Avoiding the seasonal clothing trap

A reader emailed asking:

Any suggestions for how to avoid the lure of new clothes that comes with the change of seasons? The emails and catalogs are calling to me…

The idea that we need new clothes for a new season sure is a win for marketers, but something I’ve never understood from a practical point of view. I’ve lived most of my life in the Northeastern United States. Every fall I pack away my warm-weather clothes and unpack my wool and heavy pants. Which means each fall and spring I unpack a whole new wardrobe!

Usually the excitement of seeing a t-shirt or a skirt I haven’t seen in six months (coupled with the warm air) is enough “new” to satisfy me. Especially if I unpack something I’d forgotten I even owned.

But realistically that’s hard. So two concrete suggestions:

1. Allow yourself to purchase one new “seasonal” item to freshen up all your leftovers from previous years. I just did this today, in fact: a lightweight pair of pants for spring that I plan to wear while sitting at an outdoor cafe in Paris with an old friend.

2. Get rid of all those catalogs and emails! Unsubscribe from the emails. Cancel all the catalogs. I use Catalog Choice to make it really easy to cancel catalogs. It lets you track and resubmit requests when somehow you keep getting those same tempting catalogs!

The less stuff I see, the less stuff I want and need. So what works for me is to see less. Best of luck as you fight the temptation to keep buying and buying and buying.

A question from petit-lapin:

I love the idea of Make it Do. I try to do the same, mostly by reminding myself that buying things does not bring happiness. You wrote that you have a few shirts/pants/etc. I think that's awesome. But how do you address the need for different clothes for various situations? I keep several sets of clothes, from weddings to weekend casual to nights out. I try to buy versatile classics but still - it all adds up, even when pared down! Do you have any suggestions? Thanks! -Megan

I agree, it does add up! I have more clothes for the summer, stored away right now, that includes dresses. I find winter is easier and try to have a few things that work for wedding/nights out and then just everyday. I guess I have more than a few shirts/pants/etc but I find I mostly wear those few items, then have the “dress-up dress” and those rarely used but necessary items. 

If anything I’d suggest trying to get as much use from something as possible, like a nice pair of black wool pants that can be dressed up with a blouse for evening out but worn with a sweater for work or weekend. Not that I do that exactly! :)

Making do with less

I’ve got a pick-up scheduled for next week to donate a bunch of household stuff. I can’t wait to get rid of all kinds of clothes (sweaters I’ve never unboxed this winter!) and old books I haven’t cracked in fifteen years. I’m already feeling the relief I get from having less stuff, and knowing my space isn’t filled with unused items.

Funny thing is that this time last year, I didn’t want to get rid of anything, for fear of needing “it”, whatever it was, and not being able to buy it. So I held onto all kinds of things I would have gotten rid of. A year later I realize I didn’t need any of “it” and I won’t need to buy “it” again. A few sweaters, a few shirts, a few pairs of pants is plenty for me. It’s all I wear and all I need to wear. And I have piles of fabric from which to craft anything else I may want. Plenty of books from the library keep me happily reading, and there are more there if I need them.

In freeing myself from the strict rules of Making Do, I’ve freed myself from unwanted stuff. Hadn’t expected that, what a treat!

Hello 2013

I wish I were posting a “Yay! I did it!” message. But alas somewhere around October, encouraged by a friend’s suggestion to “Just Make It Done!” I more or less gave up on this project. That’s not to say I started buying everything in sight, but I did remove the Rule that had Hung Over Me for the previous nine months. It wasn’t the relief I’d expected, probably because I didn’t go shopping for stuff except for things I kinda needed — like new Gore-Tex pants because I discovered mine from 2004 were no longer water-resistant during a rain storm on a glacier in Wyoming. :(

Mostly I’ve just felt sad about failing at this project in the way I wanted to succeed: in documenting this journey, and in finding it meaningful and profound. While I had tons of posts in my head, I never seemed to have time to write. While I felt it was a good experience, I didn’t wake up this morning transformed. I’ve always valued a less consumer-y, more sustainable, life style. I confirmed it doing this, and ultimately I found some peace following my heart.

But what the heck 2012?! A year that started so wonderfully, skinning into the backcountry of the Tetons on January 1, drove right off a cliff for me in late October. Here in New York City a nanny murdered two young children. Then Sandy hit and we lost power for a week, while others lost everything. An image that continues to haunt me: two young children drowned, swept from their mother’s arms as they fled rising waters. Then the reprieve of Thanksgiving was shattered by the school shootings in Newtown, CT.

A Quaker Open Letter describes what it means to add to the silence of a Quaker meeting:

If you feel moved to contribute after others have spoken, our experience is that it is as well to leave a fair time, and ask yourself whether you will be carrying further what has already been said.

As the mother of two young children, it’s been hard for me to focus on almost anything but just loving my kids these past few months. That doesn’t take money, or stuff, or words with anyone but them. Making Do seems very insignificant indeed.

So this morning I awoke thinking I’ll continue to Make Do as much as possible, and to write about it when there’s something to say. Here’s to a brighter 2013!

Mother of all updates

Three months?! Three months since a post?! Oh goodness. No time for excuses. A mega-update and we’ll get this train back on track.

(And welcome if you’re just here now from the Etsy blog or the New Yorker…)

On clothes: The husband jeans have been a great success and until it got too warm for jeans, I wore them almost every day. The Remains of the Duvet dress took over after the heat got to me. Without too much detail, I’ll just say with minimal undergarments, the air flows beautifully through the dress, keeping me cool and dowdy-looking as I take my kids around New York.

On buying: I’ve bought some stuff. I’d meant to update about that, but a tiny sense of failure held me back. I bought a tank top and a t-shirt at H&M. I bought the most amazing red sandals for 50% off at Anthropolgie. I seriously have worn them almost every day since I bought them. They’re all leather with leather soles, I LOVE them. They’re probably the best sandals I’ve ever bought. No regrets there! I bought a larger day pack. The justification? I needed an easy way to carry lots of gear and hold two little hands adventuring through NYC. I bought a couple MP3 albums. And I bought trekking poles and gators because…

On the woods: I went climbing in July in Wyoming. My small group (a NOLS alumni expedition) summited Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s highest at 13,809’. I rented all the gear I could but poles and gators were purchase-only, and I needed them for our climb. Since most in our group were 40 years+, we went as lightweight as possible with gear. Talk about making do: being in the woods for two weeks and going minimal refined my awareness of just how little I need. A bed is nice. So is toilet paper. But need it? Nope. (Still trying to get photos and a narrative of the trip posted, that’s another post.)

On food: I’ve been on Nantucket since early August and feel like the hyper-local cooking I’ve been doing complements Make It Do. I made sea salt with my kids by evaporating water we brought home from the beach. We use it to garnish local farm tomatoes, and we top them with basil from growing on our deck. We picked wild beach plums and made jelly. We’ve picked a zillion wild blackberries and are making jelly with those soon. We’re eating local corn and local fish. It’s deeply satisfying to use what’s closest to us. It’s also easy, fresh, and delicious.

On support: I received a wonderful email in April from John B. One piece of it has stuck with me. He wrote, “I am not saying it is OK to shop…but if there are just a few items you need and especially if they represent tools that might help with the overall goal, don’t be too hard on yourself about strict compliance.  Allow yourself an exception from time to time without feeling you have failed.” He suggested picking a rate of compliance (85% or so) and sticking to that. That’s basically what I was doing, and his email encouraged me to continue with that. Thanks John B!

On budget analysis: I’m behind on reviewing my spending for Q2, and probably won’t have time for that till fall. I might just combine Q2 and Q3 review in one. Curious to see how I’m doing. Feel like I’m doing really well. We’ll see what the data say.

On the future: I’m still chugging along. I can’t say I love not buying stuff. Especially when I’m in New York, I continue to find it very challenging. With cooler weather and back-to-school on the near horizon, I’m fantasizing about new jeans and wooly sweaters. And winter gear! I’d suspected my Gore-Tex ski pants (c. 2005) were no longer waterproof. This was confirmed sitting on a glacier in a very cold rain in Wyoming. I might get new pants. The rest I’ll probably get over when I open that box of cold-weather clothing that’s been stored away since June. That’s always like Christmas for me, sweaters I’d forgotten, some pants I love but haven’t seen in months. It all seems new.

The reality is I’m two-thirds through the project. What will the final four months bring? And more importantly, what happens on January 1, 2013? I’ll strive for more frequent updates and to answer those questions.

The husband jeans

I recently spotted a guy walking down the street wearing loose-fitting jeans, cut-off around mid-calf and left raw at the hem. They struck me as both comfy and funky, and I resolved to have some myself. Since my husband basically wears jeans every day, I figured he’d be a good source for an old pair. And yes, upon inquiring, I was given a worn pair that hung off my hips just perfectly!

Alas, they were worn in the butt, and there was a big hole that allowed my underwear to peak through.

Jeans 1

No problem though. I cut off the lower legs, trimmed a patch and sewed it over the hole.

Jeans 2

Now the only problem is I want to wear them every day! Yay for husband jeans!

Loving the library

Far and away the best thing I’ve discovered from this project has been my local New York Public Library branch. Though I used libraries in high school and college, once I graduated I mostly purchased books. Poking around well-curated book stores is one of my favorite things to do and I rarely leave empty-handed.

Amazon Recommends became a new, less magical, way of doing that. One-clicked books piled up, often not read. I call these my aspirational books. I believe I’ll read them. I’d like to be the kind of person who would read them. But often I don’t read them. This year I’d planned to read them all. Instead I’m checking out books from the library.

Now when I walk past my local independent book store, I look at the collection in the window and whip out my iPhone. The NYPL has an app and I easily request whatever catches my eye. Usually within a week, it’s at my local branch for pickup. I can be the person who reads To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918!

But here’s the thing: if enough time goes by, I have to return my library books. And when I’ve failed to become the person who reads the entire book about World War I, that’s ok. Back it goes to the NYPL. I will now be the person who reads Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. At least until early June.

The vanity belly

I’ve been jogging again after ages of not doing it. Before I had kids I ran the NYC Marathon and several half marathons. I ran road races on the weekends and logged 20+ miles a week for years. All that stopped when I had my second child, Minna, and I’ve been slow to return to the streets, until now.

I signed up for a road race to force myself back into running, and it’s been fantastic. Except that it’s suddenly warmed up here in New York, all my running tanks apparently were purchased when “cropped running top” was the style. Also purchased: the “crazy low rise running short.”

Ick! It’s one thing to feel my little belly jiggle as I jog. It’s another thing to expose it to the west side of Manhattan so early in the morning. I didn’t take Vanity into account when creating my guidelines!

So be it. I’m Making Do on this one, and it’s all the more motivation to run hard and fast, so the jiggle is burned off. The plus side? I’m a blur as I speed by everyone!

Compost ahoy!

I broke down and bought a compost bin. I’ve wanted to get one since we moved into our current house and never managed to find one that was just right. I’m terrified of attracting horrible giant NYC rats. And we have limited space. But I found a small one that rotates, the same a friend uses in her NYC yard, rat-free.

I’m excited to be able to produce less waste and to use our compost in our small garden. It will be great not having to buy compost, and being more sustainable in our daily lives. I’m also looking forward to teaching my kids about composting, and learning how to do it together as a family.

Did I break my rules? I don’t think so. I’d say it’s household purchase, not personal. And it’s a long-term investment in something that’s better in the end for everyone. Still, now buying anything makes me feel all weird and funny. I guess that’s progress?

Ooops, that picture below of Minna wasn’t supposed to show up here! I’ve got my old blog Megnut resurrected at Tumblr now: megnt.tumblr.com and I was trying to get instagram to post the photo there. But that didn’t work. Oh well.

About

In 2012, I'm not going to buy anything except what I've used up or worn out. For all else, I'll make do with what I already own or I'll do without. I've come up with some guidelines. Update: for 2013 I'm going to continue along, but not as strictly.

Who?

I'm Meg Hourihan. I live in New York City but was raised in Massachusetts. I blame my Yankee-ness for this crazy idea. Read more about me and this project.

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Twitter: @makeitdo
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