What It's Really Like to Buy Nothing New

As the start of 2016 approached, my thoughts inevitably turned to New Year's Resolutions, and all the ways I was going to start afresh, and 'improve' my life in 2016. The only problem was that I have always thought that I am not really that great at the whole New Year's Resolution thing, and that like many, I start off with all good intentions, only to fall back to old familiar habits within a week or two. But then a friend reminded me that actually, I can be pretty good (stubborn!) at sticking to resolutions, and I kept a really huge one, but it just happened that it didn't coincide with New Year.

You see, my family spent a whole year buying nothing new.
And it changed our lives.

When we embarked on our year long challenge, our kids were both pre-schoolers, and the idea had been sparked by the realisation that they were already mini consumers. Our eldest was approaching 4 years old, and he had already picked up on the message that more stuff would make him happier. And it shocked me.
We weren't an especially profligate family, but if we 'needed' something, we gave very little thought to what we were buying, other than where we might be able to find it cheapest. We weren't bought up in the tradition of thrifting and scouring charity shops (op shops), and would happily hit the sales to find the things we wanted at knock down prices.

When I started to think about all the stuff we already had, and all the stuff we were buying to add to it, I started to wonder if there was another way.

Read more: Interview with The Minimalists

I decided (rather naively) that it might be rather a fun challenge to see if we could spend a year buying nothing new, and exploring other options for sourcing the things we needed.

After a couple of debates about whether buying a newspaper counted as new (it did..), hubby was on board, and we sat down to thrash out some 'rules' for the year. We decided that we could buy food, medicines and toiletries (although I ended up making my own deodorant), underwear, and shoes for the kids (I wanted to know that they fitted their little feet properly). We also decided that if something broke, and needed a new part to fix it, then we could source this new if a second-hand part wasn't available.

One of things I love about this challenge, is that it can be adapted to suit different circumstances. You get to set your own rules.

The year changed our lives. It changed how and where we shop, as well as what we buy.
We discovered a whole host of alternative retail outlets: charity shops, car boot sales, flea markets, and vintage fairs. We found Freecycle, and the Buy Nothing Project, and Repair Cafes. I learned to sew on buttons, patch trousers, and darn socks.

By having to think more about what we were buying, and where we might be able to source it second-hand, we somewhat inevitably began to think more about where all the 'stuff' in the shops comes from. To think about who made it, what it is made from, and ultimately what will happen to it when we are finished with it.

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We were forced to face up to issues like fast fashion, and to really stop and think about the effects of our throwaway culture on the planet.
At times, I was overwhelmed.
I had always assumed that as one person, there wasn't anything I could do about it. That all these issues were so big, and so complex, that the actions of one person, one family, were pretty futile.

But over the course of our year, I came to realise that that really isn't the case. In fact, the opposite is true.
One person, one family, can make a difference. It might only be the most miniscule of differences, but it is still making a difference. It is creating a ripple. It is changing the world.
Our choices, and our actions, matter.
Everyday we all make choices: what to wear; what to eat; what to buy.
And for every choice we make, we are casting a vote for the kind of world we want to live in.

Now our official year has ended, we still pretty much stick to our rules. We do occasionally buy brand new things, but when we do so, our purchases are much more thoughtful, more considered. We think about what we are buying and try to buy local, and sustainable, and ethical.

And I think for me, that is what it is all about.
Being a more thoughtful, more deliberate, more conscious consumer.
Buying less. Buying better.
Creating ripples.

Jen Gale and her family spent a year Buying Nothing New, and Jen is now a passionate advocate for the power of individual actions to change the world.

Jen blogs at My Make Do and Mend Life

And can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram sharing her latest project: #365WaystoChangetheWorld.

Banner Image: Shutterstock

Read this next: How to live free from supermarket chains

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