Would you try a spending freeze?

spending freeze

spending freeze

Note: I’m doing a month of mini fresh starts, including trying a spending freeze. Here’s the whole list of mini fresh starts if you want to join in.

After fifteen-ish years of being an adult, I’ve come to a conclusion about myself: I’ll never be a good budgeter. I’ve tried several attempts at it over the years to no avail. Budgeting just doesn’t stick. My saving grace for this deficiency is that I like simple living, which means my spending rarely exceeds my means.

In other words, minimalism is a cheater’s way of getting out of budgeting.

In spite of my aversion to budgeting itself, I love reading stories about people who do crazy things with their budgets–like pay off a bunch of debt and go travel around the world on a barista’s salary. Recently I read this story about a young woman who got rid of 70% of her possessions and lived on 51% of her income. Her trick was a year-long spending freeze.

Oddly, budgeting and me don’t get along but a spending freeze…now that’s something I can do.

I’ve read about spending freezes before and have always been intrigued by the challenge of them. So–inspired by the story of the young woman–I sat down the other day and made a list of possible things to NOT buy in the coming year. I won’t bore you with the whole list, but here are some notable items:

Three things I’m thinking of NOT buying for a year

  1. No clothing or shoes. Could you go a whole year without buying any new clothing or shoes? After starting my capsule wardrobe two years ago, and then whittling down to an all-season minimal wardrobe from there, I think this goal could be a possibility for me. My biggest challenge? Not getting bored…
  2. No beauty products. I spent all of last year gradually acquiring the supplies to make a lot of my own natural beauty products at home, so with the exception of an SPF foundation (which is hard to make on your own), this challenge is less about spending and more about me using what I already have. The great thing about natural ingredients is that they last A LONG time, so a year with nothing new excluding SPF foundation seems feasible to me. I guess we’ll see…
  3. No books or magazines. I’m rather bookish so this one will be challenging. When I’m feeling an inspirational lull, my go-to pick-me-up is usually a new book. I also love new cookbooks, and owning copies of my favorite reads so that I can underline them and mark up the margins. That said, I’m intrigued by the idea of re-reading books I already own, and frequently patronizing my local library.

Other things on my spending freeze list include no new technology, no accessories, and no jewelry. All total, my list has fifteen “freeze” categories on it. My plan is to try to stick to the list for twelve weeks and then evaluate how it’s going, what’s working, and what’s not.

Also, I did make a short list of “Yes” categories that I do want to spend money on. They include food, nature (ex. national park passes), trips and travel, and home updates.

The long-term goal of this challenge is ultimately to pay down our mortgage debt and save for a few upcoming big expenses (ex. much needed new carpet). I’ll check back in next quarter with an update. Until then, what about you? What category would you freeze if you had to?

Related: a month of mini fresh starts

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Why cheap clothing has a hidden cost (and what to do about it)


I was driving down the road listening to NPR when I heard her for the first time. She was talking about fashion, but not in the usual way–commenting on styles or reporting on which celebrity was wearing which label at the latest Hollywood gala. The speaker’s name was Elizabeth Cline, and she was talking about her new book, Overdressed, and what she’d learned about something called “fast fashion.”

Curious by this phrase, “fast fashion,” I turned the volume dial up (yes—my car still has dials instead of buttons, which tells you a little something about how old it is). As she described what fast fashion was, I realized that though I’d never heard the phrase before, I certainly knew what it described. Until fairly recently I was a fast fashion participant and didn’t even know it.

Fast fashion is a term used to describe our modern clothing industry.

This adjective “fast” is coined because up until very recently, clothing was S-L-O-W. Most garments were handmade or at least hand-finished, which made clothing expensive. Consequently, people didn’t own a lot of garments and they shopped seasonally—maybe twice a year.

It’s not hard for us to imagine that making clothing sped up. Everything has sped up—why should clothes be any different? Now stores like Kohls, Target, Old Navy, Zara (and just about everywhere else) churn out new designs every day. The result is that we have an endless stream of new clothing to choose from, and they’re sold at super cheap prices so that people like me can hit Target on the weekend and grab something new to wear for Monday (something I used to do all the time). We’ve dropped seasonality in our shopping entirely. Because there’s always something new, people are shopping all year.

However, there are consequences to this behavior. Overdressed primarily names three:

3 hidden consequences of fast fashion

  1. a lot of clothing waste. Americans throw away about 12.8 million tons of textiles each year, which is 80 pounds for each person, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. And much of this clothing waste is made of plastic so it doesn’t decompose. (Yes–that’s right. The clothes you’re wearing are most likely plastic.)
  2. pollution
  3. low wages and poor working conditions in factories in places like China, Bangladesh and Mexico.

It’s easy to distance ourselves from these consequences—literally we are separated by distance from them. The clothes we donate get dropped off at Goodwill never to be seen again. The people who make our garments live far away. The pollution clogs the skies of distant places. The plastic from our clothes gets buried in landfills. We don’t see the consequences, and so we don’t think about them.

Cheap seems responsible…but it’s more complicated than that

Even more, the price is so appealing that it seems responsible to buy fast fashion clothing. I hear my budget-oriented friends talking about it all the time. Getting a good deal is important when you’re trying to make ends meet, and when you’re trying to clothe growing kids (who have brand tastes, by the way).

And yet there are real consequences to fast fashion. Elizabeth talked about the families of garment workers she met. They live in hovels with lots of family members stacked on top of each other. These workers shoulder the same weight we do to make ends meet. Only they consistently come up short because fast fashion pays workers poorly. And those who aren’t living in hovels with their families spend months—even years—living far away from the people they love, staying in factory dormitories and sending money home. Yes, you could argue that their income is improved by this work. But at what cost?

7 ways to transition out of buying fast fashion

So here’s my petition: for us to transition out of the “cheap is best mindset,” because the deals we’re scoring have a cost for other families. We can start stepping out of the fast fashion stream by:

  1. going back to buying seasonally
  2. buying less
  3. buying quality from companies that pay fair wages (buying less and choosing quality are heavily preached by capsule wearers)
  4. buying secondhand
  5. buying handmade
  6. making your own
  7. going without

Stepping out of the stream doesn’t have to happen overnight. I’ve been slowly transitioning out of it for several years by doing a combination of a lot of these things, like keeping a minimal wardrobe, buying secondhand, and making some of my own clothes. I’ve also tried to adopt my husband’s discipline of wearing his clothes until they fall apart (something that’s nearly impossible to do when you have a large wardrobe).  Occasionally I’ll still buy a fast fashion garment, but I’m making strides toward foregoing them for good. They may be cheap, but they’re ultimately too costly for me.

How about you? Would you consider transitioning away from fast fashion garments?

Related: my experiences with a capsule wardrobe

Related: all articles on minimalist clothing

My experiences with a capsule wardrobe

My husband was completely unimpressed when I started a capsule wardrobe. Not only does he not care at all about fashion (except his distaste for electric neon leggings and pajama-wearing in public), but he already has a minimalist wardrobe. Jeans, t-shirts, cargo shorts and sweaters—this is his wardrobe all year, each garment worn until it frays to bits.

Many guys are like him, which is why I explain capsule wardrobes as “how a dude dresses all the time” to people who don’t know what they are.

After adopting a minimalist approach to my clothing, I realized what he’s known all along: It’s better to have less.

Here’s my experience with a capsule wardrobe (which eventually evolved into a minimalist wardrobe)

Creating my first capsule was energizing. Like most people starting out, I focused less on finding quality garments and more on downsizing my wardrobe. I whittled my wardrobe down to about 35 items, including shoes (but excluding undergarments, pjs and exercise clothes), stored a smaller portion of things I wasn’t ready to get rid of yet, and donated the rest.

I’ll confess that I went through a short-lived but awkward phase of feeling like I didn’t have anything to wear. Temporarily this actually made me more indecisive about what to wear, and added more time to my morning routine. And definitely I had a few moments of regret, feeling like I’d over-purged.

Fortunately this awkwardness resolved itself fairly quickly as I settled into a smaller wardrobe. And after six months I found myself reducing even more. I got rid of almost all of the things I’d set aside for storage, plus more. My entire wardrobe now consists of less than 50 things for the whole year, and each season I find myself purging just a little more.

Needless to say, I’ve saved money on clothing, though like a lot of capsule wardrobe wearers, I’ve spend more on a few things (ex. this shirt) than I normally would have otherwise. But this list is small.

Also, a minimal wardrobe has completely resolved the “what should I wear today?” morning deliberations, saving me time getting ready. I now dress as fast as my husband does.

If you’re a guy reading this you may be like, “Duh. I don’t get what the big deal is.” But you’d be surprised how much time and energy women will invest in fashion. Shopping, looking at styles, talking to each other about clothes, trying things on, planning outfits—there’s a reason fashion is a 3 trillion dollar global industry. Stepping out of the stream is liberating, which is why I think capsule wardrobes are gaining popularity (ex. here’s a chart of searches for “capsule wardrobe” in the past year).

Interested in trying a capsule for yourself? Here’s how to start one:

  • If you’re easily pulled into fashion trends, start by unsubscribing from retailer emails, fashion newsletters/magazines, and avoid stores
  • If you want to start by decluttering your closet, read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
  • If you’re influenced by social issues and inequality, read Overdressed.
  • If you are interested in discovering your own uniform, read this and this.
  • If you want someone to plan a capsule for you, try Cladwell.
  • If you want to plan a capsule yourself, download Unfancy’s capsule planner.

I’m curious: Would you like me to share some tips for influencing your significant other to start downsizing their wardrobe?

What’s a capsule wardrobe?

capsule wardrobe Cladwell

capsule wardrobe Cladwell

I started wearing a capsule wardrobe in early 2015, and one of the most common questions I get about it is, “What’s a capsule wardrobe?” Because my answer (“It’s how a guy dresses all the time”) is insufficient for some, I thought I’d let someone else describe it. Welcome Cladwell.

Cladwell—started by three gents named Blake, Tim and Chris–is a new fashion service specializing in capsule wardrobes. These wardrobes, as they describe them, are built on a small number of quality pieces meant to be worn seasonally (or longer, depending on your preference). By intentionally restricting the number of garments, you simplify your wardrobe. But by rotating your capsules 3-4 times per year, you keep from getting bored.

According Cladwell, in 1930 the average woman had 36 items in her closet. Today she has 120. This increase is primarily due to one factor: The recent availability of really cheap clothes in the US. And while this cheap clothing boon has been exciting for many, there are some unfortunate side-effects to the trend, including clutter, child labor, pollution, and a TON of clothing waste.

I was personally attracted to the idea of a capsule wardrobe because I wanted to simplify my morning routine. I was tired of standing in front of my closet every morning trying to decide what to wear. I also recognized that I wore certain things over and over, and left the rest (more than half my closet) untouched. So I reduced my clothes down to about 35 items and never looked back.

Based on my experience, I agree with Cladwell’s listed benefits for keeping a capsule wardrobe: It reduces excess consumerism, keeps clothing out of landfills, helps you avoid trends and settle into a personal style, and simplifies your routine.

Because this isn’t a fashion blog per se, I won’t go into more details about my wardrobe now. But if you’re interested in starting a capsule, here are some excellent places to start:

The capsule wardrobe trend is one the rise, and garnering more press and attention with each new week. Expect to keep hearing more about it here, including more discussion about why it’s connecting with people.