Earthly on.. #TheTrueCost of Stuff

Considering the true cost of cheap clothes and our cultural shopping addiction, Earthly suggests you try a #buynothingnew year.


Last week, maybe you attended the opening of NZ’s first Zara chain-store, or maybe you protested work rights abuses at the opening of NZ’s first H&M chain-store? Maybe you ignored both, stayed home, and ordered a few new season bargains still to arrive separately in excessive, non-recyclable packaging? After all, Zara and H&M are just two of a thousand online retailers now available to satisfy our all-hours consumption urges. We can buy consumer Stuff anywhere now, anytime. There is no need to physically go shopping, our lounges and bedrooms are the new strip malls.

There is endless choice and enticement out there and we seem to be conditioned to buy new without conscious thought. “Do I need this Stuff?”, “Where did this Stuff come from?”, “How was this Stuff made?”, “How long will I use this Stuff?” “Where will this Stuff go once I don’t need it” rarely register in our endless cycles of ‘I shop-I want-I buy-I dispose’, stoked both by constant exposure to temptations, inadequacy-psychology and the illusion of ‘bargains’ (achieved through ‘sales’ & ‘clearances’, on sites devoted to shifting the picked-over bulk of fast fashion at apparently reduced rates).

While we continue, we are each in our small way feeding the consumer economy beast, a loose global system that financially rewards trashing Earth, soil and water, celebrates excess and waste, commodifies the suffering of animals and labourers and spews out unimaginable quantities of often-harmful waste at a ferocious rate. For everything and everyone outside the closed circuit of profiteers supplying, manufacturing and distributing consumer goods, the many harms vastly outweigh the fleeting pleasures and comforts we consumers receive for our cash. Yet we continue to feed the machine with our hard-earned incomes, buying more than we need, wasting much of it. How often do we each stop to consider how much less we would need if we needed less Stuff?

It’s time to change and the best place to start is with a simple question we should all ask every time: Do I really need this? If there answer is “No”, or even “Not really” (which I find to be most of the time), simply don’t buy it. Stay away from rubbish shops and websites that get you every time. Don’t browse. Be strict with yourself if you do go shopping for an item you need – buy nothing else. Hide your credit or debit card if it’s a problem. If shopping is recreation or release for you, look for better ways to relax or enjoy your spare time NOW. You should notice two things within a short time:

  1. You need less, you value the things you already have more, and your existence begins to feel lighter with visibly less Stuff cramming your house, wardrobe and wishlist. Your consumer drive will wane as you consciously assess your actual needs.
  2. You have more money to save for meaningful projects, simply because you are less often parted from it by unnecessary purchases. As you buy less Stuff consciously, you may find your excess expenditure in other areas reduces as you think more carefully about the cost of things.

As a reformed consumer, I can recommend making the change wholeheartedly. I first read about BuyNothingNew last year and decided I would give it a go immediately for 6 months. I’d already reigned my shopping habit in to less than half the Stuff I’d bought the previous year. That was 18 months ago now. Since then I have bought ONE new item of clothing and a couple small consumer items (cables, art gear, stationery etc.). As research for this piece I thought I would buy a couple pieces of clothing to remind myself how it feels (Hey, I needed tights. It’s notoriously hard to find good tights 2nd hand!). I can report it felt empty, mechanical and not at all unconscious anymore – I was concerned about how and where the tights were made, rather than how much I saved on ‘retail’. I won’t be buying new again until I really need to.

The incredible lightness of life unburdened by consumer desires and acquisitions is available to any of us living the consumer lifestyle. Don’t forget that.



[Ed: I’m still working out this WordPress creature. Thanks for bearing with me, I should be competent soon!]

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