First month.

So, as far as I can remember I haven’t bought anything new except consumables (food, drink, toiletries) but I haven’t really succeeded in cutting down unnecessary consumption either.

Yesterday I bought a dress, even though I have more dresses than I have friends, just because, well, I don’t have a vintage safari dress and it was $5. And I would probably have got more if they’d fit me (heads up, if you’re size 8-10, there’s two fabulous ball gowns at Lost & Found Market on Smith Street, for $10 each — one is strapless with a black velvet bodice and magenta taffeta trim and skirt, the other is long-sleeved, off-the-shoulder black velvet). My darling friend also bought me the killerest shoes when on holiday, which are no less an extravagance for being second-hand.

I agree with what Felix said about op shops operating as a pressure valve for any guilt we feel about new purchases. Op shops don’t represent, and have never represented, a closed cycle — the majority of goods sold are second-hand only, donated by their first owner, and in terms of clothing, usually only a few years old. Even if I never buy anything new, I usually only buy things that are effectively new — no holes or stains, not too faded or worn. (A princess aesthetic is less suited to this project than a punk’s, I think.) And though I take pretty good care of my things (I am still wearing a dress I had my Confirmation in, twelve years and many ideologies ago), I have to acknowledge that the things I donate to op shops tend to be in poorer condition than the things I purchase from them, if only slightly.

Op shops actually justify fast fashion, in many ways — though op shops have much more trouble selling last season’s chain-store threads compared to anything that can be classed “vintage” — because just the motion of tossing something that’s nearly new into the garbage might be enough to make us think more about our consumption. Putting your unwanted things into a donation bag instead of the bin gives away the responsibility for waste — in many cases, simply to the op shop staff, who throw out unmarketable items. Like any recycling system, op shops depend on the uptake of post-consumer waste, but (like most recycling systems), far more people contribute to the input than purchase the outputs.

My and Felix’s relationships to clothes make for an interesting comparison. I probably have ten times more clothes than ey does. The average length of time we’ve had each item is probably similar — I acquire new things all the time, but Felix doesn’t have anything old. I can’t remember the last time I wore through something, though Felix’s clothes are always falling to pieces. This is mostly because any one piece in my wardrobe is on such low rotation, but I think I do take better care of my things too. I polish my shoes, hem my trousers, replace buttons, and have shoes resoled (only in China though because here it costs more than my shoes ever do). But once things start to look ratty, I don’t wear them so much — I am aware that my style is less suited to environmental consciousness than others. And I don’t accept that it’s simply a style, a preference; I don’t accept depoliticising aesthetics in that way. I prefer to present myself in a way that is associated with higher class, greater wealth, and which requires more resources — regardless of the direct financial cost, I like to look expensive. I think that’s a problem.

The concept of style is clumsy when applied to what one wears: Arguably, designers have style, but a consumer’s aesthetics are more appropriately called taste. And taste is never quite individual. This is especially apparent when talking about taste in people, particularly lovers — I think everyone could quite easily critique what they find sexy, for example, by reference to popular constructions of sexiness. And it’s probably quite obvious that a taste for, say, the classic quilted Chanel handbag with the chain shoulder strap is not purely aesthetic (especially this season). But alternative tastes are equally situated within an aesthetic culture. This isn’t to say that your tastes aren’t genuine. I have never believed that knowing why you love what you love diminishes it. But I don’t think it’s possible to draw a line between one’s aesthetics and the status we try to achieve through our consumer identities. Less I shop therefore I am than you are what you buy. And I think this still goes for things you don’t pay for.

I really want this project to be something other than the ultimate in rebellious consumption for counter-cultural status, but I don’t have high hopes. I think there are still some choices that aren’t consumer choices, but late capitalism is constantly compressing that space.

x Gauche

P.S. If you click on one link in this entry, that last one is the best. Or for some light entertainment, watch Katy Perry versus Karl Marx.

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presence (not presents); mistakes; makeshift

I’m going to start this week’s post with a letter to family regarding Christmas gifts…make of it what you will. Also I want to talk about mistakes (and making the most of them) and makeshift thrifty fun times. Enjoy!

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Knowing as I do that some if not most of you are more readily organisable than myself, and what with the halfyear come and gone, I’m beginning to think about Christmas upcoming and the gifts’ll be got. I have a request: the same I’ve asked for years past and have not got.

Please don’t give me anything. Not now nor in the future, leastwise brand shiny and new. I am not afeared to ask for what I need from you (generous all) and will when time comes by. In the meantime, there’s better things than this to do with money, time and most especially with our family’s way to show affectionately love. I have plenty (I know you do too) and need for very little; what I do I can mostlyways get for my own self.

If you can’t accustom yourself to the idea of a gift-free tree, give money to a something which’ll work for revolution and show to me the receipts. I appreciate the gesture I know to be made from love but am asking you to love me in the way I want; by listening to what I’m saying and treating me the way I’m asking.

Big big love…felix.
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Recognize environmental problems,
Refuse any damaging activities,
Reduce waste and resources, Replace environmentally questionable activities,
Re-use,
Recycle,
Re-engineer organizational structures,
Retrain employees in environmental issues,
Reward successful attainment of environmental objectives,
Re-educate employees and customers, to benefit the environment.
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By way of DIY, I've thrown together a handcart out of a secondhand pram and a luggage crate – photos to follow, but it's nice to know that there are simple (albeit temporary) solutions to my needs. Seriously kids, wheelbarrows = the most useful tool ever.

Aaand, still no buyin’! Well. The things I have been buying (and accepting as gifts, which is the same thing) include food, cigarettes, transport (trains), alcohol (wine), electricity, internet and phone, housing (rent, I mean)…
But still, the intent of NNY remains to examine consumption, at which it is succeeding.

No New Year: No Solution

As you will probably notice over the next twelve months, a lot of my workarounds when I can’t buy something I need* are based on reclaiming waste. I have no problem with this, and I think we (I mean Melbourneist@s) would be well-advised to rediscover frugality, a conscious sense of thrift. But reclaiming waste is, taken in isolation, no solution to the problems of high-turnover consumption and capitalism. Consider op-shop economics.

Opshops serve many functions, one of which is a pressure valve for the consumption patterns fashion: consumers can conveniently dispose of surplus clothing by giving it to the local opshop. When I buy from opshops I’m not thinking of this, obviously; I see them as a hub for the second-pass economy. But by normalising giving away old products (rather than making them new, a la the uniform project), we also normalise the pressure from the supply side of the equation. This is the same psychology as the dumpster-diving crew calling full dumpsters ‘good’. They’re not good – they’re the most wasteful. We (the detritivores) might benefit from this in the short term, but in the not-too-distant future this kind of normalised surplus production is going to harm us all (is harming us already, even if we can’t see it yet). See Gauche below on squatting for more on this theme.

NNY is (for me) about experimenting in new ways of consuming, about leading by example, there’s much more value in frugality and responsibility than in creaming the fat from a wasteful city. I’d rather brew my own booze (more on this later!) than not drink at all, rather grow my own tobacco than not smoke. With this in mind I’ve joined the sharehood, a particularly awesome example of what I consider a real solution. Creating networks of shareable goods and services within a small geographic area (a, you guessed it, sharehood), the sharehood project works against social fragmentation and unnecessary duplication of goods (maybe one lawnmower is needed on a residential block, not in every house). I’m having a little trouble with the site, but I’ve used it it in my last house and it worked well there.

In other news, I made detergent (the dishes had been mounting up since we ran out)! I used this recipe. You really need to use more water than’s in the recipe. I added an extra litre, and still ended up with a jelly-like sudless goop, but it does the job and I’m pretty sure it’s greywater friendly.

Gauche pointed out to me the other day that one of my biggest problems by way of frugality is that I break things. Often. Electronic gear, my clothes, glasses, my body…I break things. Mostly that’s just a product of the (playful? boisterous?)way I live, which I don’t heaps want to change. And mostly the things I break aren’t so hard to fix. But it is an issue, and caution, some kind of slowness, is a virtue not to be underestimated. An ongoing aim for me.

*The way need is constructed is driven by what you’re used to. Most needs are simply requirements for maintaining one’s style, not life and limb. NNY is about choosing a new lifestyle and thereby redifining need.