My stylish mother taught me to ‘shop my closet’ over buying new clothes, and it’s saved me thousands over the years

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My late mother had an incredible sense of style. She was a spender, not a saver, but her passion for investing in pieces that were well-made and evoked an emotional response taught me that “quality over quantity” can help you save money and buy less in the long run. 

My mother didn’t subscribe to trends. She viewed her clothing purchases as investments to last a lifetime. 

Buy better, but buy less

Every shopping trip with my mom to our local department stores in Manhattan was a history, geography, and ethics lesson rolled into one. As a teen, I remember having to justify why I wanted to buy something the way I’d argue a thesis. I’d have to explain how I’d style it with other clothing I already owned, list multiple different places I’d wear it, and explain what set it apart from every other item in the shop.

My mom was a doctor, so her vibrantly colored, beautifully made clothes were often covered with a lab coat, but she’d add a bespoke element to her medical uniform, like a special embroidery or trim. 

This fed into another core belief of hers: Nothing needed to be tossed. Anything could be patched, mended, or embellished; she loved replacing buttons on tired blouses, or sprucing up handles on drawers, to give new life and energy to something old. 

My mother’s voice in my head stops me from buying most things

I’m now a 40-year-old with four kids of my own, and though my mother died 17 years ago, I still hear her voice in my head. 

It’s powerful enough to stop me from making most impulse purchases, which is helpful because I have ADHD and am naturally impulsive. 

I don’t shop like most people by updating my wardrobe seasonally. Instead, I “shop my closet.” Lots of my clothes used to belong to my mother and when I wear them, I feel memories flood over me. 

Some of my mom’s clothing items are half-a-century old — I even have scarves and jewelry from her native Ukraine. Since she always prioritized quality over everything else, a lot of these pieces still look incredible decades on and have stood the test of time. 

I also wear my own clothes from childhood, like a white faux fur coat with a Minnie Mouse print. I spliced the sleeves with scissors and now it’s a cropped jacket (let’s not psychoanalyze the part where I have four daughters I could have given the coat to instead of trying to squeeze myself into it; the heart wants what the heart wants). A similar design from the same brand would set me back over $250 now.

When I do buy clothing, it’s rarely ever new — just new to me. I scour thrift shops and vintage boutiques for items for myself, as well as clothing, toys, and books for my children. 

I’ve saved a fortune keeping old items — and resisting the impulse buy 

Buying less, but buying better (items that last, designer items secondhand, etc.) is a strategy I hope to pass onto my kids because it’s about sustainability as much as savings. I’ve saved thousands of dollars over the years picking up cut-price doll’s houses, American Girl dolls, Doc Martens, and more from my local thrift shop for my kids.  

A Deloitte survey from July 2022 estimated that parents would spend $661 per child in grades K-12 on back-to-school purchases. With hand-me-downs and secondhand uniforms, the only thing we’ve bought is a new jacket for my oldest, school shoes, and some stationery items, so we’ve spent far less than that figure for all four of them. 

I don’t make impulse clothing purchases for myself, which has also saved me thousands over the years. I prefer the thrill of discovering treasures in thrift shops. I recently bought a secondhand Stella McCartney floral blazer for $45 (for reference, Zara’s new-season blazers are currently $90). I also enjoy the virtual fashion styling game Drest, which allows me to play with crazy-expensive clothes without spending a penny.

My mom’s approach taught me that the clothes we buy aren’t purely practical or frivolous. Everything has a story; clothes can bring back memories and make you feel things. Which is why it’s not about accumulating stuff, or spending tons, but investing in those few special items that will never go out of style.


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