In the name of "stunt writing," journalists have been immersing themselves in wars, psych wards, Wal-Mart, et al to gain an insider's perspective for decades. Blogging has broadened that concept -- turning things like “I will only serve my children food cooked using this 1980s Sesame Street cookbook for the next year” into high-traffic Web fodder. We know these experiments as "stunt blogs."
My friend Emma and I didn’t set out to be stunt bloggers. We just came up with the idea to try not shopping (for clothes and accessories) for one year. We figured we wouldn’t get started if we thought about it too much, so No New Duds was formed that very day. We live in cities miles apart so the blog was meant for us to keep in touch while holding ourselves accountable.
In the beginning, the accountability part took a backseat to the more enjoyable keeping-in-touch and making-fun-of-old-clothes part. However, the stakes got higher after the local paper caught wind of our clearly world-altering challenge. The article was published on the cover of the lifestyle section. It grossly misquoted us, making it seem like I was on the verge of being committed for a shopping addiction and that Emma hadn't spoken to her children in two years because she was living at Target, washing down Merona jumpers with Archer Farms water.
I started to doubt the longevity of our challenge when we reached the halfway point in March. I mentioned said benchmark to Emma and she said, “That actually doesn’t make me feel better.” It was clear: She was suffering. A few more weeks went by before we broke the challenge; she went first and I carried on for a few more weeks before realizing I really didn't give a crap about taking outfit pictures (much respect to you fashion bloggers out there) for myself and our 50 readers. So I bailed.
It wasn’t that hard for either of us -- I didn’t go out and trade my body for a thousand clutch purses and Emma didn’t go back to hiding from her family at Target or anything like that. We went out softly; Emma, with a blouse, and me, with a dress. We just accepted that our relationship with the challenge had run its course, but does that mean it wasn’t worth it? Were we total losers because we didn’t make it 365 days? Are stunt blogs like horseshoes -- close enough counts? Or are they just plain annoying?
Maybe understanding the reasons we gave up will help. First, to make it to the end of a year-long challenge, you have to have a solid WHY. Willpower experts caution that most people can only handle "willing" one or two things at a time, so you really have to focus. To focus on not doing something, you have to replace the behavior with something else. I tried a couple different things, but nothing compares to shopping -- searching around, finding something and taking it home to hang it for display. Looking back, I think that small game hunting might have been an appropriate replacement activity. No?
Also, capitalism and fast fashion won. In the end, it was hard to purchase a sandwich for 10 dollars and know there was a cute shirt hanging on a rack for the same price somewhere out there. This is much more likely an indicator of the decline of civilization than of our personal weakness.
I don’t know why most stunt blogs involve a 365-day challenge. I suppose a year is substantial, and there’s something to be said for aiming high. We might have only lasted 30 days if we were like, "Hey, let's just see how far we can get” and we wouldn’t have learned all of the valuable lessons that not shopping for 200 days can teach.
So what were our takeaways?
1) Even if you aren’t a butler, you’re probably going to need a white button-up shirt.
2) If you want to assess what you do have, stop buying stuff for a while. Really. If you can handle it, try going an entire season without buying new stuff. Obviously this only applies to people that enjoy shopping and shop often. I’ve heard enough from you austere non-shoppers already.
3) Separating need and want is a fruitless endeavor. Although practicing it is good preparation for post-apocalyptic living. We all know that, technically, we could use one towel (beach-sized) and a pair of Chuck Taylors for everything we will ever need to do. I also could’ve purchased a jumpsuit and worn it every day. There was a project a few years back where a woman wore the same dress every day for a year "as an exercise in sustainable fashion" although if you look at the pictures, the professional-grade accessorizing is completely something other than "sustainable." Turns out, there’s a lot more to getting dressed every day than basic need. Like it or not, the stuff we wear has functions beyond utility -- these items are communicating to (the cruel and judging) outside world.
4) Not shopping is harder if you have to dress for an office every day or if you had a baby a few months before you started the challenge (Emma). If you work from home, it is easy to wear the same thing every day. However, it will be really boring stunt blog material.
5) You can skip buying something you want and still live. For those of you that have thought you were going to die if you didn’t have a particular item, taking on a challenge like this helps you practice passing things up. I recommend doing a Rust Cohle pulse-check during those times when you think you are losing your resolve.
Looking at the above list, I wonder what else we would’ve learned if we'd made it the entire 365 days. Maybe we would have found a way to create a summer wardrobe converting last year’s super-long tanks into this season’s half-shirts. Maybe the blog would have inspired others to stop buying fast-fashion, thereby closing sweatshops across the globe for good (ha). Or maybe the only difference would have been bragging rights.
My next stunt blog may be to seek out and find all the failed stunt bloggers, one a day for 365 days, and create a stunt-blog graveyard for all the challenges that were taken on and then killed. There are plenty others who have tried and failed; not everyone can eat only Starbucks for a year. Gathering this important information may not prove there’s glory in quitting, but it could show there is much to be learned in trying and failing.