Kelli Lamb is an entrepreneur, artist, and designer who has been living a year of no shopping. She is on a mission to help people live more intentionally with less clutter in their lives.
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Editor’s note: The topic for May is making do with what we already have—in what’s the fridge, what’s in our closets, and how much energy we have on any given day. In that spirit, we’re resurrecting Megan McCarty’s post from three years ago. In it, she talks to Kelli Lamb about what it’s like to go a year without shopping—what inspired her to do so, how the process went, and what she learned along the way. Whether or whether you want to put a halt to your buying habits right now, we believe you’ll learn something new as you read. We wish you everyone a wonderful weekend.
Kelli Lamb, the managing editor of Rue magazine, an online stronghold for fashionable living in L.A., has a great eye for excellent design—decor, clothes, and everything else. Kelli took a vacation from shopping a few years ago, pre-Rue, when she was deep down the rabbit hole of quick, cheap clothes. She put her credit card away and resolved to go a year without buying any new clothing or accessories. We spoke with Kelli about why she did it, what she learned, and how the year has influenced her current purchasing habits.
You decided a few years ago to stop shopping for a full year—no clothing, no accessories. Tell us all you know. First and foremost, why?
Actually, I was searching for a blog subject. I was working for a health and fitness website in Boise, Idaho. I was in urgent need of a creative outlet, so I decided to create a blog! However, my life was not interesting enough for me to write on a daily basis, and I was unfamiliar with style and design blogs. So I’d sit down and discover I didn’t have much to say about my mundane existence. I thought that having a defined subject would help me come up with ideas for writing and motivate me to write as frequently as possible.
What were your purchasing habits like before the year started?
Remember, this was in 2010, and I was a 22-year-old with few responsibilities. When I was asked to a birthday celebration, I would go to the mall the day before to get something to wear that night. I would shop at Forever 21, Urban Outfitters’ clearance rack, and then bargain shops like Marshalls and T.J.Maxx. It was very much a cheap, quick fashion mentality. This party is in a sushi restaurant, and we’re going dancing afterwards, so I’ll wear a black dress with heels. I’d never peek in my own wardrobe. I don’t think I spent a lot of money since I didn’t have much at the time, but I did buy a lot of very inexpensive items that I planned to give to Goodwill within a year.
I was 22 years old and had no responsibilities. When I was asked to a birthday celebration, I would go to the mall the day before to purchase something to wear that night… It was very much a cheap, quick fashion mentality.
How did you get ready for a year without shopping? Did you clean out your closet, stock up on essentials, or go on a last-minute shopping spree?
I had just returned from a spring break vacation to Las Vegas with pals a few weeks before the school year started. We went shopping for the day—there was a J.Crew sale, and I went to Madewell (there was none in Boise!) to fill up on essentials. It wasn’t much of a “hurrah,” however, since the blog was still only a concept. I would have purchased a fantastic pair of jeans, high-quality white and gray shirts, and a couple pairs of excellent yoga pants if I were doing it now. Then I went in completely blind!
You informed your friends, family, and followers that you were doing it. You shared it on social media, sent emails, and wrote blogs about it. What was the motivation for discussing it—encouragement, accountability, or the humiliation of failure?
With a task like this, public accountability is crucial to success. I would have made it a few weeks if I hadn’t informed anybody, found myself in a shop confronting a big transaction, and thought, Wow, that was a stupid challenge. This is the dress I’m planning to purchase. But quitting would have been embarrassing since I had made my aim so public. I didn’t want to be the girl who declared a goal but then failed to achieve it. It kind of creeps into other aspects of life, don’t you think? I didn’t want to be known among my friends and coworkers as someone who never followed through. (Perhaps it was to make up for the day I announced to my whole workplace that I would be attending FIDM in the autumn.) This was a smaller-scale demonstration of my ability to carry on my promises.
We’ve all had those moments when we look at our wardrobe, which is stuffed with perfectly good clothing, and complain, “I have nothing to wear.” Which means I have nothing to wear today with this physique and mindset. When you purchase anything new, though, you get a rush—a complete sense of self-satisfaction. Did your clothing become boring over time, and did this have an effect on your self-esteem?
That was the most unexpected aspect of the whole effort. I don’t recall ever feeling as though I didn’t have something to wear. I believe it’s because I knew there was nothing new in my closet without negotiating. I had a better understanding of my wardrobe and what was accessible to me. I worked five days a week and went out on weekends, so I had seven clothes to choose from. I improved my ability to mix and match and wear anything in my closet. I’m sure there were times when I felt overwhelmed by my choices, but looking back, I recall making an additional effort to accessorize or layer. That’s something I could use right now!
Did you ever feel like you were about to snap throughout that year? Do you recall any specific instances of weakness?
The most significant event of the year was a big split. My college boyfriend and I had moved in together but had broken up before the lease had even been signed. Given where I am now, I look back on that period of my life and chuckle. But what happens after that? Then came the heartbreaking and difficult situation of having to remain in the same home until another roommate could come in and take over his lease. (It’s been three months!)
I needed to go out of the home once since we had a very dramatic morning. I went into Anthropologie thinking I’d simply look around for a bit, but I ended myself in a changing room with the most beautiful jacket. (I’m still looking for one as excellent as that one.) I texted a close buddy, who promptly phoned and insisted that I leave the shop as soon as possible.
It’s amazing how much shopping may act as a quick cure for worry. I reasoned, “If I simply purchase something for myself, I’ll feel so much better.” Failure would have made me feel much worse, but I was so fixated on the notion that I deserved that stupid jacket at the time.
It’s amazing how much shopping may act as a quick cure for worry. I reasoned, “If I simply purchase something for myself, I’ll feel so much better.”
You must have been able to save money this year. But, maybe more significantly, you must have grown more conscious of your retail spending patterns. What financial lessons were the most difficult for you to learn this year?
Because of the aforementioned split, I didn’t save too much money. That experience cost me a lot of money in the end! To accommodate the fill-in roommate, I had to pay more rent than I had anticipated. But I had a big nest egg to make up for it since I had saved all that money in the first half of the year. My savings account was completely depleted before to the challenge. So, although I didn’t come out on the other side with a large sum of money, I learnt the value of putting money aside for such unexpected expenses. I was able to avoid falling into debt by staying in my home.
What was the first purchase you made when the year ended? Is it still in your possession?
The “employee of the month” at the business where I worked was given a vacation. That was me, coincidentally, just before the end of my year! My closest buddy came along for the weekend in San Diego, and we shopped our hearts out. The only drawback was that I had no idea what my new style was or what I wanted to purchase since I had been so focused on just utilizing what I already had.
I purchased some unusual items. Strange, to say the least. The official first item, I believe, was a Juicy Couture tunic sweater with a tutu-like ruffle around the bottom. I’m afraid I don’t have it. Another item from the same trip was a cropped H&M jacket with a puffy feel created by tulle hearts. It had a Carrie Bradshaw vibe about it. I still have it, but the tags are still on, and I’ve never worn it. Whoops.
You’re a little older, a little wiser, and maybe a little more aware of your purchasing habits now. What is the best way to strike a balance between desires and needs?
What makes me aware of any purchases is my love for simplicity and the absence of clutter. I like having a tidy house and a well-organized closet. (The term “love” is a misnomer.) Require. I expect a tidy house and a well-organized closet.)
I still get worried or depressed and want to purchase something to make me feel better. But I’m more conscious of my surroundings and don’t take up too much of it. This makes it easy to say things like, “No, I don’t need that floor-length sequin dress just in case there’s a 70s party.” I’m not going to keep it! Before I make a purchase, I question myself whether I really love it enough to let it take up room.
Another thing that became clear over the course of the year was how readily I am swayed by sales. That reduced price may persuade me to purchase something I wouldn’t usually buy. So I try to maintain that mindset today and question myself, “Would I purchase this at full price if money wasn’t an issue?” Usually, the answer is no.
I realized how important it is to only purchase what you love and to consider it as an investment. It is not only more cost-effective, but it is also better for the environment.
You’re always surrounded by beautiful products created by the finest of the best designers in your working life at Rue magazine. Has your understanding of and appreciation for interior design influenced your own style or purchasing habits in any way?
That’s an interesting point you bring up. Around the time I began the blog, I had no idea what I was talking about. Ha! I just knew about fashion since it was the only way for ladies my age to express themselves. (Hello, I’m heading out.) Instagram wasn’t a thing, Pinterest wasn’t a thing, and I hadn’t yet found my passion for interior design. (Hello, secondhand bedroom set.)
Now, I’m thankful for the increased awareness that the internet community has brought about. Even if I stayed in Boise, I’d be able to find designers and manufacturers from all over the world. Then I dressed like everyone else in my social group. On Etsy, I can now discover caftans that make my tiny heart sing.
My viewpoint has shifted significantly as a result of my increased respect for quality and individuality. I’m not a fan of mindless consumption. Today, I would never purchase a $10 sale top for a single usage, nor would I purchase a pillow or spoon for a single Instagram picture. I’ve realized how important it is to only purchase what you love and to consider it as an investment. It is not only more cost-effective, but it is also better for the environment.
Do you think you’d do it again?
While my first response is a resounding no, the more I consider it, the more I realize I’d want to do it again! I’m having a lot of trouble with my own style—moving from foggy San Francisco to scorching hot L.A. can throw a gal’s aesthetic into a loop. So I believe that repeating this challenge will push me to be more creative and connect with what I like and feel best in. However, I must say that now that I work from home, it would be lot simpler this time!