Those of you who have been following for a while now are probably aware that my whole Sustainable(fish) journey began when I slightly randomly and naively decided that a year buying nothing new with my family would be a 'fun' thing to do.
And it was fun. On the whole. But it turned into so much more. It really forced me to confront the effects of our modern, disposable society on both people and planet. And when Christmas rolled around that year, I have to confess that it was probably the first time I'd ever really thought about the impact of all the extra 'stuff' and food on the environment, and started to question why we give presents.
It was a real eye opener - we were about four months into our year buying nothing new (it randomly started in the September!) and I was just starting to get my head around the fact that there might be another way. A way that involved LESS, rather than more. And here I was faced with the biggest consumer festival of the year. And my mum. Who would always go a bit bonkers on the present front.
I remember them coming over for the day and unloading the car, which was crammed with presents, and then seeing this massive pile start to accumulate under the tree, and for the first time ever instead of feeling excited, my heart sank and I started to feel a little bit sick.
Whilst I wasn't able to do anything about my mum's over-consumption that year, our buying nothing new challenge meant that I had to get a bit creative with the gifts that we gave, and I'm not going to lie, it was a challenge. Made more so by the fact that I try never to do anything Christmassy before the 1st December. Oh, and I decided that we would have to make all the decorations ourselves, including the tree...
But it really, really did force me to re-evaluate all things Christmas, especially the gifts. I decided I was going to make most of the presents we gave, and time was limited (both the kids were still pre-schoolers), so I figured that if I was going to spend my precious time making gifts, they needed to be really appreciated (this turned out to be a work in progress - see later). This meant we bit the bullet and pruned our gift list as a first step, putting an end to the slightly pointless Amazon voucher swap that had somehow evolved with hubby's brothers.
Buying nothing new is a brilliant strategy if you're looking for a quick way to re-dress your relationship with consumerism. If you've fallen into the trap of buying for the sake of buying (especially gifts). It really does make you stop and think about it, partly because it's harder to find the thing you want, so you have to really, really want it! And it's one of the easiest ways to reduce the impact of your consumption on both people and planet - you save things from landfill, new resources aren't needed to make those things, and you're stepping out of being part of the demand for fast fashion/fast electronics/cheap plastic tat.
Here are some of my learnings, and some top tips if you want to have a go too.
Don't do as I did and wait until the 1st December.
If you're looking for secondhand bits, start regularly whizzing around your local charity shops to see what you can find - I've managed to pick up some great stocking fillers in the past, as well as some perfect books for family members.
One year I was absolutely delighted to find a load of secondhand stocking fillers on my charity shop trawls, but it was only when the New Year cam round and I was faced with a load of plastic tat to find a home for/throw away that I realised that even if it's secondhand, it's still pretty much 'instant landfill'.
If you end up buying for Aunts and Uncles, and second cousins once removed, consider having 'that conversation'. Do any of them actually need anything? Could you all go out for a day out together in the New Year, and have a proper catch up rather than spending your hard-earned money on something they probably actually don't need or want, out of some sense of obligation to give 'something'.
If you're going to make some of your gifts, be realistic about your skills, and the time you have available. I made some pretty hideous gifts in hindsight, that I'm pretty sure have never seen the light of day since. And that's just as wasteful as buying something new to give that isn't used.
Since then I've come to terms with the fact that my skills with the sewing machine might need some work, and that actually baking is the way to go. I now batch bake biscuits, or things like fudge and macaroons. They all get packaged up in old jam jars, and are generally pretty well received.
Re-use what you already have. This applies to:
When I randomly decided that we would need to make a Christmas tree for our year buying nothing new (being unsure whether buying a real tree technically counted as buying something new) I took to Pinterest to search for some 'pinspiration' for upcycled trees.
And settled on one that used green egg boxes. Can you guess which one was the Pinterest beauty, and which was our attempt to emulate it...?
My childhood Christmas' were all about stacks of gifts, and somewhere along the way our society (and the retailers and advertisers) has persuaded us that more is better. That stuff = happiness. Logically, when we stop and think, we know that this isn't true, but so often when we shop (and it seems especially at Christmas) there is very little logic there - we buy 'because it's Christmas)
Earlier on in our year buying nothing new we had got the news that my mum had cancer. And as much as we all hoped against hope that it wouldn't be the last Christmas we would all get to spend together, sadly it was. I was aware that year that instead of all the gifts and the stuff that my parents had loaded up the car with, all I really wanted was some quality time with my mum - where she wasn't stressed about the gifts, and making sure it was all fair, and worrying about what to buy.
I still struggle with this one. My head knows that Christmas should be about family and friends, about people and experiences, not presents and stuff. That memories are made in the silly games, and snuggling up in front of the fire to watch a film, or dragging the kids out on a Christmas afternoon dog walk. Not in the gifts they're given that are so quickly forgotten. But it's not easy. Pushing back against a lifetime of somewhat excessive gifting. Knowing firsthand the joy and excitement as a child seeing a whole stack of presents. Resisting all the incessant messages from society and advertisers that buying the perfect gift will make for the perfect Christmas is HARD.
But take a minute to stop and think about what you want to Christmas to mean for you and your family, the messages you want to give to your kids about stuff, and the memories you want them to have.
And then start to think about what small changes you can make step by step to get there.
Buying nothing new at all for Christmas is possibly a little extreme. And unless you've already started will probably result in additional stress, and the odd tear or two.
Could you pledge to source a percentage of your gifts 'preloved' or homemade this year? What would feel do-able?
SHOPPING FOR A
Grab a copy of my digital e-guide tackling the big issues around Christmas waste in the home:
I am a huge fan of charity shop (or thrift store for our American friends) shopping as a brilliant way to find what you need/want without contributing to the demand for cheap consumer goods. It has the added benefits of saving stuff from landfill, and raising money for good causes, so basically it's a win-win.
I wasn't always such a fan though.
I have no doubt that there are some people reading this who were bought up in a family of thrifters, and for whom scouring charity shops or thrift stores is second nature.
There might however be a few, who are like I was a few of years ago: I would occasionally wander into the odd charity shop, maybe browse the bric-a-brac, and have a vague flick through a clothes rail or two, before leaving empty-handed. I was always slightly jealous of people when they told me they had found their 'new' jumper/jeans/skirt in a charity shop. I could never really find anything I liked, but it turns out I just wasn't really looking properly.
Fast forward a few years, and our year of buying nothing new has turned me into a huge charity shop fan! All my clothes are now sourced there, as well as lots of the kid's toys and clothes, and bits for the house too. I have never sat down and added it all up, but we must have saved a small fortune over three years, and so much of the stuff is in great condition.
If you're not used to frequenting charity shops then you might be vaguely aware that there are 'some' in your local town, but you probably don't know all of them.
Go for a wander, and really start to look for them. Or if you are new to a town, use Charity Retail Associations website to search for all the charity shops near you.
I live in a small market town, and we have at least 8 charity shops. Some people complain about them taking over the High St, but I'm very happy with this! I have developed a little route around town that will take in all of them and it's my favourite type of shopping!
You will find that the quality and type of goods will vary from shop to shop.
Some charity shops almost look like 'new' shops now-clothes are sorted by colour; everything is laid out very neatly, the lighting is bright, and it all looks very lovely.
There are however still 'old fashioned' charity shops out there where everything is a bit of a jumble, but I love these-things tend to be a bit cheaper, and you get to have a good old rummage!
And you will also find that some shops specialise in just one thing, eg clothes, or electrical items. Get to know your local ones, and which one's suit your style.
I have never actually tested this out, but there is a theory out there, that charity shops in more upmarket places, will have better quality stuff, and are more likely to have high fashion brands in them.
It makes sense, and I keep meaning to take a day trip to Bath or Marlborough to check it out!
Be aware though that charity shops are now pretty clued up as to what brands are worth what, and the prices will reflect that.
During My Make Do and Mend Year, we made a list of the things that we needed, and I carried this around with me to consult when I did my little charity shop rounds. It helped me to remember that I was on the look out for size 5 wellies, or a whisk for the kitchen, and helped me be more targeted when I was browsing.
Don't just go once! Keep visiting regularly as the stock turns over pretty quickly, and if they don't have what you need one week, they might in a week or two's time.
Again, this is an untested theory, but some people recommend going on a Monday or Tuesday, as lots of people will have been clearing out their wardrobes/cupboards over the weekend, so there will be lots of new stock at the beginning of the week.
I once nearly walked away from a coat because I didn't like the buttons. It took longer than it should have done for me to register that I could actually change the buttons really easily! I bought it, and rummaged in my button collection for some suitable ones, and now I LOVE it, and everyone always comments on it.
If something fits well, but you don't like the colour, it can be dyed. And if you can sew, then many things can be altered or re-fashioned to suit.
Cast your eye over the menswear section for snuggly jumpers and cardis. Men's shirts are a great source of quite a lot of fabric for sewing projects, as are sheets and duvets. Jeans are super versatile (here are some jean's upcycling ideas), and even ties can be upcycled in all kinds of imaginative ways.
Look at things with your upcycler's specs on: all kinds of things can be repurposed into something you need-check out all these ideas for old tennis rackets!
Some charity shops will have a particular smell to them, and this can pervade the clothes.
Check the labels to see if things can be chucked in the washing machine, and if they can then this should get rid of most whiffs.
Bicarb is a great de-odoriser (soak items in bicarb and water overnight), and a top tip from a theatre wardrobe mistress is that neat vodka sprayed onto smelly areas will remove the smell.
Three years after embarking on My Make Do and Mend Year (our year Buying Nothing New) it's occurred to me that this is a post I've never written, and really should have: Why did we embark on our year of Buying Nothing New, and why do we continue to endeavour to live a pre-loved life?
I'll start with a short bit about why we started our year, and then give ten reasons why buying nothing new is awesome, and we should all be doing it (bring on the revolution!!)
I get asked a lot what prompted me to want to see if we could spend a year without buying anything new.
I think it was a succession of little things, and there was a lightbulb moment, but I don't think I was really looking at the big picture. I didn't really see how Buying Nothing New tied into lots of the bigger problems affecting the world.
Our eldest was 3 at the time, and I remember very clearly suddenly realising that he was already tuned into our societal desire for 'new stuff'. He had somehow taken on board the message that we need new stuff, more stuff, all the time. And he very vocally demanded it! It shocked me, that our society, or maybe our parenting, had made a three year old want new stuff, all the time. Had made him feel like his life would be better if he just had that new toy car, or that magazine.
I know now that it's probably entirely normal 3 year old behaviour, but I still wonder where it comes from. Is it hard wired into our hunter gatherer DNA, or have we created it somehow?
At around the same time, I read an article about someone embarking on a Secondhand Safari, and that was the lightbulb moment. The moment when I suddenly thought "Oooh, I wonder if we could do that?" In true me style, I jumped in with both feet.
Looking back, I think I was more than a little naive. I just thought it would be quite a fun challenge. I hadn't really thought much about 'why', or even 'how'. But I learned so much during that year.
So much about what is wrong with our modern Western way of life, our economic system, our supply chains, and our throwaway attitude to the planet's precious resources.
And so much about what we all as individuals can do to make change, to make a better world, to create ripples.
So with the benefit of hindsight, and the lessons learned along the way, here's my ten reasons for Buying Nothing New:
1) WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF RESOURCES
This has to be number 1.
We live on a finite planet, yet we consume as if the resources we are using are infinite.
I've written before about Earth Overshoot Day-it marks the point in the year when we have consumed a year's worth of resources. It's getting earlier and earlier each year-when I first wrote about it in 2013, it was on the 20th august. In 2015 it happened on August 13th.
Globally we use up 1.6 planet's worth of resources, and in the West, we use anywhere between and 3 and 4 planet's worth, with our wasteful ways.
When we go about our daily lives, and look around the High St, it can be hard to believe that we are rapidly approaching a time of scarcity. It feels very much like we living in a time of abundance, here in the developed world, and we are able to pretend that the effects of our over-consumption aren't really happening. They are happening, they are just happening where we don't see it, or where we don't like to look.
2) YOU LEARN TO APPRECIATE WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE
When you know that it's going to take a little bit more time and effort to find the thing that you want, you appreciate what you already have even more. You give more time to the concept that maybe you could 'make do' with what you already have.
It works especially well for clothes. I'm 4 months into a No New Clothes Challenge and one of my hopes when I started was that it would force me to wear more of the things in my wardrobe. I want to see what happens when I get thoroughly bored of my clothes, and to get inventive and really make use of, and appreciate, every item I own.
3) YOU LEARN NEW SKILLS
Prior to My Make Do and Mend Year, I could sew, but if a button fell off, I would hand it over to my mother in law to sew back on (yes, I am embarrassed to admit that now!).
I forced myself to try things that for some reason had always somehow scared me. I patched trouser (endlessly), I darned socks, and yes, I sewed on buttons!
If you don't know how to do something, the internet is an amazing resource, or ask around your friends and family-you might be surprised at the hidden skills people might have that would be prepared to share with you.
4) YOU GET A VERY SMUG FEELING WHEN YOU FIX SOMETHING
I'm not going to lie, there is something very smug making about fixing stuff. It's one of the best feelings. In fact, sugru had a campaign going at one point called "The Joy of Fix"..!
Your heart sinks when something breaks, but if you can salvage it and mend it, it's very empowering. I tend to go for function over appearance when mending, and am a big fan of visible mending. We should all be 'out and proud' with our mends-it starts a conversation, and it's how the ripples start to spread 🙂
5) YOU GET TO DISCOVER NEW RETAIL OUTLETS
Pre-My Make Do and Mend Year we were not a family of thrifters.
If we wanted something new, we wouldn't really give much thought to it, other than where we could get it cheapest. We would head straight for the High St, or Ikea, or look online for bargains, but it never occurred to us that there might be 'another way'.
Once we embarked on our year buying nothing new, we had to find other places to source the things we needed (or wanted). And to my surprise and delight there was an abundance of places to explore, and we could find what we wanted pretty easily. If the thought of 'secondhand' doesn't really appeal, try calling it 'vintage' or 'pre-loved', suddenly things become a whole lot more desirable..!
6) YOU GET TO EXPRESS YOUR OWN INDIVIDUALITY
Once you step away from the High St and the chain stores, you get to explore your own sense of style and individuality.
You don't have to worry about this season's latest fashions, or the latest interiors trends. You get to pick only the things that 'spark joy', to coin a phrase from tidying guru Marie Kondo.
And you can afford to buy better quality too, as it's nearly always cheaper to buy secondhand than it is to buy new.
Having previously been a bit scared of auction houses, I started to visit our local one during My Make Do and Mend Year, and was amazed at the amount, and quality, of the furniture on offer, all for less than it would cost you to buy the equivalent in say Ikea. And it was proper solid stuff.
If you can't find quite what you are looking for, then this is another chance to express your own style, and 'upcycle' it: for furniture you can strip it back and re-paint it, and change the knobs to create a completely unique piece; and for clothes, something really simple like changing the buttons can do wonders to change the look of a garment.
7) YOU SAVE MONEY
This was never really a motivating factor for us, but was a very well received 'by product' of Buying Nothing New!
I think it's a great 'entry point' for a lot of people, who maybe aren't that bothered about the planet (I know! Apparently there are some people out there...) but are bothered about ways they can save money. Hubby is more focussed on the money saving angle than me, and to be honest I think it's the bit about Buying Nothing New that he likes the best!
The good news is that Buying Nothing New saves you money. And it can be quite a lot. I estimated that we saved about £2000 over our year of Buying Nothing New. That's not an insignificant amount of money, and we did it without feeling deprived, or making our lives any harder.
8) YOU FIND YOUR TRIBE!
You discover a whole community of amazing people, waiting to cheer you on, help you out, and change the world
One of the things I never really expected when we started our journey, was all the wonderful people I would meet along the way, both online and in real life.
It really feels to me like a community has built up around this blog, and I love how we all support and encourage each other in our baby steps, and in the changes we are making to our lives.
The Facebook group keeps on going from strength to strength, and is such a mine of information and expertise!
In 'real life' as well, I've met people through Repair Cafes, and Mending groups, and can honestly say that the Make Do and Mend community is a very lovely one to be a part of.
9) YOU BECOME A CHANGE MAKER
By stopping and thinking a bit about what you are buying, by choosing to say "No" to fast fashion, and mass produced disposable goods, by choosing to buy less and buy better, you are giving out a message about the kind of world you want. When you say "No" to fast fashion and two t-shirts for £5, you are telling the world, and the big companies, and our political leaders, that want something different. That you don't want to support companies who pay kids to make us cheap clothes. That you don't want cheap clothes that can be thrown away rather than go to the effort of washing them (I have actually heard of this happening-it made me want to cry). That you want a different world.
Your choices matter. Your choices create change.
When you choose to make do with something you already have, or to mend something that has broken, you are making a choice. A good choice. One that is changing the world. Choice by choice.
10) YOU CREATE RIPPLES
Just making a start, making one small change to how you live your life, is like dropping a pebble into a lake. It makes a ripple.
Just subbing one pre-loved item, for one new one, will make a difference.
Making that one change, that one substitution, will make you more likely to do it again. And again. And again.
And then when your friends says "Wow, I love that top! Where did you get it from?", and you get to smile slightly smugly and reply "Oh, I picked this up in the charity shop", you start cogs whirring, and the ripples start to spread...
Hopefully that's inspired a few people to give it a go.
If you Buy Nothing New, some of the time, or all of the time, I'd love to hear your reasons!
Spending a whole year buying nothing new was the starting point for my personal sustainable living journey, so it should come as no surprise that I’m a bit of a fan!
I’ve written a whole post about “Why Buy Nothing New” but in essence, it’s a brilliantly simple framework to use to start to change your buying habits, at the same time as keeping stuff out of landfill and saving a shed load of resources.
If you’re thinking you might like to dip your toes into the wonderful world of Buying Nothing New, here are some tips to get you started!
1) If the thought of a year Buying Nothing New is making you feel a little trepidatious (I assure you you will find it easier than you think!) then why not ease in slowly, with a Buy Nothing New week, or month. Or aim to do a day every week, or a week every month and see how it goes.
I am a bit of an all or nothing type, so for me it was easier to commit to the whole year, but I guarantee that the very act of Buying Nothing New even for some of the time, will make you reflect more on the ‘normal’ purchases you are making. And you may find that you automatically cut down on what you are buying new without even thinking about it.
2) Avoid the shops!
For example-one of the things I found I missed the most was crafting mags like Mollie Makes, and Simply Crochet, but I found I didn’t miss them as much, if I didn’t torture myself by going in to the newsagents and browsing them each month!
Or, if you find that you often buy the odd item of clothing when you go to the big supermarket to do your food shop, you could change supermarket to a smaller one, or just change your route around the supermarket so you don’t cruise the clothes aisles!
3) Hit the shops! The charity shops.
You can find all kinds of things in charity shops-most of which you don’t need, but quite often there are little gems.
They are great for clothes, and for kids toys/clothes, as well as lots of household items.
I always check out the duvets/sheets etc as sometimes you can get really cool retro bedding sets, which give you LOADS of fabric for making, for very little money.
4) Make a list
Because you can’t just pop out and buy whatever you want/need, I found it useful tokeep a list of the things I was on the look-out for, and keep it with me. Then the next time I was doing a round of the charity shops, I could consult my list to see if there was anything I could cross off.
If you let people know what you are doing, you may find that people start giving you first dibs on anything that they are getting rid of. We were given bags full of boys clothes, fabric, etc.
Facebook is also a great place to ask-just posting on your own personal page saying what you are looking for, especially if it’s just something you need to borrow for a short while.
6) Join your local Freecycle/Freegle group
If you aren’t already a member, you NEED to join!
You can post any items you are de-cluttering and people will come to your house to collect them, saving you a trip to the charity shop. AND you can post WANTEDs for things you are looking for-you will be amazed what people get rid of, and are happy to let you have for free.
7) Be prepared to think outside the box
Having to source things second-hand makes you far more inventive and resourceful.
I found this decision making flow-chart on FB a while back on the Story Of Stuff page (I think they got it from GOOD) It’s slightly tongue in cheek, but it made me giggle, and makes some very good points!
Ask yourself if you really NEED something. If you are going to have to put time and effort into finding it, you will be surprised how often you don’t seem to NEED something quite so keenly..!
If you really need/want it, ask yourself if you can repairthe thing you need to replace? Or can use something elsein it’s place?
I found that by the time I actually found what I thought I so desperately needed/wanted, I had either learned to make dowithout it, or to make do with something else instead.
8) If you really need something specific, then sites like eBay and Pre-loved are great. You can search for what you want and set yourself a budget. Just remember to tick the ‘Used’ box in the search options, otherwise you could end up inadvertently buying something new!
9) Learn to sew
This is such a useful skill, and allows you to make a whole heap of stuff, and mend lots of things too!
If you don’t have a machine, keep your eye out of Freegle/Freecycle, or post a WANTED, or ask your friends/family if anyone has one taking up room that they no longer use.
If you have no idea how to even thread the machine, or what the heck a bobbin is (this was me 6 years ago..!) then have a look at The Sewing Directory for beginners classes near you, or again, just ask! If you ask around, you may have friends who could show you the basics, or join your local Streetbankgroup, and you may find someone happy to do a skill share/swap
10) Come and join my sustainable living community over on Facebook! It’s a fabulous bunch of people, sharing their ideas, inspiration and top tips for living more lightly. It’s a great place to ask for help with anything you are struggling with, and everyone is very friendly and very lovely indeed!
11) Because all the best Top 10 lists actually have 11 things…
Enjoy it, have fun, be kind to yourself, and don’t beat yourself up if you slip a little every now and then.
And above all, remember:
It’s your money. You get to choose who you give it to, and what you buy.