, but then I place the clothing back on the rack and go on my merry way. It’s very liberating :-). Yet stuff STILL piles up. Oy.

  7. I’ve been doing something similar for a long time – I don’t have an entirely me-made wardrobe, but I made a rule for myself that all of my everyday clothes must fit in my smallish dresser, my dresses in my half of the closet, and my jackets/rain gear in the tiny hall closet. It keeps me from accumulating too many old shirts in the bottoms of my drawers, and means I have a pretty good idea of what I own, what I wear, and what I need to replace (usually by sewing something myself.)

    1. Nice! I also have a small section in the closet for clothes that need to be hung and sweaters, and another small set of drawers for underwear/socks/workout clothes, but I’m trying really hard to streamline these. I like the idea of putting away out-of-season clothes to make more room, though with Seattle’s mild weather, I pretty much wear everything year-round. I’m making progress, nonetheless :-). Thank you!

  8. Congratulations! Three years is a long time to keep up with this or any self – imposed regime to stop consuming so much. Yay you! Every bit you do to try to improve or strike some order in life helps your own personal happiness.
    the not connected with stuff type of happiness.

    Anyways, I am just finished waging a bit of a war with my fuh.. fuh.. fuh.. very not good sewing machine, so I am not going to amke a similar “lets sew all the things” type resolutions. I gave up sewing for myself, because everything I made looks like maternity-wear. I still wear all of the things I made weekly, as I am still proud of my accomplishments, but I avoid looking in the mirror and I have ceased operations. I still make little girls’ dresses as I am getting so good at sewing them and they look brilliant. Only about 6 dresses a year, 3 each girl, or so. Ugh! Those loops and snarls on the back of the fabric! Oi why didn’t I buy shorts at the Gap?! Yeah, I attempted some shorts for my daughter as her shorts are size 5 years. She just turned…er… 9…

    I hear you about the other kind of consumption, the fabric and sewing up a storm part. I knit a lot and I do buy a fair bit of wool for my tickle trunk. It is a separate thing, for sewing is not just to clothe your family, I have noticed tha K. is not exactly deprived, naked or barefoot, but it is also a hobby. You also want to keep improving, experimenting and maybe even inventing or developing in the sewing vein. A bit of a clear out is in order once in a while, oh well. I think I should head upstairs with a vaccuum cleaner after reading and writing this. Fine work day this is turning out to be.

    As for my sewing… do you think I could manage some pillow cases? I also avoid the shops as much as I can, but I can only sew so much. Or knit! Can you imagine? I need new sheets… wait… I will knit them!!

    1. Thanks Max! Ha, I’m becoming a vast accumulator of maternity wear too, and I have to really examine the patterns I’ve been using. 🙂 I love making girls’ clothes because you’re right, they always look so great!

      Pillow cases are very relaxing to make, I highly recommend them. But knitted version are hard to top, I’m convinced. 😉

      And hey, any day that prompts me to vacuum is a productive one as far as I’m concerned!

  9. After reading your post, I just put the above referenced book on hold at the library:) Love that idea of painting pictures of things you didn’t buy . . . what a book that would be! Hopefully it would grow slower and slower as one learned to “do without”. Congrats on your three year anniversary! That’s a mighty impressive milestone and rightly you should consider it a major accomplishment. And, as all your blog readers already think, your K is most likely the best-dressed child in school so clearly she’s not suffering:)
    Also, just wanted to say how much I love your wooden dresser! Love the simple, unadorned shape of the mirror.

    1. I always think I’m making all these sacrifices and am doing without, and then I look around and see all the little tchotchkes that I keep amassing. It’s a conundrum! Thanks for the dresser love!

      There’s a lovely story behind it. A few years ago I was looking for a small dresser with a mirror, then found this one (it was on display without a mirror) at a nearby flea market. I fell in love with it and the price was right so I decided I could live without a mirror. I needed help with delivery so the guy who sold it to me offered to drop it off when he closed down his booth, and I gave him my phone #. The dresser was delivered, I was happy, and then a few weeks later, the guy called me to tell me that he found a mirror that was obviously part of the dresser and did I want it? I hadn’t told him that I wanted a mirror so this was a very bizarre coincidence! I love it even more now :-).

    2. Just wanted to add that I read and loved “A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy”. Such a great idea – to visually document all the things she yearned after but refused to purchase. Lots of food for thought; I especially loved the section on borrowing from others rather than buying everything we think we need ourselves. I”m so guilty of that – it’s just easier to own it!
      Do you ever read the blog The Craft Sessions? I think you would enjoy it. Her recent post, which I just read, is along these lines of consumerism and I think you might enjoy reading it. I am so inspired by all you thoughtful, purposeful bloggers!

      1. So glad you liked it, Lucinda! I thought it was a fun little book 🙂 And I read the blog post you referenced, and Felicia is so, so good!! Thank you!

  10. Congratulations Sanae on your 3 year!!

    I also went through the Konmari process (because of you!! It’s on your blog that I first heard about the book), and getting rid of self-made items was one of the most difficult tasks (with sewing books). It really helped me to acknowledge that the joy I experienced while making them meant that they had served their purpose well. In addition, I gave all the clothes (RTW and sewn) to lady who works in my house, whom I never saw happier. She wears a lot of them on a regular basis and apparently her sister does too. It makes me smile every time!!

    Since the closet purge, I’m a lot more careful when selecting a style to sew or shopping RTW (yes, I still shop) and I think I’m ready to remove some more items.

    1. Oh, I love that Delphine! It’s true, I’ve had so much fun making the clothes even if the end result didn’t turn out quite the way I’d hoped and that’s a great way of acknowledging the handmade items. And double bonus that you get to see other people thoroughly enjoying your creations! Thank you for the inspiration!

  11. three years! i think the hard part would be not bying for the kids. as they grow out of everything so fast. all of us have too many stuff for sure even though most of it is vintage/2nd hand or sewed by family or me.
    nevertheless it is better than bying from the big clothing chains. love the book you recommended and have a recommendation myself about that topic: “the true cost”. its not the we dont have an idea what happens in the clothing industry (no matter how expensive the clothes are) but we dont relate the problems to us, to our way of consumption. so i think it is really remarkable that you mangaged not to shop clothing for so long considered you cant avoid to notice all that ads for spring-, summer-, christmas-, midseason-sale etc.

    1. Thank you for the book recommendation, Annett! I will definitely check it out. Maybe it’s because I sew using Japanese patterns which have generous proportions, but I’ve found that K can still wear a vast majority of the things I’ve from even three years ago. In fact, the other day, I noticed that she was wearing a t-shirt to bed that I didn’t make and it was a gift she received when she was three…almost 6 years ago!! Perhaps K is just not growing much, though the t-shirt was pretty tight…:-)

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