How Thrifting Soothed My Anxiety


Global warming. Animal extinction. Sweatshops. Negative body image. Shifting trends. Endless excess. Ill-fitting fashion. A shrinking budget. A barrage of anxious thoughts hit me all at once — while shopping for clothes.

Anxiety is a strange — and prolific — beast. In the United States alone, 40 million adults have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders. It’s the most common mental illness in the country, affecting 18.1 percent of the population. It’s usually triggered by a complex mixture of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, or, simply, the way in which life experiences are rolling out. So there’s no universal experience or solution. 

I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) nearly five years ago. Since then, I’ve made changes in exercise and sugar intake and adopted yoga and regular breathing exercises. As a result of these changes and others, I’m more or less “normal” now. I actually feel in control. 

But the most surprising thing that’s help squash my anxiety? Secondhand shopping. 

I was facing a sudden need to build an entirely new wardrobe from scratch (because, weight change) — a pricey and stressful endeavor to say the least. But this crisis would actually turn into a life-changing experience with a therapeutic impact on my mental health. How? I made a challenge to myself: I would build my new wardrobe by exclusively shopping secondhand. Goodbye, boutiques and online shopping. Hello, consignment shops in weird, obscure strip malls. 

The result? I created the trendiest wardrobe that I’ve ever had, with everything fitting and flattering (no really — the Maria Kondo people are doing all of us favors). I saved thousands of dollars. I reduced my carbon footprint. And I was empowered with new perspectives on modern consumerism. 

Here are the top reasons why switching to secondhand shopping has been a game-changer for my mental health. 

Reason #1: The fashion industry is terrible for the environment

If you want anxiety, just research global warming statistics and see how long you last. According to headlines everywhere, the environment is changing at such a speed and magnitude that one million species are at risk of being endangered. As individuals, the best thing we can do to minimize our environmental impact is to be mindful of how we discard our things and persnickety about where we source them. And as the fashion industry is actually the world’s second-largest polluter, we can all start by simply deciding what to put in our closets. By supporting secondhand stores, not only are we slowing down the behemoth of waste the fashion industry causes, but we are giving another life to clothes that would otherwise be sitting in a landfill. 

Reason #2: I stepped into a mindset of abundance

When I first decided to thrift, I was a little ashamed. After all, I’m choosing to buy other people’s discards. What does this say about me and my status as a person? 

I got over that very quickly. After one shopping session, I was totally floored once I realized how much stuff — really nice stuff — we take for granted. When you buy an outfit made by Ted Baker, Tahari, Ralph Lauren, and Nine West for less than $50, you cannot help but feel really nice. As I browsed through the clothes, my worldview shifted. Through this changed lens, I was able to see how much abundance is around us, particularly the kind of material and economic resources we take for granted in this country. 

By looking for the ways we have so much abundance at our disposal, I began to feel more grateful. And it helped me grow in trust that God would provide for my needs. 

Reason #3: It made me less attached to clothing

If you’re investing real money in your wardrobe, it’s harder to part with clothing that doesn’t quite work out. You might feel more obligated to wear those pants that don’t quite fit, or those shoes that don’t feel exactly right. 

When you thrift, it’s easier to discard (and giveaway) clothes if something isn’t perfect — and move on to find something that really does work. Plus, while no one wants a small child to pour red paint on their beautiful white sweater, it’s easier to laugh off the mistake if your sweater cost $20 instead of $120. Clothing isn’t made to last forever — and when you see all the secondhand white sweaters on that rack, all ready to be worn again, it’s easier to feel less attached to your wardrobe. 

Reason #4: I no longer let brands define me

Thrift store shopping has allowed me to really hone my style without getting caught up in a specific brand’s agenda. For starters, there are far more options to try, as there are hundreds of brands on the racks to choose from. It’s also exposed me to brands I’ve never heard of (such as Pleione, which I now love), and made me understand my own style, without using brand messaging as a crutch. 

Furthermore, I’ve noticed that while brand names sometimes do matter — insofar as quality and fit — retail prices don’t always match the quality. For instance, good old Levi jeans have far better durability than Armani jeans, which are roughly four times more expensive. 

Reason #5: I’ve learned not to get so hung up on size

Confession: I used to not buy something if it pushed me into another size. But now I realize how ridiculous that is, because sizing, my friends, is all over the place. A size-six in Boden jeans is pretty much equal to double-zeros in jeans from Ann Taylor Loft. Thrift store shopping has made me feel less anxious about what number I fit in. Now, I’m more focused on how a certain piece of clothing makes me feel and whether or not it flatters, based on my own unique body shape. 

Reason #6: It’s been better for my wallet

It’s been well-documented that most millennials will probably never enjoy retirement. Super! That said, clothes are a necessary expense. We must wear them, and we should wear good ones. After all, our clothes influence how people perceive us and this can influence our impact in the world. And our personal style can be the means by which we channel our own creativity and communicate our values. 

Through this journey in fashion, I’ve found ways to play with trends but without spending much money. My closet has never had more name brand items in it (and they all fit!), and I’m paying fractions of their retail price.

The Big Picture: It’s helped me get a better grip on life

I’m not in a position to make major decisions regarding toxic waste or carbon emissions. And, like most of us, there’s not a whole lot of wiggle room in my household budget. Despite these realities, thrifting has helped me feel like I’m making better decisions. It’s opened my eyes to the land of plenty we live in, and at the same time, it has opened up doors to experiment with fashion in a way I didn’t think was possible without extreme wealth. Thrifting has allowed me to feel a little more at ease with my financial and fashion decisions, all while making me feel better about the environment. 

For me, shopping is no longer associated with a guilt-induced “hangover” of regret. Instead, it’s given me a sense of peace and increased my sense of wonder and gratitude. Indeed, it’s helped me feel a little less anxious about my life, and about the greater world I am a part of.

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