Consumption

Everyone has a ‘go to’ thing, habit or person for when the goings get tough. We resort to our crutch to keep us standing, communicating, and engaging with the world. Otherwise known as support networks, these crutches are incredibly important when someone is facing trauma and cannot cope on their own. Your ‘go to’ source may be a friend, a family member or an online community group where you can voice your opinion and share your thoughts about what it is you are going through.

On the other hand, there are those crutches that maybe aren’t so helpful in our lives, and are far from essential to our everyday survival. For example, whenever I find myself sick to death of refreshing my Facebook/Twitter/World News/Pinterest/Email feeds, it is only logical that I log off the computer for a while and do something more productive, like reading a book for instance (which by the way, I do enjoy in itself). But there is something about the internet that is so alluring and captivating, and once signed into my various accounts, I can find it extremely hard to pull myself away from its silver-backed screen.

I subscribe to so many email feeds and company newsletters, the extent of which is utterly ridiculous. I hear daily from arts organisations, news blogs, personality type interpreters (whose ‘test’ I must have taken at some point in the past few months), student travel offers and a collection of largely unrelated subscription offers I receive, somehow, through my membership at the local gym, from life insurance policies to K-Mart offers, free health checkups and ‘exclusive’ discounts at random outlets across the city. In addition, I either weekly or monthly hear from wellness experts, life drawing teachers, and online surveyors trying to attract the Keen Deans of the web to fill in their public opinion questionnaires (which I inevitably often do, do).

But the emails I receive that have the biggest draw card are those from online shopping websites. I am constantly updated by the communications department at asos, Topshop, Urban Outfitters, Missy Confidential, Sass and Bide, Karmaloop and other random stores. As a member (eg. I have signed up to be on their mailing list), I am informed of their 24-hour-only sales, how to use a certain promotion code, the exclusive entry of a new designer to their collection, or even more importantly, the introduction of free shipping, even to Australia. Free shipping. Have sunnier words ever been spoken?

The appeal of having something sent to you from a place you’ve never visited, a country across the globe, without having the pay for shipping costs is so bloody delightful, only co-shoppers will understand.

Nevertheless, I do purchase items where shipping payment is required, and perhaps it makes me a little more conscious of what I’m consuming and its true value within a larger context.

I spend hours trawling the web searching for leggings, coats, jackets, socks, jeans, tops, bags and more. I do this knowing the satisfaction it will bring on multiple occasions. Firstly, the decision to make the purchase is thrilling. Secondly, there’s the confirmation email giving an estimated arrival time and the company’s full appreciation thanking you for ‘shopping with us’. Then you wait the days/weeks until the package arrives. And for most, that moment marks the pinnacle of the whole purchase process. Girls rip into their packages and try everything on. They compose outfits, plan nights to wear each with what, and dribble themselves in accessories to match or bring out the colour in the pattern of their new Victoria’s Secret hot pants.

I, in fact, generally tend to refrain from opening my packages, usually meaning the time will come when either my mum or a friend makes me unwrap the plastic enclosing my well-traveled items. But then the expectations are lost. There’s no surprise left to keep you wondering what’s inside or how each item will be originally presented. Of course, the down side of this resistance is that by the time my packages get opened, it’s generally too late to make use of the return shipping offers. But who really bothers to return ill-fitting or disappointing items anyway? It’s too damn expensive! A down side of living on an island, in my opinion.

It’s not even that shopping online is more pleasurable than shopping on the streets. It is a matter of convenience and for me, it is ultimately a time-filler. It fills the times when I can’t pull myself off the floor and get moving with something else. But recently, I’ve tried to reduce my time spent shopping online because I think I have an addictive personality. I am prone to addictive habits and getting trapped in ways of thinking or doing things, whether they be helpful or unhelpful. It’s a bit obsessive-compulsive. (Meanwhile, this is all self-diagnosis, not the most reliable source of anything these days – thank Google for that one).

And I can tell that my urge to purchase anything, anywhere, is often just to fill a void where something else has been left incomplete or unattended to.

I recently came across a movement that started in Melbourne last year called Buy Nothing New Month. Its website states:

Buy Nothing New Month is the global movement for collective, conscientious consumption. 

It’s a little idea, that started in Melbourne and is spreading to the Netherlands and USA. 

In 2011, Sydney Morning Herald ran a poll asking “is Buy Nothing New Month a good idea?” Over 10,000 voted. 82% said “yes” 

It’s a one month challenge to buy nothing new (with the exception of essentials like food, hygiene and medicines) 

Buy Nothing New Month isn’t Buy Nothing New Never. Nor is it about going without. 

It’s literally about taking one month off to really think, “Do I really need it?” If I do, “can I get it second-hand, borrow it or rent it? What are my alternatives? Can I borrow from a friend? Can I swap with my neighbor?” 

It’s about thinking where our stuff comes from (finite resources) and where it goes when we’re done (often landfill) and what are the fantastic alternatives out there to extend the life of our ‘stuff’. 

It’s easy. It’s fun. It’s moving from consumption-driven to community-driven. 

It’s good for us, our wallets and our planet. 

Buy Nothing New Month this year will be in October. What is poignant about the movement is that it doesn’t forbid purchasing from second-hand stores, swapping clothes with friends or reusing products for creative purposes (like personalised art projects all from within your own home). The movement is raising awareness of how lucky we are to have what we already do own, and the luxuries we take for granted everyday living in a country where we have constant access to telecommunications, the internet and fresh groceries, let alone shopping centres, fancy restaurants and theme parks for children’s’ amusement.

The website has many tips on how to assess products before purchase, and will help you to become a more conscious consumer.

Buyers Checklist
By the way, once Buy Nothing New Month is over, just because something is new, doesn’t mean it’s not sustainable or you cant have it. Many new items have been made responsibly, thoughtfully and with sustainability in mind. After Buy Nothing New Month, we’re hoping you’ll consider your purchases more carefully than before and seek out goods that have been made responsibly. 

Before handing over your hard earned cash, ask yourself: 

Do I really need this? 
What is its lifecycle? What went into making it (time, labour, resources) 
What are the alternatives? 
Where did it come from? How did it get here? 
What is its environmental and social impact? 
Who benefits from the purchase? What will it do for me? 
What’s in it? Who made it? 

And really, now that vintage is chic and Savers gives you more bang than anywhere else, for your buck, why would’t you jump on board the secondhand sailing scene? Try it for a month. You can show your commitment by pledging online at the By Nothing New Website, or just pose yourself the challenge of forgoing anything that within health and sanitary restrictions, can be bought new.

I’d love to hear how you go.

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1 comment
  1. Shop-less in Seattle said:

    Hi countingletters-your writing juices seems to be flowing freely at present, lucky for us readers!

    This great piece on ‘Consumption’ really got me thinking, again, about the difference between our wants and our needs (you know that age-old debate that never seems to get resolved). Of course we have a right to our wants, and we’re lucky to have so much to choose from, as well as having the freedom to choose what we want and don’t want. But this can sit in stark contrast to what we really need-just the basics that keep us alive and functioning in there world, and how we justify pursuing our various ‘wants’ and manufactured, consumerist desires, when so many people in the world struggle to have even their basic needs met.

    Bringing the ‘Buy Nothing New Month’ to our attention is one small way in which me might be able to learn about our patterns and habits of consumption, and get us thinking more about what we want, or seem to want, as opposed to what we need. So thanks for alerting us to that. I’ll certainly be trying to limit what I buy next month, and be more conscious of why I am making the purchase (or not!).

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