Buy Nothing Year For Clothing: Fail!

crispydoc Uncategorized 15 Comments

I was like every other dope fiend, mistaking sobriety for personal strength, when I walked back into my den of iniquity and tempted fate by activating all my bad habit triggers at once.

My addiction was not to a chemical substance, but rather, to buying nice clothes and reliable gear at deep discount. With apologies to the Clash: I fought consumerism, and consumerism won.

This year, inspired by the Happy Philosopher, I’d decided to go cold turkey on buying new clothing.

I have enough clothing by any measure. Full closets, dress clothes, shoes, athletic and casual wear. All accumulated at proudly frugal prices over decades, all built to last from quality manufacturers. Except for underwear, socks, and the t-shirts I wear under my scrubs, all my clothes in the past two years have been purchased used.

I thought I’d sated the beast. I’d hit the December 2017 Garage Sale at our local REI. My only relapse to date was for a 1950s themed fund raiser for the local elementary school, when my wife and I purchased matching black berets paired with existing clothes to dress as Beats. Matching berets: $15.18 via Amazon Prime. Wife’s happiness with our costumes: priceless.

Then came last week’s visit to my parents, who happen to live near the world’s most awesome thrift store.

If you are a thrift or vintage store lover, you can make precise assessments about the quality of a store’s contents like a jewelry thief casing a joint before a potential heist.

This was a place whose donation base is a wealthy community in southern California (high quality donations, nice dress shirts) with a health-conscious population (lots of active wear), staffed by older volunteers (priced to move), away from main street (only those in the know can find this gem hidden in a residential suburban neighborhood).

There were even more enticements to appeal to me. The city has a decent-sized gay community, which means dress shirts that are cutting edge fashionable regularly make it onto the racks – it’s like having a personal queer eye for this straight guy, but at a steep discount.

My wife buys half her clothes for the year on our biannual visits. She generally detests the inefficiency of shopping, but sometimes speed is the best anesthetic.

She appreciates that a high concentration of nice articles of clothing, in a single convenient location, at ridiculous prices, and within her comfort zone of fashion (recent enough for us) lets her get the pain over with quickly. She even derives some pleasure from telling friends about the amazing deals she scores (on our penultimate visit, at my urging, she bought a lightly used Coach bag for $30; we found it listed for $400 online).

All this context to say: I was destined to fail from the start.

Within ten minutes of entering, I’d found two virtually new Patagonia short sleeve button down shirts for $4 a piece. They travel well, require no ironing, and I would later see them listed at anywhere from $59-$69 each online.

Add to that a virtually new pair of Teva sandals in my size for $13 (I use these for sea kayaking along rocky shores, and they wear out annually) and I was a quivering mass of consumer jelly.

Am I happy with my purchases? Yes.

Will they serve me well and last a long time if cared for properly? Absolutely.

But I couldn’t maintain the discipline, and that hurts.

As a Tuesday morning quarterback, I see that my mistake was going to the thrift store at all. Going forward, I’ll know the only way to succeed is to avoid my triggers completely.

Comments 15

  1. LOL. I don’t consider that a fail in my books. You took advantage of an opportunity to get some incredible prices on some high quality items.

    The fact that you buy from thrift stores instead of brand new name brand stores is a huge win given the fact that you are an MD and can easily have chosen the more expensive route but didn’t.

  2. Hey CD!

    Do not go into the thrift store. I repeat. Do not go into the thrift store.

    Seriously, it is very hard to stop once you enter! I have that problem with Costco. I go in for a flat of almond milk and I come out with two shopping carts full of stuff!!

    I have learned to minimize my trips to Costco now.

    1. Post

      Dr. MB,

      You are completely on the mark! I think this is my big take-home lesson: I need to avoid my triggers altogether in order to succeed. I’d maintained discipline up until I entered this high appeal store.

      Your Costco strategy is insightful – I have spread my own trips to Costco out to every other week, with a bike ride to Trader Joe’s during the weeks in between, to reduce my spend and slow my roll.

      If only you were in the audience of my private horror movie admonishing me, “Don’t go in there!” I’d have avoided this fate.

      Like any addiction, I’m hoping it takes a few attempts including a couple of lapses prior to a successful break with the habit.



      1. Post

        My strategy is always to give myself sufficient mourning time in any non-grocery shopping scenario. True story: At one thrift store nearby I found a brand new, labels on waterproof outer layer complete with an attached balaclava. It was such a great deal, new, and had gear value. It was also creepy as all getout, and if I saw someone approach me wearing it I’d dial the cops immediately. Giving this an extra 20 minutes to sink in, I was able to put it back on the rack. I completely get where you are coming from.

    1. Post

      As Matt Dillon’s character in “Drugstore Cowboy” is keen to say, “Keep passing the open windows.” I’m thinking I’ll take up the challenge once again next year, but as Dr. MB counseled, gotta stay out of the bar to avoid taking that drink.

  3. I took the same challenge…and lost. In my case, it was a Grand Canyon t-shirt and three pairs of underwear. Arguably, I needed the latter. (It depends on the definitions of “underwear” and “need”. 😉

    You could probably resell those Patagonia shirts on eBay, for a profit, and it will not only absolve you of your sins, but it will be one-upping The Happy Philosopher, turning clothes into income.

    1. Post


      Your underwear gets a pass in my book. The t-shirt…as lapses go, it won’t warrant its own Greek Tragedy any time soon, but I understand how elastic the definition of “need” can be when it comes to cognitive dissonance.

      While you are probably right about the resell option, and I am grateful for the kind consolation you offer, it’s more grating to feel the disappointment of a personal failure based on my internal scorecard than the Happy Philosopher’s outside judgement that gets my goat.

      I had this up until I entered the store. Next time, I drop off my wife and take my laptop to a nearby coffee house instead.

      Thanks for helping me feel less alone, my friend.


  4. LOL! Thrift stores. I can relate.

    When I lived in L.A. / Beverly Hills / West Hollywood, there was a store near my apartment called “It’s A Wrap!”. It’s even better than a gay community thrift store– it’s a Hollywood thrift store. I’m sure you heard of it, but basically nice clothes used on Hollywood sets are sold in this store at a heavily discounted price.

    I remember buying a few $30 dress shirts that would retail for $150 or so and thinking: “Hmm.. I wonder which Hollywood A-lister doned this particular article of clothing?” In reality I’m sure only a mere extra wore it. But still, it was a good frugal buy 🙂

    1. Post

      So funny you mention this, DMF. My wife was just suggesting we take a trip to this very store!

      I think she likes the cachet of celebrity clothes (never mind, as you suggested, that an extra is the most likely previous user) and it makes her feel her life tangentially intersects the glamor of LA. Being a D-list dirtbag, I’m perfectly happy to have nice clothes donated to thrift stores by the stars’ accountants.

      Look forward to seeing to peacock your dress shirts sometime,


  5. I only recently discovered the beauty of thrift store shopping. That is mostly because I wear a lot of the same clothes I had in highschool or University as my “good T-shirts”, Walmart for my daily home clothes (since I destroy them), and my work clothes that I buy in bulk (socks/underwear to match my greens).

    We have a thrift store that opened near us with very similar attributes to the one you described. My most recent treasure… A purple whip that I found while shopping for a Neon Cowboy party. Not a Brokeback Mountain affair, but a friend’s birthday in case you were wondering. Anyway, I found it in the Halloween section, but I am pretty sure that it started in the lingerie department of the store. I am hooked.

    1. Post

      Finally, a kindred spirit who also has “good” t-shirts! Growing up I had my good flannel (for impressing girls at parties) and my regular flannel (for high school), all worn with sandals and shorts because coastal California.

      Your purple whip sounds like a huge erotica win. I won’t judge.

      Some of my favorite wins: two $60 Italian stovetop stainless steel espresso makers for $3 each; a $300 current season wetsuit for $12; an electrostatic plasma globe for $5; and a high quality mask and snorkel in mint condition for $3 (retails for $60). You’ll notice none of these items are necessary, which is why I need to stop entering the damn thrift store.

    1. Post

      Important to factor in a “good deal mourning period.” I go early to the sale, gather a bag filled with maybe 5 items, and spend 30-45 minutes “letting go” of the fact that I don’t need 4 of those items by replacing them in the bins – my warped version of Marie Kondo’s keeping only things that will bring me joy. The savings are enough to pay my hourly, so it’s time well-spent and well-remunerated (if only in theory)!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.