How to Buy Less Clothing

Would you like to know how to buy less clothing? “Just stop buying” is obvious but over-simplified advice. What causes us to buy so much and so often? Is there more we can do with what we already have that will curb our desires? How can we replace our love of shopping with healthier habits? Let’s dig in.

Why We Buy

Fashion psychology can teach us a lot about why we buy.  Shopping can provide escapism when we’re stressed, anxious, or bored. It’s baked into many cultures as a form of entertainment an activity we take part in with people we care about as a way of bonding. Buying stuff gives our brains a hit of dopamine, and that can become addictive, especially when combined with a SALE.* Consumers have budgets and lower prices are welcome and often needed. But retail prices are over-inflated to factor in obligatory discounts. 

The coupon website conglomerate RetailMeNot published a survey [1] that found two-thirds of consumers make purchases they weren’t originally planning to make solely based on finding a coupon or discount. I’m guilty of this too. We’ve been so programmed to find items on sale that we’ll delay purchasing until we get that discount. Then we’ll over-buy and wind up spending more money on discounted items we don’t need because it feels like we’re getting “a deal”. So, the pile of unworn and unwanted clothes grows, along with our dissatisfaction.

image of coupons and discount stickers

I think marketing and advertising play an underrated role in the fast fashion and climate crises we’re living in. But it doesn’t have to be this way. An increasing number of creatives are tired of selling lifestyles of overconsumption and want to write a new story.

Creatives for Climate is a nonprofit global network of creative professionals dedicated to climate justice. If you want to learn how to use your skill set to build a just and regenerative world, check out their network-powered platform.

We Can’t Buy Our Way Out

Choosing ethically and sustainably made clothing over fast fashion is good and needed. But the bigger problem is the amount we consume and the rate at which we do it. The resale market is growing, but worldwide clothing production is also going up. And most brands don’t know how to grow financially without increasing production. For example, here are some statistics:

  • The $2.5 trillion new clothing sector churns out an estimated 150 billion garments annually (while there are 8 billion people on Earth) [2]
  • Each year, approximately 100 billion garments are purchased [3] So what’s happening to the other 50 billion??
  • Approximately  20% of water pollution across the globe is the result of wastewater from the production and finishing of textiles. [4]
  • Washing 1 kg of synthetic garments can release between 640,000 – 1,500,000 microfibers [5]. Consequently we’re eating a credit card’s worth of microplastic every week [6].
  • The average American throws away 75 pounds of textiles and clothing a year [7]

clothing waste

Buying Less: How to Get Started

Here are the steps you can take to start your journey towards buying less clothing. 

1. Take stock of what you have.

This works best when it’s 2-D. That means photographing the clothing, shoes, and accessories you have and saving them, for example, in an album. Another option is to work with a virtual closet app to more easily organize your photos. What also helps is to calculate the Cost Per Wear of items you already own — the ones you wear frequently, but also the ones buried in the back of the closet. An item may have been on sale, but if you (almost) never wear it, the cost-per-wear is high. Also factor in expensive maintenance like dry cleaning.

2. Start using what you have.

Apply the inspiration you see (from friends, media, on the street) to your wardrobe. Ask, “How can I recreate that (outfit I’m inspired by) using what I have?” You might be surprised to find that instead of feeling restricted, you feel creative freedom. Organizations like Remake host “no buy” challenges to create solidarity and provide added inspiration. Search #nonewclothes to find a group to join.

3. Take care of what you have.

It’s not exciting, but clothing care is a great way to not only extend the life of a garment but also to feel more attached to it. And the more connected we feel to the clothes we wear, the less likely we are to get rid of them.

care instructions to reduce buying clothes

4. Plan for what you need.

Keep a running list in your phone of items you need, for instance when you get dressed in the morning and notice that an item is wearing out or stained. This way, you make it easier to avoid impulse purchases on any impromptu shopping trips you might make. This includes on vacations, when we’re often tempted to buy because we have time, we want a souvenir, and we give ourselves permission to buy things we don’t need.

woman on her phone

4. Delay gratification.

When you’re tempted to buy, force yourself to pause. What is it you need? Do you still want the item a day or a week later?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the above list, so start today with one thing. If you wait for a chunk of time, you might permanently delay getting started. Break up each step of the process into small steps that work with your schedule. Especially Step 1 will take time.

Need help? Click here & I’ll get you started.

Image of gifts on table

Healthier Habits

When we buy, we’re filling a need. Most often it’s not because we’re naked. We have clothes. We’re buying for a subconscious reason. If we can figure out the real reason we’re buying, we can replace consuming stuff with getting what we need.

Aja Barber’s book Consumed is a must-read call to action for consumers. It asks us to look at how and why we buy what we buy, how it’s created, who it benefits, and how we can solve the problems created by a wasteful system. Aja Barber says, “It is important for you to understand your own sense of lacking, and whatever engendered it at this stage in your journey because it will explain what drives this sense of not being enough that forces you to acquire more.” 

Other forms of consumption

To reduce your clothing consumption, it helps to take a look at what else you might be over-consuming and work on that as well. For me, it took Image Architect Andrea Cameron’s sharp analysis to realize I was bingeing on social media. This is an over-consumption of information. Slowing down the input of information, for me, increases output. This is a major work in progress, but the realization was profound.

The over-consumption of busyness is, I would say, an epidemic in the Western world. Filling every second of each day seems normal and unavoidable. And all of our time needs to be productive, especially if it’s attached to an income. If we allow ourselves to slow down, we can evaluate what we can let go of. It doesn’t need to be anything gigantic or profound. Small bits of over-consumption are still clutter and distraction.

In Conclusion

In today’s consumption-driven culture, shopping has become a form of entertainment and self-gratification. It’s important to understand how mindless buying has negatively impacted our environment and wallet. Buying less is a commitment and conscious effort to reduce waste, end fast-fashion overproduction and support sustainable clothing and fashion, which ultimately help make our planet more sustainable.

In a nutshell, buying less clothing requires a shift in mindset and habits. By understanding why we shop, taking stock of what we have, and focusing on genuine needs, we can reduce our consumption and contribute to a more sustainable world. In other words, it’s not just about buying less; it’s about living more consciously and deliberately.

About the Author

Tammy Parrish is a a personal stylist on a mission to show you how you can wear your values, buy less and buy better. She believes that style is a powerful form of communication and self-expression. In her lifetime, she hopes to see fast fashion die, and the women of color who make our clothes thrive. To receive her bi-weekly Tips & Tricks email in your inbox, click here.

*For a fashion psychology deep dive, follow fashion psychologists Dr. Dion Terrelonge , and Shakaila Forbes-Bell with her Big Dress Energy book and podcast.


[1] RetailMeNot survey, INC magazine, 2018

[2] McKinsey & Company, “The State of Fashion 2022: Navigating uncertainty in the next normal” 

[3] McKinsey & Company, “Style that’s Sustainable: A new fast-fashion formula,” 2016

[4] United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “Putting the Brakes on Fast Fashion,” 2021

[5] “CDP Global Water Report: Thirsty Business: Why water is vital to climate action,” 2020

[6] Gruber, et al, Expo. Health, 2022

[7] EDGExpo, “Fashion Industry Waste Statistics”, 2016