Friday, October 19, 2012

Buy Nothing New Month

"We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls."

"Consumers have not been told effectively enough that they have huge power and that purchasing and shopping involve a moral choice."


"Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like."


"People used to die of consumption. Then it went from being a fatal disease to a way of life"

"Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need." 


This October I am participating in Buy Nothing New Month, a movement for collective, conscientious consumption that began in Australia's shopping capital, Melbourne.  I have pledged to buy nothing new this month, with the exception of food, drink and medications. I am allowed to buy second-hand goods and first-hand experiences. There are several reasons I decided to make the pledge. Firstly, to protest the rampant materialism that infests the developed world, making us selfish and numbing us to the plight of those who have less and those who suffer producing all our "stuff". Secondly, to raise awareness amongst my friends and colleagues about our wasteful lifestyles. Thirdly, to remind myself that just because something is ethically produced, it does not give me an excuse to buy it.

As someone who enjoys shopping (I will even confess to reading the inelegantly named Shop Til You Drop magazine), I thought that Buy Nothing New Month would be difficult. (I am particularly vulnerable to anything that's locally made, fair-trade, well-designed and from one of my favourite local independent stores - a particularly wanky kind of conspicuous consumption, I guess.) However, it has proven very easy thus far. 

I thought that a weekend in Melbourne would be particularly challenging. Happily, I enjoyed my spare time dining with friends and colleagues and browsing the small galleries and second-hand stores of Fitzroy. My single non-food, non-transport purchase of the month is a 1946 edition of George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma, from antique and vintage store 84 Smith Street. I've wanted to read this play for a while (it advocates doctors being paid a fixed salary, without any financial incentive to offer unnecessary treatment to patients - more on that another time) and I was very pleased to find it for five dollars.

I thought that a friend's birthday gift might prove difficult but I found a gift that I had bought for him a couple of years ago and forgotten about (I have a drawer full of such purchases), which I delivered to him in Melbourne, wrapped in some reused tissue paper. The Buy Nothing New movement also suggests gifting experiences or second-hand goods (like antique jewellery)!

Although I have bought food when I'm eating out, for meals at home I've tried to use up things in my pantry that would otherwise probably sit there until they were inedible. Brinjal pickle with wholemeal couscous was quite tasty (although somewhat lacking in greens). 

One thing I've observed is that when I stay at a hotel I am impeccable, aided by the small number of items I have with me. For the recent weekend in Melbourne, I used a handbag for luggage. For four days working in the Pilbara, a tiny wheeled suitcase was more than sufficient. This is in contrast to my cluttered, chaotic home, which is full of gifts I've never given, art I've never hung, books I've never read, DVDs I've never watched, stationery I've never used, half-empty toiletries, clothes I've forgotten I own, unused craft supplies, CDs I've never played, alcohol that has sat on the shelves for years (scandalous, I know), and unnecessary multiples of so many items that I couldn't name them all. During a particularly decadent phase a few years ago, I would buy new clothes when I ran out of clean clothes to wear to work. I didn't even realise I was doing it until my mother pointed it out to me.

What have I learned from Buy Nothing New Month so far? I've become more aware of things I want to purchase, don't really need, but justify by telling myself that I'm supporting a small business or an ethical producer. I've become more creative with food and outfit choices. I've picked native flowers from my mother's garden instead of buying bunches from the florist that usually die within a few days. I've been catching up on some of those unread books. I've halted the ridiculous flood of gifts for my 10-week-old niece. At no time have I thought twice about something I didn't buy, or rued a lost opportunity. I haven't wasted any time browsing department stores. I chose vintage stores over the discount mall patronised by my colleagues when we were in Melbourne.

I think I need to extend Buy Nothing New Month into Buy Nothing New Quarter. That would provide a real challenge and force new behaviours, such as joining the library, using up those craft and baking supplies for the holiday period, finishing those unread books, "shopping the closet" and getting old shoes repaired. I would spend more time creating, spending time with family, making my way through the never-ending "To Do" list and not accumulating stuff.

Who wants to join me?

See Part 2 for Buy Nothing New resources

Quotations above via Buy Nothing New Month website 

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