When Micha Goebig moved from Munich to Seattle, she packed four suitcases
"containing mostly clothes and shoes". Her new apartment had a walk-in closet.
"I was excited because it's so unusual in Germany," she says, "so of course I
filled it. Then we moved to another place with an even bigger closet, and I
filled that one, too. At a certain point I realised, 'I am collecting way too
much stuff. A year without shopping might be in order.' "
Starting on January 1, Goebig lived under a self-imposed ban on shopping for
all of 2016. Exempt were necessities like food ("I wasn't going to dumpster
dive"), basic household supplies and toiletries (but not cosmetics). Her ban
went beyond clothes, beauty products and accessories to include candles, flowers
and books. Basically, all treats were off.
When Goebig's beloved Mason Pearson hairbrush broke, in accordance with her
no-luxuries rule she replaced it with the most basic plastic brush she could
find in the supermarket. "And you know what? I still have hair," she says.
Four months after she completed her challenge, Goebig still hadn't bought
herself a fancy brush, although she "probably will, when I go to Europe". She's
tamed her overconsumption habit.
How did she do it? Why did she do it? And what was it really like?
Goebig refers to her journey as "a slow move towards minimalism" – inspired
by social-media duo The Minimalists, whose podcasts she recommends. These two
Americans, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, first experienced "a
lingering discontent" with consumerism in their early 30s. As they explain on
their website, "We had achieved everything that was supposed to make us happy."
But they weren't. "Working 70-80 hours a week just to buy more stuff didn't fill
the void: it only brought more debt, stress, anxiety, fear, loneliness, guilt,
overwhelm and depression."
Says Goebig, "I found it interesting. I wanted to downsize, too." The
alarming expansion of her wardrobe made her feel uncomfortable, and she'd been
surprised by just how virile American consumerism can be. "It's not that Germany
doesn't have a consumer culture but that America is so much more that way."
While she worried about the impact on the environment of over-consumption,
she admits she didn't know much about sustainability. "I know a bit more now.
I'm trying to educate myself." Motivation came via the niggling feeling that
there must be something more. She'd started to wonder if shopping might be
taking up too much cultural, mental and social space in our lives. Was it
crowding out more edifying things? Things that aren't for sale?
Being a creature of habit, Goebig decided it was all or nothing. "Giving up
shopping for a month, or three months, didn't seem long enough. We can build
habits quickly but it's harder to break them. A year guarantees it will be hard
at times. Three months? Not necessarily. And you can pretty much do anything for
four weeks, even not eat chocolate."
Denial wasn't an entirely alien concept to Goebig. She and a friend once gave
up alcohol for a year, and blogged about it. "That gave us a certain
accountability," she says, pointing out that it's harder to fib to your friends
– or yourself – if you go public.
This time, she shared daily posts on Instagram, which helped her tap into the
conscious-consumerism community. "Social media definitely helped," she says,
adding that the comments and support buoyed her when her enthusiasm threatened
to flag. "Also, there's only so much you can find out on your own if you don't
want to dedicate half your time to research. Blogs and Facebook groups are great
because people share links."
Goebig joined a "buy nothing" Facebook group. Goebig's group connected her
with like-minded folk, provided a way for her to pass on unwanted stuff, and
gave her access to items she needed without buying them.
It's quite political," she says. "It's all about the sharing economy. You
have a hyper-local exchange, not only for goods but services, too. In
family-friendly areas you see a lot of children's stuff, books, kitchenware. And
sometimes gifts of self, where someone offers their services – childcare, for
example – for free."
In our consumerist society, rejecting the call to consume can read like an
act of defiance. Politicians urge us to shop for the good of the economy and we
are bombarded with advertising from the cradle to the grave. To love shopping is
to be normal; to keep on accumulating, the unexamined goal. In this context, the
idea of sharing goods and services, bartering or simply giving them away is
revolutionary – but it's catching on.
The Buy Nothing movement has its roots in Vancouver, where it began in
September 1992 as a day of protest. Five years later, the date was moved to
coincide with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that kicks off sales so
frantic shoppers have been maimed and even killed in stampedes.
Free stores and community-run swap shops offer gentler alternatives, where
you take only what you need. Meanwhile, Japanese de-cluttering guru Marie Kondo
seems to get more popular every day with her "life-changing magic of tidying
up". It's no longer considered wacko to aspire to having less. Goebig notes that
there's loads of info about shopping detoxes and minimalist fashion challenges
online. She trialled extreme capsule wardrobe concepts like Project 333 (see
left) but found these methods "a bit stressful".
One tool that worked for her was "Sunday dress prep" – planning in advance
her wardrobe for the week. But her eureka moment came after turning all the
hangers in her wardrobe the wrong way round and only allowing herself to turn
them back after she'd worn the item on it. "It was shocking because so many
things stayed on the reverse hangers," she says. "You realise you don't want to
wear these things. I got rid of a lot of stuff this way."
Owning fewer garments simplified her choices and, come year end, all her
hangers were facing the correct way. Overall, she found the detox process much
easier than she expected. "The hardest thing was getting used to slight
inconveniences. For instance, I'm a big reader, so going on waiting lists at the
library was tough. We're used to getting what we want straight away."
Goebig also learnt that she can live without cut flowers, but she'd prefer
not to. And that her new regimen was easier if she avoided shopping triggers.
"One was fashion magazines – I just didn't look at them any more." But she felt
no need to actively avoid shops. "I told myself that it's like going to the
museum – you don't expect to take anything home with you, you can just
So will Goebig lapse? When we talk, three months after her year of abstinence
had ended, she admits to buying a few new T-shirts to replace her shabby old
ones, and a sweater. However, a later look at her Instagram reveals several
items from the Victoria Beckham x Target range. The caption for a post on April
10 reads: "As I love to share my wins I'd better share my fails, too – as far as
ethical fashion and sustainable shopping goes, today was an epic fail."
Goebig had read about Beckham's affordable collection and when it dropped she
"just couldn't resist. But at least my yearwithoutshopping has taught me not to
buy all of it, only a few pieces that fit my style and go with the things I
FANCY A DETOX? SIX TO TRY
* The timed shopping ban: Set yourself a challenge to buy experiences over
stuff. Swap, share, make and create instead - for however long it takes to
recalibrate your sense of what's valuable.
* The Marie Kondo method: Decide what to keep and what to pass on by holding
each item to your heart and asking, "Does this spark joy?"
* D.I.Y: Self-imposed ban on buying fashion? Circumvent it sneakily by sewing
new outfits, up-cycling old ones or knitting your accessories.
* The thrifty approach: Take a fast fashion detox by dressing only in
second-hand finds, as an increasing number of slow fashion bloggers are doing.
Can't see this working long term? Try it during National Op Shop Week, August 27
to September 2.
* #30wears: This campaign designed to extend the lifecycle of clothes was
dreamt up by Livia Firth. The idea? Before you buy a garment, ask yourself,
"Will I wear this at least 30 times?"
* Project 333: "The minimalist fashion challenge that invites you to dress
with 33 items or less for three months" was devised by Be More With Less blogger
Courtney Carver.Read more at:short formal
dresses | formal dresses