At the beginning of this year I declared my intention to undertake a clothing fast this year. This is not to suggest that I have given up on clothing, and I’m not joining a nudist colony any time soon (for which we can all be grateful). What I mean is that I won’t be adding any clothes to my wardrobe for an extended period. In this is my first Fast Report of the year I give an update on how I’m getting on.
The fast has two primary objectives, the one material and the other spiritual. On the material front, undertaking a fast has the obvious benefit that I won’t be spending money on clothing. Most years I exceed my budget for clothing, despite my own preaching on the importance of sticking to budgets. Last year, however, I didn’t simply exceed my budget; I nuked it. So having overspent by a significant amount last year, my aim is to underspend by a significant amount this year. My aim is to avoid adding to my wardrobe for at least six months, but I am already thinking that it would be even more significant if I could do this for the whole of 2016. We’ll see how I get on as we near the half year mark.
On the spiritual front, fasting has a long history in many religious traditions. Many people are familiar with giving up chocolate for Lent, for example. The more hardy (or foolhardy) may prefer to give up all alcohol or even sex during Lent. Islam, similarly, practices fasting during Ramadan. Hindus and Buddhists also practice fasting, though Sikhs are known to frown on the practice.
Fasting has its roots in giving up food, perhaps a meal or two per day. In extreme cases no food at all may be consumed apart from fluids. In longer term fasts like Lent, which lasts 6 weeks, particular forms of food may be avoided, for example meat or chaoclolate, etc. However, fasting is also a term used to describe abstinence from forms of activity and pleasure other than food, for example alcohol, sex, or indeed, shopping.
What is the point of fasting, you may ask? You fast not because the thing you give up is bad in itself, though it might be. On the contrary, you abstain, especially when it is from a good thing, partly to appreciate it more deeply and partly because spiritual excercises are necessarily undertaken my means of our physical senses. As we feel hungry or hanker for a pint a period of self control and abstinence is a good way of centring oneself, reminding us of what is really important, and appreciating that which we have temporarily given up. Even when fasting without any particularly religious intent, it can bring healing to the human soul. However, when undertaken as part of a broader spiritual discipline and combined with reflection, and perhaps even prayer if you are so inclined, it can be a significant process of personal renewal. If you’ve never done it, give it a go and let me know how you get on.
Speaking of which, how am I getting on? Actually very well. I have managed to stick to my fast, and happy to report that 3 weeks in, not only have I not spent any money on clothing, I’ve not been massively tempted to either, and I’ve actually managed to generate some money from clothing purchased late last year.
In the interest of full disclosure I have actually bought three items of clothing this year. The first was a gift for a friend. So doesn’t fall foul of my intent to avoid adding clothes to my wardrobe. The other 2 items were in fact exchanges of items I bought late last year. Even better, in each case the price had fallen, in one case by 20% and the other by 25%, so I actually received money rather than spending it, and haven’t added to my wardrobe. Feeling pretty pleased about that. What has been about as important as actually sticking to my fast was fact that I have not so far felt unduly tempted to break it. This is a big deal for me. The post Christmas period is when I do most of my shopping each year, simply because it’s when some of the biggest discounts are to be found. Years ago when we were seriously skint I could only afford to shop once per year and it was in the January sales. I guess old habits die hard.
So I expected to be surrounded by all sorts of deals that I would find nearly irresistible in the January sales but so far it has been OK. Indeed, before I went looking for that gift I gave myself a good talking to: ‘You are here for a friend not yourself. Focus!‘ In fact it was fine. Have I suddenly developed wonderful levels of self control? Probs not. Rather it’s more likely to be down to two things. First, if there is an upside to nuking my clothing allowance last year it’s that it means that I begin the year with an unusually well stocked wardrobe, even for a man like me, including a significant number of items that I’ve not yet got round to wearing. This is deliberate; I’m taking my time rolling these out over the course of this year as I don’t expect to have further additions. So I could probably introduce something new to my wardrobe most months this year, without needing to buy anything new, because I fell off the wagon so spectacularly last year.
Second, let be real, people; it’s only January 21st! Temptation may not yet have struck but I guarantee it will. When the new Spring Summer Collections hit Jermyn Street from next week I anticipate having to draw on greater reserves of willpower. Until then, I’m actually enjoying the Clothing Fast.