By Patrick Avenell & Claire Reilly
This October will be the second ‘Buy Nothing New Month’, a movement designed to curb consumerism and excessive or unnecessary purchasing.
Described as a “global movement for collective, conscientious consumption”, by the organisers, Buy Nothing New Month is supported by charities the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Sacred Heart Mission, and law firm Maddocks.
Instead of purchasing new clothes, TVs, furniture or anything first hand, the organisers of this event encourage consumers to purchase second hand or to totally reconsider whether they need the product or service.
“It's a one month challenge to buy nothing new (with the exception of essentials like food, hygiene and medicines),” write the organisers. “Buy Nothing New Month isn't Buy Nothing New Never. Nor is it about going without.”
The editorial team at Current.com.au has broadly opposite views on this initiative. Here’s what we think about it:
Retail is presently facing serious structural and cyclical challenges, with online competition, low consumer confidence, an unconfident business sector due to political instability and increases in award wages.
The retail electrical industry is particularly exposed to this, with large price discrepancies in many categories between online and in-store, due largely to Australia’s higher standards of living than manufacturing countries (something we should be proud of).
These challenges have resulted in the collapse of publicly listed retailers (viz Clive Peeters) and privately owned retailers (viz WOW Sight & Sound), while many ‘mum and dad’ stores across the country have been forced to close.
While questioning consumerism is not without merit, this is the worst possible time for such a discussion, and I’m surprised charities are supporting it, since retail is such an enormous employer in Australia, and more closures due to reduced purchasing will only place more strain on the welfare industry.
I would be more inclined to support a day or week of questioning consumerism, rather than a whole month.
There is no doubt that retailers across the country are doing it tough as consumers head online, tighten the purse strings or stop spending altogether. But a month when we take a good long gaze at our spending habits in the proverbial mirror could be good for many Australians.
There is no doubt that we have an obsession with the latest gadget, the fastest computer and the biggest TV, but our constant drive towards faster, newer, better can have negative consequences. Many of us are still paying off interest from past purchases as we deal with the hangover from years of buying up big.
On a retail level, this could even translate into a better shopping experience: consumers less desperate to screw down on price and more willing to be sold up to a better model because they’re making a reasoned decision, backed up by a bit of saved cash.
And a whole month? Sure! It’s just like staring into the bare fridge on a Friday night: if we know that scrounging together a Frankenstein’s Dinner of leftovers is only for one night, we won’t stop to ask why we have seven uneaten tubs of “quick sale” cream cheese on the bottom shelf. A longer stint helps us question our consumer behaviours.
Like the organisers say, don’t stop spending forever. Don’t ditch the retailer stores and don’t up and move to a gated commune to grow free-range pumpkins. Just stop and think about your habits, and realise how lucky we are to live in a great country where we can afford the occasional splurge on tech.
And what do you think? Email the team with your thoughts or leave comments below.