I often hear about women going on shopping fasts all the time. This activity curbs a woman’s shopping and forces her to work with the things she already owns vs. buying more. There is a lot of logic to this approach when a woman finds herself overburdened with a closet full of clothes. Why buy more? Yet, I have never been entirely sold on a clothing fast and I am sharing my thoughts on why. Before you start on one for yourself, read my thoughts first.

The Tale of Two Shoppers: One Who Needs a Shopping Fast and the Other Doesn’t

Here are examples of two women, one who could use a shopping fast and another who had equal the number of clothes in her closet like the woman who could use the fast but wouldn’t benefit from putting herself on one.

The first woman is my mom. Since I can remember, my mom has been a shopper. She is a bargain hunter who takes tremendous delight in getting things for a steal. Case in point, when she visited me last weekend, she shared with great glee how deeply she got her new shoes and bag on sale. Unlike me, she enjoys shopping as a pastime. While I am sure a therapist would have a field day with her, one thing she does well is being consistent in buying things that work for her lifestyle, personal style, and body shape. The problem now is, she just has too much of it and really needs nothing more. My mom is a person who could benefit from a shopping fast.

The other woman is a client of mine. To protect her identity, I will call her Mrs. Stately. Mrs. Stately values her privacy and I respect that so all I will say about her is she is a retired woman with a closet full of beautiful clothes, much of it stunning. When we met, Mrs. Stately and I agreed she had too much. It was hard parting with a lot of it because Mrs. Stately had invested pretty dearly towards her wardrobe pieces. However, she was a great sport and slowly worked on reducing her wardrobe. Mrs. Stately still probably has too much. Yet, despite this, I have never felt a shopping fast was right for her.

When We Feel Overwhelmed We Make Extreme Choices

Have you ever been in a desperate or overwhelmed situation and you found yourself making an extreme choice, like going on a crazy diet of cabbage soup or the Master Cleanse when the scale showed you a shocking number? What I have found in cases of overwhelming and full closets is that many women make an extreme plan like a shopping fast. Without thinking it through, they declare they will not shop for an extended period of time, they will work with what they have and will learn how to shop in their closets. And in some cases, like the example of my mom, it makes sense. Yet, unless someone is in a situation similar to my mother where her overstuffed closets do contain things that get worn, I don’t think it’s a smart plan. And, let’s be honest, few women have maxed out closets where all of it is workable.

Most women who swear off shopping because their closets are maxed out, a. aren’t wearing most of it, b. have lots of things in there that don’t work, and c. have a wardrobe that doesn’t easily mix-and-match. So what exactly does forcing your wardrobe to work by going on a shopping fast solve if none of it really worked together in the first place?

Going back to Mrs. Stately, a client who, despite having more than enough in her closet, would not benefit from a shopping fast, what inspired this post was a session we had last week. About a month before this session, Mrs. Stately sent me an email of things she was considering purchasing. She started out the email saying, “I know I probably shouldn’t be buying more, but what do you think of these pieces?” After giving it some thought, I replied back that I thought the items would make great additions and encouraged her to pick them up.

In last week’s session, she sent me some photos of her testing out these new pieces with things she already owned. It was incredible to see how those few new items broke open her wardrobe. Suddenly, things that seemed a bit orphaned were able to be styled, she could style things she owned in more ways and it was amazing how new everything she already owned looked with just a few additional pieces.

If Not a Clothing Fast, Then What?

If you have identified that you have too much in your closet and now wonder if a shopping fast may not be the solution, what do you do? You go shopping. But wait, it’s not that easy. Here are some easy steps to consider.

Step 1- Make Peace with the Fact that You Wasted Money

Nothing halts more progress towards an organized closet than guilt. If you have too much in your closet, purging is likely in order. Even my mom who buys smartly but just has a lot of clothes could benefit from paring down. As you pare down, I know there will be things in there that you should let go of that will wrack you with guilt because never wore them. Out of guilt, you will resist letting go. However, you gain nothing by holding on to them.

Pull out all the things you haven’t worn or are not in heavy rotation. Don’t get rid of them entirely first. Your first step is to create some clear space (both mentally and physically) by moving these never worn things away from your closet so you can get a realistic sense of what you are working with. You need to deal in reality if you want this to work and keeping clothes that you never wear only gives you a false impression that you have a lot.

Step 2- Now that You Have Clarity, Take a Realistic Look at What You Really Need

Now that you have cleared away what isn’t in heavy rotation, take a realistic look at what you are really working with. This is your honesty. This is your starting point. Your closet will likely be much less full than you thought it was.

At this point, you can decide if you still need to put yourself on a shopping fast or if you need some things to balance out your wardrobe to make it more wearable. Regardless of whether or not you need more clothes or you need a fast, work to create looks using what is in your wardrobe. One of my favorite strategies for creating mix-and-match looks can be found in this video.

Creating outfits gives you an opportunity to see if the things that aren’t in heavy rotation, that you set aside, can work with your core working wardrobe. If items that have been set aside don’t work you let them go.

It’s at this point that you can assess if you have enough and should go on a shopping fast or if you actually have some holes that shopping can fill. Doing it this way can ensure that your shopping list is smart and well thought out vs. aimlessly shopping and adding things you may not need.

Step 3- Add Things in a Smart Way

You know the saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” If you have found you could use some more things, there is no point in buying them in the same manner that got you into trouble in the first place. Clients ask me all the time if they think they should buy something. And every time I get asked to help them decide, I run through the same checklist.

An example of a text thread between me and a client.

To avoid buying things on love alone, going through a checklist of how a new item will play in your wardrobe is crucial and you need to be honest and ruthless with this step. If my client in the text thread went solely on impulse or a love for something she would have bought those shoes and had less money for the Aquatalias that she cited she could really use. A continuation of shopping without clearly thinking would have likely led to a closet full of things followed by the decision to put herself on a shopping fast simply because she had too much. In the end, nothing would have been solved.

This is why outfit planning and taking the time to work with your wardrobe are so crucial. By avoiding taking these steps before you declare a shopping fast will potentially just create frustration and no solutions. You need to know what is going on with your wardrobe and how cohesive it in order to determine if it is a fast you need or just smarter buys.

Failure to plan is planning to fail

Quite a few years ago, I wrote a post on shopping with a wardrobe mentality. More things in the closet may mean more in terms of volume, but it doesn’t always mean more in terms of wearability. Before you throw yourself aimlessly into a shopping fast because you think that it will solve the problem, stop and think it through and decide if this is really the right course of action or if what you really need to do is develop strategies that will make you a better and more purposeful shopper.