Buy Nothing New Month

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“We used to build civilisation. Now we build shopping malls.” – Bill Bryson. In a movement to raise awareness of conscientious consumption, ‘Buy Nothing New’ month takes place again this October.

With the exception of buying essential items such as food, drink, medication and hygiene products, the idea is to move from a consumption driven society to a community conscious one. Instead of purchasing outright new products and clothes, the challenge instead is to consider alternative methods to consuming. Do you even need the item? Can you borrow it from a friend? Is the item able to be purchased second-hand?

FOCUS spoke to Tamara DiMattina, second hand shopper and Buy Nothing New Month advocate about applying the saying, “Everything old is new again”, to our consumer habits.

Why Buy Nothing New?

Because there is so much awesome stuff out there already! We don’t always need new. Buy Nothing New Month is about encouraging people who don’t usually get into the second hand market to give it a try and to experience a different type of consumption – one that extends the life of existing stuff. There are so many great ‘collaborative consumption’ options out there to help us access the stuff we may need, without having to go out and buy something new.

How do ardent consumers become disciplined to buy nothing?

Firstly, Buy Nothing New Month isn’t about ‘buying nothing’ or ‘buy nothing new ever again’; it’s just about looking at the alternatives, like shopping second hand from places like Brotherhood of St Laurence and Sacred Heart Mission, through to high end designer consignment stores. It’s not about ‘no consumption’; it’s about ‘conscientious consumption’.

Ardent consumers could start by changing how they consume.

In no way do I hold myself up as model of ideal consumer behaviour and restraint. I have too much stuff in my wardrobe too, but I try to source everything second hand from Brotherhood of St Laurence and Sacred Heart Mission. If I need something, I usually buy it second hand and often alter it to create something ‘new to me’.

Buy Nothing New Month is not anti-consumption; it’s anti-waste. We are always going to consume stuff; we just need to reduce wasteful consumption and look at the new ways of consuming, like collaborative consumption, sharing, buying second hand, bartering, swapping, renting …

Buy Nothing New Month is not saying shopping = bad or new = bad. There are plenty of ‘new’ things that are made beautifully, ethically and sustainably. It’s about us looking into where our stuff comes from and where it goes when we’re done, as well as looking at how we can extend the life of existing stuff.

Buy Nothing New Month is also about supporting the second hand economy and the awesome collaborative consumption options out there that are important parts of a stable, sustainable, resilient economy.

Check out options like OpenShed, Ziilch, Zoink, Airbnb, MeeMeep, MamaBake. There are loads of ways to share our stuff around. It makes sense. Why have stuff lying around not being used? It’s an old, wasteful way. The new way is exciting; it connects people, builds communities, shares stuff around, maximises and respects resources, while minimising waste.

I read a quote by Ruth Hessey, the director of the Waste Not documentary, which resonated: “There’s economic debt and then there’s environmental debt, and the planet is the same as the economy. We’ve overdrawn on the account.” … What are you thoughts on this?

I think Ruth makes sense. I am no economist, but I have never understood how being wasteful can make good economic sense to anyone in the long run. Businesses understand how being efficient and not wasting energy and resources saves them money. Individuals who look at their household budgets get it. If we buy a whole lot of food and end up wasting it by throwing it away, we’re throwing away money. From a resource perspective, if we keep churning wastefully through our finite resources, we’re using up what we’ve got; it just won’t be there anymore, and being wasteful is costing us.

I certainly understand the economics of ‘planned obsolescence’, where things are built to break so we are forced to keep buying stuff, and fuelling manufacturing, but I don’t see how that is sustainable in the long run. Where will everything come from, and where will it go? 

Rather than unnecessary consumption of ‘stuff’ we don’t need, I think it makes economic sense to stimulate industries that use less resources, like spending on experiences, activities, health and education.

I have a massive tribe of nieces and nephews. I can’t even think of buying Christmas presents for all of them – even the idea of all that wrapping does my head in! So last year, I hired a ‘bubble fairy’, who came and blew enormous, beautiful bubbles for the kids. The adults all loved it. We all shared an amazing experience, we have some gorgeous photos – and not one plastic toy or pile of discarded wrapping paper in sight!

I spent more on the ‘bubble fairy’ than I would have if I was buying the kids each some throwaway gift, but I was so thrilled to give the kids such an experience, while supporting the bubble fairy and the business she is building.

On the Buy Nothing New website there is a quote from fashion designer Vivienne Westwood which says, “If you ask me what I think people should be getting next season, I’ll tell you what I’d like them to buy – nothing. I’d like people to stop buying and buying and buying …” Isn’t it a bit contradictory that Vivienne Westwood is speaking on this, when she’s at the forefront of fashion – one of the most consumer-driven industries in the world? 

No, I don’t think Dame Vivienne Westwood is being contradictory. I think her message is straight up, and many in fashion are saying the same thing. There is too much fast fashion. People are buying too much stuff. Outdoor clothing company Patagonia is saying the same thing: “Reduce what you buy. Repair what you can. Reuse what you no longer need. Recycle what’s worn out. Imagine a sustainable world.”

Clothing manufacturer Howie’s co-founder, David Hieatt says, “We live in times of limited resources but unlimited desire to consume them. The answer is simple: consume less as a consumer; make better designed products as a manufacturer.” I think these people who sell us stuff, and who are saying ‘buy less of it’ are giving the right, responsible message. We’re never going to stop consuming, but we will have to change how we do it. We simply don’t have a never ending supply of stuff, or a giant rubbish bin to put it all in, so we must change.

How can people get involved in Buy Nothing New Month?

While Buy Nothing New Month is promoted in October, it’s really a lifestyle change towards being more thoughtful, less wasteful, shopping less and living more on an ongoing basis.

People can pledge to take part at or follow us on Twitter and join us on Facebook to get involved in the exiting conversations taking place around building a ‘community driven’ rather than ‘consumer driven’ world.

Thanks Tamara. 

Interview by Karen Farrell.

This story was published in issue 68 of the Manning-Great Lakes Focus

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