Your Personal Rules for Clothes Shopping

I felt a little jolt when I read this post by minimalist blogger A Small Wardrobe: “Five Minimalist Hacks to Stop Impulse Shopping.” While I wouldn’t call myself a true minimalist, there are a lot of places where minimalism and frugality complement each other, and tip #5 is one of them! To keep your closet from spilling over but to encourage your wallet to stay fat, try writing up a few rules for yourself to keep in mind when something catches your eye.

The author writes mostly about clothing and that’s what my list focuses on, but you could apply a similar approach to whatever your impulse is: decor and knick-knacks, books, or your favorite home improvement store.

I do almost all of my shopping at thrift stores, but I have a special weakness for sales at Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack. When I shop at the former, I’m more free-wheeling with my purchases (“$1 for a J Crew sweatshirt: I don’t really love the color, but how could I not?). When I shop at the latter, I’m more likely to justify things I don’t need (“Doesn’t everyone need a vegan leather jacket?” or “40% off at Nordstrom is a steal!”). Either way, I’m spending money that I don’t need to spend, and that’s dangerous territory. Since I don’t really have a natural tendency to talk myself OUT of buying things, I’m going to implement my own shopping rules to force myself to more closely examine my potential purchases.

I saved these four tips in the notes app on my phone, now I just have to remember to make myself review the list before I pull into Goodwill or start lazily thumbing through the Nordstrom app in a risky fit of boredom.

  1. Does the fabric look like it will hold up (not pill or pull, not shrink, fade, wrinkle, or lay weird)? I’ve bought many items in the past because I liked how they looked and it was a “good deal” – but if you can only wear and wash a work dress for one season before it starts looking aged beyond its years, was it really that good of a deal? Fabric can be tricky, though. I’ve had Old Navy shirts look crisp for years but a lightweight Kate Spade cashmere sweater sprout irreversible pills after two wears. This article doesn’t have all of the answers, but it’s a nice, thoughtful piece about how to shop for quality and sustainability. This two-part blog post gets into even more detail, and it includes a cheat sheet to boot! (The tip about whether or not patterns line up at the seams is spot on!)
  2. Is it something that can be worn with more than one specific thing? I once bought a shirt that only “goes” with one specific skirt I own. Even with my willingness to dress eclectically outside of work (mix prints, mix proportions, etc.), this shirt really didn’t have much use without that skirt. This is wasteful spending (unless I were to wear the shirt and skirt combo frequently, which I don’t) and is definitely not minimalist.
  3. Can it be worn in multiple settings? In my closet I have a sweater that I only wear to work, a shirt I only wear for “date nights”, shirts I only wear on the weekends, etc. I want to start holding an item and making sure I can see myself wearing it to work and also out to the movies, or to a fancy dinner and also for a casual daytime outing. This is where I need to be better about buying flexible pieces that can be mixed and matched.
  4. Do I need it, or do I just want it? And if I just want it, will it make me happier than if I had that money in my wallet? At Goodwill I usually tell myself it’s OK to buy a thing even if I don’t need it, since I’m not spending a lot, therefore it’s not totally wasteful. But at the end of the day, I should be focusing more on buying items that make me happy vs. ones that just satisfy my shopping urge in the moment. Yes that oatmeal colored J Crew sweatshirt was only $1, but when I realized I would never wear it and gave it to my sister, I wondered how many dollars I’ve spent in my lifetime on decisions like that one.

I could see other people having rules around only buying in a certain color palette, not buying insane prints you know you wouldn’t give frequent rotation in your work clothes, or making yourself wait two weeks before pulling the trigger (or pushing “add to cart”) on an item that catches your eye. What would your personal shopping rules be?


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