Now I have your attention the title should read My Year Without New Clothes. I did not go naked for 2016!
What I did do was attempt to go a complete year (365 days) without buying any new clothes. Underwear and necessary footwear was exempt and I did allow some minor exceptions but I pretty much nailed the year and, as I write this, I only have 18 days to go.
The idea of denying yourself or doing something different for a year is very common now. I’ve met people who gave up caffeine, sugar, carbs, alcohol, and even watching sport for a year (although I’ve never met anyone who has given them all up at the same time!). Others have chosen to not buy anything new (The Compact) or to live biblically as a woman (Rachel Held Evans) or to cook a Julia Childs recipe every day for 365 days (Julie Powell). It usually makes for some hilarious reading and some great dinner party conversation (and sometimes a book or film deal).
So, what motivated me to do without clothes(buying) for the year? I would like to be able to claim a blinding flash of revelation or an angelic visitation but the truth is I fell victim to a combination of the drip-feed of knowledge and sheer weariness. Having taught a class entitled Faith, Reason and Justice four times over two years I had been continually reminded of God’s compassion for the poor and of the obscene consumerism of my western privileged context. At the end of each semester my challenge to the class was to find one new way to live the counter cultural life of the kingdom of God. In addition, as I wandered my local glitzy, over-the-top, mall during the frantic Boxing Day sales of 2015 I experienced a profound weariness of buying stuff in conflict with a none-too-subtle compulsion to snap up a bargain. In the midst of this perfect storm of elements, I succumbed and made the decision to call it quits on buying clothes for 2016.
I would like to be able to tell you that I was overwhelmed with a sense of God’s peace and basked in a glow of holiness for the next 12 months. The truth is much messier and the venture exposed some aspects of my life and character that I would much preferred to have kept hidden. Here are some things I learned in my year without clothes.
Firstly, telling friends and family is the easiest way to be held accountable. I had not realized how much people cared about me until they checked constantly and consistently to see if I was keeping my pledge. I travelled overseas twice with my sister who, fortuitously, does not like shopping and helped keep temptation at bay. Occasionally I got to share my reasons for the year with people who were interested. But mostly I stuck with it because I made the mistake/decision of telling others and would look stupid/weak if I pulled out.
Secondly, we really don’t need as many clothes as we think we do. With a wardrobe full of clothes, I had plenty to wear for the year. In fact, there are still some I have not touched at all for many reasons including changing body shape, changing fashion and in many cases the realization that I had spent my money on clothes I really didn’t like or didn’t suit me. I ended up wearing the same three pairs of black pants all year and no one noticed (shades of Karl Stefanovic). However, I ended the year with only two wearable t-shirts, the rest died as a result of stains and I shed a quiet tear as I binned them.
My third observation is that I learned I liked buying clothes. As the year progressed I recognized I got a buzz from the acquisition of new things and spending money on making myself look good was a form of self-affirmation. Consumerism thrives on making us feel inadequate and ‘missing out’ and when stripped of that feeling I had to consciously focus on other means of affirmation. Ouch! I had not expected to be confronted so starkly with my superficiality and cultural-conformity. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:25 took on deeper meaning – so much of my time was spent worrying about the food, drink and clothing even when I had an abundance of all three! Avoiding the mall proved to be the best way for me to minimize this form of worry – out of sight, out of mind.
Lastly, I confess I did not make it through the year without blemish. My grandchildren benefitted from a greatly expanded wardrobe as occasionally I succumbed to the desire to buy clothes, any clothes. I had to buy a pair of shoes and a pair of boots to replace worn out ones. I had to buy a golf shirt to play in a fundraising event. I bought a dress for a wedding near the end of the year – it will be worn once in 2016. I thought I would save lots of money but I’m not sure I did – the mortgage benefited marginally.
How had the year changed me? It is too early to know if my year without clothes will result in permanent changes to my buying habits. I hope it will. I am planning to buy less and to consider my purchases very carefully. I am planning to simplify my dress code so I don’t have to think so much about what I will wear on a daily basis (I’m not ready to do a Steve Jobs and wear the same thing every day but you get the idea). I will be even more deliberate about ensuring my purchases are ethical (love your work, Baptist World Aid!). Mostly, the year has changed the way I view my life with regard to necessities. I am definitely planning to be very deliberate about where I spend my money, investing in kingdom work rather than what rust and moth destroy.
And, I’ve been thinking about 2017. Maybe, I should give up caffeine….?
Dr Cheryl McCallum
Principal of Eastern College Australia