On February 1, 2018, Alison LaMantia pledged to go for an entire year without buying any new clothing (aside from socks and underwear, as necessary).
On the one hand, the pledge felt exciting, like a bold move. On the other, it felt like the logical next step toward the life she wanted to create for herself and her family: her husband, Scott, and their two daughters, Morley (four) and Etta (two).
A month earlier, she had officially launched her career as a writer and freelance communications consultant, working from her 1970s chalet home in Oro-Medonte, Ontario, a township of about 21,000 people on the northwest shore of Lake Simcoe. “I’d always had this vision that one day I would live in the woods and be a writer. I thought it would be closer to retirement. But that’s what I’m doing now.”
Leaving behind the security of a 9-to-5 job has meant reclaiming so much more: a 3-day work week that left more time to spend with her daughters, exercise, volunteer (each Wednesday afternoon, she takes Morley and Etta to a long-term care centre to visit with its residents), and even eat better.
“With two parents working in a traditional 9-to-5 environment, unless you’re doing some crazy menu planning, batch cooking on Sundays, it’s hard to put the type of meal you want on the table each night. We were resorting to take-out, picking up a roast chicken from the supermarket on the way home. We didn’t want to eat like that, but we didn’t feel we have a choice.”
When Alison chose to freelance, “I was really excited to be able to wear my jeans and a comfy sweater to work,” she recalls. So the idea of a year-long shopping ban fit right in, as did the opportunity to save money and time.
“I can recall so many periods in my life where I’d spend tons of time online, putting items in a cart at, say, Banana Republic, taking them out, putting them back in, trying them on, returning what didn’t look right. I feel like I wasted so much time looking at things that I didn’t need. And now that I’m working only three days a week, I need to maximize that time.”
The “year of nothing new,” as she’s dubbed it, has been surprisingly easy. “I’ve learned a lot: how much we are marketed to, how women – in particular – are so targeted by marketers, how much female consumerism is driving the fast-fashion epidemic, how overwhelming I found the mall, how many purchases are made on impulse — and also how fun thrifting is. There’s honestly nothing I can say I lack. And if I can think of anything that I’d like to have, then I keep an eye out for it.”
While Scott and the kids still get the occasional new item, the whole family has adopted a “see if you can get it used first” motto, one that extends to housewares and outdoor gear. Alison is happy to be modelling this approach to her daughters. Not buying new clothing, she says, also ties in to “my sense of how I judge or value myself. It’s a way of disconnecting my sense of self-worth from my appearance or how much my clothing costs. So it’s also about protecting my children from some of that, modelling to them that their self-worth isn’t about what they have but how they live.”
Alison and Scott also talk to their kids about reducing waste and their plastic consumption. “When Morley and I go grocery shopping together, I point out when things are packaged in plastic, and we make decisions based on that.”
“She and my husband and my younger daughter like to go to Booster Juice together. It’s their thing. And we talked the other day about how much garbage it creates. And she said, ‘Well, why don’t we bring our own cups? And our own straws? We have those.’ That’s a four-year-old, making connections and thinking of solutions.
“As a society, we know we have to reduce our plastics, reduce our waste. And that can be challenging for us as adults because we have to change our habits. But we have these little people, these little humans, who will grow up doing these things automatically. What an opportunity.”
Alison chose to limit her clothing purchases — rather than a complete shopping ban — because it seemed really achievable. “When you’re trying to create new habits, it’s best not to go from 0 to 100, but to take baby steps and make it accessible. I do think that we have a long way to go in our house, that we could be doing so much more. I feel guilty a lot — when I purchase oatmeal in a package instead of buying it from the bulk store. I do struggle with the idea that families in other parts of the world are struggling because of our choices.”
Alison knows that her individual choice not to buy new clothes (a practice that she envisions continuing, for the most part, even after the year is up) won’t solve the world’s problems. “I can’t do that by myself. But we as a society can do that collectively, and I can help in a small way, every time I don’t create the need for something new in the world.”