How I started the Buy Nothing New movement


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New beginnings of a second-hand movement

I'd always been stumped by waste. I'd look in shop windows as a kid wondering, "Where does this stuff come from? Where does it go when we're done?"

There were a few things that got me into buying second-hand first.

Buy Nothing New founder Tamara DeMattina with Leopold.

It started as a financial imperative 20 years ago when I was working at Sotheby's, London. I had to look smart - but they expected me to look champagne smart on a beer salary.

I started shopping in op-shops (the quality of London charity stores has always been really high), bought myself a second-hand sewing machine and learnt to sew.

Back then for me it wasn't environmental. I was actually a bit ashamed, as if I wasn't earning enough money to buy new clothes.

Now, even though I only buy second-hand, I feel ashamed if I source it at a market or on eBay, because it's not from a charity!

I love the fact that by buying second-hand from a charity store I'm getting something and giving something.

For five years in a row, my mates and I went to the Burning Man festival in the Nevada Desert.

You can't buy anything, you can't sell anything and its tagline is "Leave no trace". I started waking up to the "trace" or impact our footsteps leave on our planet.

In Dharavi, Mumbai's infamous slum, I saw where our "waste" from the West goes to get recycled. Because the people there have so little, they see our waste as a resource. In India, as in nature, nothing is wasted.

In Antarctica I went on an expedition to learn about sustainability and climate change.

All these experiences kept feeding the tiger in my belly that was starting to roar: "We're stuffing this up but there is an alternative to our wasteful ways that's not only essential but better for us, our people, our wallets and our planet."

So in 2010, when I was doing a fellowship at the Centre for Sustainability Leadership, I approached Salvos stores as my charity partner and launched the first Buy Nothing New Month.

How Buy Nothing New has changed my life

I have more time, more money and less stress.

Because I'm not spending money on stuff I don't need, I have money for the stuff I do need. Look around your home and your wardrobe. Everything was once money.

Could you have used that money more wisely or did you really need that hot-pink sequined kaftan?

It's also shown me the power we all carry in our pockets to create change.

Every dollar we spend is a vote for the world we support.

I was told years ago that Buy Nothing New Month was flagged in a Coles meeting as something they needed to keep an eye on.

Wow, who would have thought a girl and a laptop could be on the radar of a retail giant, just by spreading a simple message like Buy Nothing New Month!

buy nothing new op shop

The hardest part about buying nothing new

At the start it was helping people understand the reason I'm not buying them a birthday or Christmas present isn't because I'm a tight-arse.

I'm trying to spread the message.

Most gifts are unnecessary, come in wrapping that gets thrown away, bring momentary "buzz" and are cool for a hot minute.

Our happiness comes from experiences, and connections with friends, loved ones and our community.

For some, the hardest part is identifying the difference between need and want. There is a big difference.

I think for some people it's getting over the dinosaur concept that second-hand is second best.

If you eat in a restaurant, are you the first to eat from that cutlery? In a hotel, are you the first one sleeping in those sheets or using that towel?

buy nothing new month october

How to get started

Easy! Just don't buy stuff!

While we promote during October, you can do it whenever you want.

With the exception of essentials such as food, hygiene and medical products (I include booze and chocolate as essentials. It's not Dry July, people) just buy nothing new.

The ripper thing is you can buy whatever you like as long as it's second-hand.

Host a swap party. Invite five mates. Everyone brings five things they no longer want/need (could be clothes, shoes, books, homewares, etc) and you swap 'em around. Not "new" but "new to you".

Buy Nothing New Month starts conversations around how we can have a splendid time but without the wasteful, harmful, unnecessary consumption.

We live on a beautiful planet with finite resources, and we're consuming like there is no tomorrow. Do you want to be part of the problem or the solution?

Once people nail buying nothing new and want to graduate to the next level, they can meet "the new Joneses" and learn all the other daily lifestyle choices we can make (from our choice of bank, energy company, electric vehicle to composting and raising chickens) that are good for our wallets, our people and our planet.

buy nothing new month

Is the tide of consumerism changing?

I'm seeing a massive leap in the right direction.

When I started Buy Nothing New Month nearly 10 years ago, while there was overwhelming support I did have some people (politicians, media, retailers) attacking me, saying I was stupid and trying to ruin the economy. "What about the retailers?" and "What about the economy?" they would say.

We won't have any retailers or an economy without a safe, stable planet to live on.

War on Waste has been brilliant in spreading this message and helping people realise we've all got the power to have a positive impact. Showing the problem but also the solution.

The UK has nowhere left for its rubbish. Its landfill is full. The US is heading in the same direction. What then? Where will the stuff go?

Refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, rethink, recycle.

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Tamara DiMattina studied public relations at RMIT and went on to establish Trumpet PR + Marketing, a communications business focused on strengthening communities through positive behaviour change. She is the founder of Buy Nothing New Month, a campaign for conscientious consumption, and The New Joneses, a living pop-up installation embodying stylish, waste-free, conscious living.
October 18, 2018 4.45pm

Great idea! I wrote a blog on how I bought no new clothes for a yea to hilight waste and save money (I am a financial planner after all) will definitely promote this cause!

Meg McGowan
October 19, 2018 1.28pm

Congratulations on challenging the consumer culture! I like your observation, 'everything you own was once money'. I also teach people 'everything you own, ISN'T something else!' Energy cannot be created or destroyed. It just changes form. When you start thinking of all your stuff this way and realise that instead of being stuff it could be a rainforest or an endangered animal your thinking really starts to shift.

PS: Alcohol is a category one carcinogen. Possibly best not to contribute to the attitude that it's somehow 'essential' to a happy life.

October 19, 2018 1.46pm

You must be fun at parties. 🙄

Great article, Tamara! Thank you for the amazing work that you're doing.

October 22, 2018 5.36am

Thank you, I will share this with everyone I know 🙂
What a great read

November 5, 2018 6.40am

This is such a good read. Thank you for this. I really like going to op shops.

November 9, 2018 8.34am

Really thought-provoking. So much easier and quicker to grab something from a chain store. Underwear also? Actually does my head in a little. Thanks

November 14, 2018 6.25pm

Life is short and acts of kindness is the love language of many. With this in mind not even buying a birthday card I actually consider to be tight. You can't take it with you and in the lucky country we enjoy I think there is nothing wrong with spending within your means and should be something to be enjoyed.

dianne kelly
December 30, 2018 1.02pm

All well and good Andrew if you wish to look at it purely from a financial aspect. I agree life is short but unfortunately with the way we are abusing the planet it could mean that life may be very much shorter for our children & grandchildren!

March 25, 2019 10.11pm

I ve learned from a young age to not buy anything since we had little money. At 35 years of age I can fit all my belongings in 2 suitcases, no kidding, I've done it when we moved out. So it can be more than for the environment, it can be a way of life. I prefer spending my money wisely rather than buying useless stuff.

helena candiago
October 8, 2019 2.06pm

I'm a widow raising four kids....Ive been doing this for the past 6 years!

Anthony Vincent
October 8, 2019 3.00pm

.. now, if you would forge [and enforce] policy that prohibits over-zealous moderators from scarring the growth of the movement, you'd not see the huge numbers drop out of disgust as well. but oh no, don't talk about the dark side of this.