Do you spend a lot of money on things that you don’t really need? Impulse buying, pointless purchasing or simply shopping when there’s nothing better to do: we’ve all done it before and don’t usually think a whole lot of it … that is, until our wallets start feeling the pressure! However, the way we shop can affect more than just our bank balances. In fact, our patterns of consumption – the way we purchase, use and dispose of goods – can have a significant effect on the economy, the environment and our own livelihoods.
A paper released by the Australia Institute has me understanding that, in Australia, over $10 billion every year is spent on goods that we never use – clothes and shoes we never wear; DVDs we never watch; food we never eat – and that nearly 20 million tonnes of waste ends up in landfill each year (that’s $10 billion a year that we’re spending on, literally, rubbish). By way of comparison, this amount exceeds that spent annually by the Australian government on universities and roads combined. It seems as if we’re purchasing things that we have no use for, storing them until we realise this and then throwing them – and our money – away. It’s a wasteful, all too common cycle that’s self-perpetuating: when we finally get rid of what we never needed to begin with, we feel a material void and an urge to buy more to replace it!
For the month of October last year, I participated in Buy Nothing New month: an initiative that encourages Australians to think more carefully about what they purchase, where their purchased goods come from and what happens to them once thrown away. I took a pledge to, as the name might suggest, buy nothing new – food and other essentials aside – and take a little time to reflect on my habits as a consumer. I have always been an advocate for thrift, recycling and suchlike, but Buy Nothing New month was a total eye-opener in terms of realising how much waste is created in Australia every year as a result of mindless consumption. Don’t get me wrong: I love shopping as much as the next young woman with too many pairs of shoes in her wardrobe, but I am now committed to cutting back on the things I don’t need (so that I’ll have time and money for the things I do need!).
In the midst of absent-mindedly refreshing the Facebook homepage yesterday, I came across a blog that has inspired to me to continue being super-thrifty. Aptly named Make It Do, a determined New York woman is documenting her experiences as she buys nothing “except what I've used up or worn out” for 2012 in its entirety. It sounds like a mammoth task, but she’s written herself guidelines and made a few exceptions so that she doesn’t go without the essentials. Her mission statement, she writes, is not necessarily about spending less or no money: rather, to think more carefully about purchases made and to try and “make do” with what is already available. For those with a thrifty (or simply curious) mind, this blog is a definite go-to.
I don’t think you need to be a genius, an economist or a hippie to understand the implications of over-consumption. Many of the world’s resources are limited: if we continue to throw them away without thinking, said resources are going to diminish and, one day, disappear. What may be the tricky thing to understand, I think, is the ways in which one person can make any sort of difference. It’s unreasonable to suggest that my being more resourceful is going to save the world, but I know that the little things – such as making some of my own clothes, buying others second-hand and donating what I no longer wear – are definitely going to save my bank account and supply me with some serious peace of mind. What do you think?