How to Stop Mindlessly Buying Clothes

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Words by Megan Doyle

Shopping purely as a source of entertainment does not make us happy. Here’s how to make better choices with your purchases

How often do you find yourself on the sofa, mindlessly shopping for clothes when you’re bored? For many of us, the experience of buying clothes has evolved to become a 24/7 non-stop source of entertainment. But, research shows that shopping like this doesn’t actually make us happier. So why do we still do it? And more importantly, how can we slow down?

“Many people are zombified and addicted to shopping,” explains Katia Vladimirova, senior research associate at the University of Geneva and founder of the Sustainable Fashion Consumption Network. “Buying so much isn’t good for your wallet and it doesn’t do you any good other than the second you buy it. It’s actually a burden.”

Shopping has become so habitual that it’s a go-to solution for many of life’s problems. Wedding on the weekend? Buy a new dress. Feeling sad or anxious? A new pair of shoes should fix it. “People often turn to shopping as a way of keeping themselves distracted or keeping difficult feelings at bay,” says Alec Leach, former fashion editor and author of ‘The World Is On Fire But We’re Still Buying Shoes’. “But it’s an unsatisfying way of shopping because there will never be enough. You’re always trying to scratch an itch that will never go away.”

A new report by the Hot or Cool Institute, which was co-written by Vladimirova, found that if everyone in the UK purchased fewer new clothes, it would save 2.3 times more emissions than many other sustainability measures like buying second-hand, increasing use-time, and disposing of clothes responsibly. “It doesn’t matter how much organic cotton and recycled polyester you use, if you’re buying too many clothes, that’s never going to be sustainable,” says Leach. “It’s one of the biggest factors in fashion’s huge environmental footprint and it’s so important we question it.”

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So how many clothes do you actually need? Well, the average UK wardrobe has around 118 items of clothing and 26 per cent of those haven’t been worn in the last year, according to WRAP. The Hot or Cool report found that we only need somewhere between 74 and 85 pieces to happily live within planetary boundaries. “We’re not talking about wearing one pair of underpants and one pair of socks for the whole year,” says Vladimirova. “We’re talking about generous levels of sufficiency and we would still be able to stay within the 1.5-degree [climate] targets.”

Here’s the best reason yet to slow your spending: “Living with less is actually really good for you,” says Vladimirova. “You have more space in your closet — spacial decluttering has been shown to enhance well-being in the long run — and there are also big financial benefits. If you’re not buying many cheap things on impulse, you can restructure your budget and still buy a few high-quality pieces.”

We know we need to buy less, but when we’re constantly bombarded with ads, sales and discount codes, that can be easier said than done. Here are some tips to slow your spending for a healthier wallet, wardrobe, and planet.

Carole Bethuel / Netflix


“You don’t have to give up shopping altogether. Shopping less is an opportunity to shop a lot better,” explains Leach. “It comes down to investing in your long-term wardrobe and considering how often you’ll wear something. It’s not just about what looks cool on Instagram, we need to be thinking: do I really want to be wearing this in two years’ time?”

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Education can be confronting and uncomfortable, but it’s crucial for behaviour change. “There’s a recognised psychological bias that you protect yourself from information that you’re not in agreement with — information that causes you cognitive dissonance,” says Vladimirova. “Social psychology shows that in order to change people’s attitudes, major psychological shocks are needed.” Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there to help you on your learning journey. Documentaries like the True Cost and Inside the Shein Machine are great places to start.


You can easily get tangled up in all of fashion’s certifications, greenwashing, and debates over synthetic vs natural or vegan vs real leather. “Sustainability is really messy, but you can have a healthier relationship with fashion that is much easier to get your head around,” says Leach. “Just buy better stuff and take good care of it. Loving your clothes is the easiest, the most fun, and the most relatable way to get on board.”


If your wardrobe is overwhelming, start looking at how to make small eco-friendly changes in other aspects of your life to ease into the slow-living mindset. “People who start adopting a zero-waste lifestyle tend to eventually get to their clothes too,” says Vladimirova. “They may start by composting or changing their plastic brushes to bamboo ones, and while they’re reorganising their kitchen, that starts spilling into other areas of their life.”

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Oscar Wilde said you can resist anything except temptation. Shutting off the channels that brands use to advertise is a good way to resist the allure of shiny new things. “Methodically unsubscribe from every last fast fashion brand that you receive notifications from and delete any fast fashion apps on your phone so that you don’t get the temptation to look at them,” says Vladimirova. “These are the basic first steps to cutting the cord.”


Develop your personal style based on how clothes make you feel, not what someone on social media tells you. “It takes a lot of confidence to step away from the consumerist machine, deciding what you’re into and what you’re not into, and coming to the conclusion that you don’t need influencers to tell you what to buy,” says Leach. “You can figure that out for yourself and it’s a really healthy realisation to have.”

In a society build around consumption, shopping less isn’t an easy ambition, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. “This is going to be better for you, better for your community, enhance your well-being, and it’s going to reduce environmental pressures,” says Vladimirova. “You’re going to be helping yourself and the planet.”