Buy nothing new for a month

One of our Transition Town Farnham members Paula Burgess, is going to try to buy nothing new for the month of May, and see what happens.

She is going to blog about her experiences here…

The Initial “Ground Rules” are:

1. I will try to buy nothing new.

2. The period of the challenge will initially be for May 2009.

3. Exceptions.

a) Food for myself and animals.
b) all necessary hygiene and basic cleaning supplies, deodorant etc.
c) all necessary repairs and maintenance to the house and car.
d) Any prescription or non-prescriptions items needed for health reasons.

I can get as much as I want from thrift shops, Craigslist,, eBay and flea markets, as long as the items are secondhand.

How difficult could that be? Watch this space and find out!

Day 1 – May 1st

Have you ever wondered how much ‘stuff’ you buy new every month? Although I would like to think I live a fairly frugal lifestyle, I find myself turning to retail therapy in times when I am feeling down and need a quick pick-me-up.

I have therefore decided to find out just how much stuff I buy new each month. After all, if I keep up my current rate of consumption I will have to move house soon! I plan to do this by not buying anything new for the month of May, except for a few essentials. If I need something I will try and source it by other means; freecycle, craig’s list, borrowing etc. ‘Buy nothing new’ is however not a new concept. One group of individuals in the San Francisco Bay Area known as ‘The Compact’ have been living by this philosophy for some time. My aim is to try it for a month.

I have to admit I was immediately faced with a dilemma. Last week one of my hens died, leaving the remaining hen (Margot) lonely and miserable. Would buying a new hen count as buying something new? And what about a second run to put the new arrival in while they got to know each other? I came to the conclusion that I can’t let Margot be miserable for a month while I conduct my experiment, so I have decided I am adding a new hen to the list of exceptions. The second run however may pose more of a problem, and I have emailed some fellow chicken keepers to see if I can borrow one. Fingers Crossed!

May 3rd

Well, so far so good. I still haven’t bought anything new. However, last week a leaflet for a local garden centre fell through the door. Usually these go straight into the recycling box. Not today. On the back was the tempting offer of a free lavender plant in return for filling in your details and taking it along to said garden centre. This was one of the hardest moments I have had so far. I love going to the garden centre and very rarely come away empty handed. Nevertheless I stood my ground, and left with only my free lavender plant.

May 4th

The strangest thing happened today. Someone had left an old push mower down the allotment with a ‘FREE’ sign hanging on it. Unfortunately, it is quite heavy (big roller) and didn’t cut the grass at all. When everyone else had left for the evening, we came to the conclusion that nobody else wanted it. Being a fan of the push mower (already having a less advanced model myself) we decided to give it a good home. I hope to get it sharpened and put it back into service. A BIG thank you to the person who left it there – I hope it was FREE to take , and we didn’t steal a mower!

May 6th

Today I have to admit I had a bit of a splurge. I didn’t buy anything NEW, but I did acquire quite a bit of stuff. Firstly, my boss at work gave me two tomato plants and three parsley plants for my kitchen garden. Secondly, at lunchtime I went into a charity shop and came out with 4 bone china plates from House of Fraser for £1.50 (FOR ALL 4), and a ‘make your own candle’ set for £3.50. Both of these were ‘finds’ in my mind. The plates because until today I didn’t have 4 matching plates to my name – I tend to go for a mish-mash of styles so that if I (or the OH) break one I don’t get too upset. The candle making set was also a find because for some time now I have been collecting ‘bits’ of candles hoping that one day I could melt them all down and re-use them in a ‘new’ candle (in the same way my Mum used to save bits of soap and melt them into a new bar when I was a kid). Today I got one step closer to this aim.

Finally, I borrowed a strimmer off a friend. We only use the strimmer at the allotment once, or twice, a year at the most. For this reason, I can’t justify buying one for myself. Borrowing one from a friend or neighbour is an excellent idea. I swapped some of Margot’s eggs – so both parties were happy by the deal.

May 9th

Well, I have made it to the weekend. However, this ‘buy nothing new’ idea is a bit more difficult than I first thought. I didn’t realise before, but it is fairly hard to resist the shopping urge when it comes. Yesterday I saw a lovely, soft, warm bed throw that was reduced to *less than* half price. I stood looking at it for ages (I think the women in the shop thought I was about to run out with it). I had to talk myself out of the shop by saying to myself ‘you may WANT it, but you don’t NEED it’. After a while I left, but I still kept thinking about it all afternoon 😦

I am off to ‘Farnham Creates’ today. I am not sure if this is a good idea or not, but I would like to go. I will only be taking limited funds to pay for my entry, and leaving my purse at home!

May 10th

Well, what a weekend. I had an e-mail from a friend who had offered earlier in the week to make me a chicken coop (for Cordelia – a new hen to keep Margot company). And what a coop! Its amazing (I will post a picture when it is in situ). When said friend offered to ‘knock something up quickly’ for the new arrival with some spare wood he had lying around, I envisioned a small box covered in some old chicken wire that I had lying around. What I got was made to the required dimensions, but has a removable pitched roof (for easy human access), a pop hole with a ramp (for easy chicken access), and had already been undercoated (twice) ready to be painted. Its amazing. I can only describe it like an open-air chicken-wire-covered version of the glasshouse at Kew Gardens. But actually what is more amazing is that *this* is exactly what I think transition is about. It is about restoring community, and doing things for each other. Selfless acts. Things that most people wouldn’t do unless they were getting paid. The fact that my friend offered to build the coop was extremely kind, and I was bowled over by that, but the amount of time, effort and care that has gone into building the coop is far more than that. It has restored my faith in the ability of humans to do things for others, just because they want to.

Thank you Alex.

May 11th

I seem to be doing well with the free seedlings. Today I was offered five free tomato’s and a chilli plant from a kind freecycler who had ‘lots left over from a recent seed swap’. What a great idea!

We also installed the new cloche (an old folding shower screen) at the allotment on the weekend. Another item saved from a skip (you know who you are) and ‘recycled’ for another use. Perfect.

May 13th

The struggle to find someone, or something, to move the hen run to it’s new home is over. Kudos to the nice man at Farnham Tool Hire, because he let Alex borrow his van. Shameless plug – 01252 717505 – for all your tool needs.

May 14th

Having acquired so many new plants that all need potting on, and having a drier compost heap than the Sahara desert, I turned to good old Google to see what it would throw up. Maddeningly (is that a real word?) it was compost awareness week last week, and I missed out on my free compost from ‘Compost Heaven’ at Burchatts Farm, Guildford. Grrrr. Something I won’t miss next year!

At pottery this evening I reclaimed some of my old clay. This has been dried up and hanging around in my kitchen for about a year. Due to my ‘buy nothing new’ pledge I decided I couldn’t buy new clay. Facing the thought of not being able to make anything for the rest of term, I decided to reclaim some of my old stuff. Reclaiming clay is simple, hardly took any time at all, and I now have a nice big lump of soft moist clay waiting to be recycled into a stoneware pot.

May 16th

I have a confession to make. Today I bought two tins of outdoor gloss wood paint. Technically this could come under home repair and maintenance, only it was for the chicken coop. After all the effort that Alex put into building the run I felt that it needed to be protected from the rain as soon as possible. However, since I bought the paint it has rained all weekend.

May 24th

It’s certainly getting easier not to buy anything new, or in fact anything at all, simply by avoiding shops. I did however buy a book – it wasn’t new, I bought it on amazon market place. The book is called ‘Why we buy – The Science of Shopping’. This book looks at how shops use certain tactics to make us buy things and why we, as consumers, fall for these techniques. I look forward to it turning up so that I can learn their secret and use it in reverse. Despite buying nothing new, I did accumulate more ‘stuff’ this week. On Wednesday I was in London with work. In the evening there was a talk by Ellen MacArthur for the Ellen MacArthur Trust. The Energy Saving Trust were also there, and after filling in my details I received a free PowerDown plug, Megaman lightbulb, save-a-flush bag (for the loo), and a pedometer!

Did I mention that I also took advantage of some of Finn’s free tomato plants? Thanks Finn.

While I have your attention, I would also like to point out that all the while I have been accumulating more STUFF, I have been busy freecycling old ‘stuff’ of my own that I no longer use 🙂

May 30th

I’ve finally made it. It’s the end of the month.

It wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of questions along the way.

1. Do things that are made from recycled materials count as ‘new’?

2. Are edible plants classed as ‘plants’ or ‘food’?

Despite these daily dilemmas (I decided it was best not to buy anything if in doubt – except for one small item made from recycled wool), I still found it very hard. I missed my magazines, I missed being able to buy plants (especially at this time of the year), and most of all I missed being able to buy things that while not ‘essential’ are there to make life easier for us (bags of compost).

It was a very enlightening experience, and has certainly changed my attitude to shopping. I will now try to use alternative means to source the things I consume, and to think more about how I can reuse them (even before recycling them). Some things are easy to find secondhand, others are not. I have therefore decided to set up a ‘magazine swap network’. I also pledge to organise a seed/plant swap event. These are probably the two areas that were the hardest for me to source secondhand (except for perhaps tomato plants). Setting up these events will not only make it easier for me, but also for others with the same addiction.

The other somewhat surprising outcome of the experiment was that despite not being able to buy anything NEW, I still managed to acquire a lot of STUFF!

Right, I’m off for some retail therapy 😉

Relevant Links:

Here’s a short piece about “The Compact”:

Here is a link to the ‘Buy Nothing Day’ website


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