A Year of Not buying new

On Tuesday we bought you an uprecycling DIY from Jo who lived a year not buying anything new (except a few cheat items). Today we chat to Jo to learn more about her and the year of less…


Amica: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jo: We’ve been married 8 years and our first home was 40 square metres (including the 10 square meter balcony) which we’d furnished second hand and from parent’s garages. I remember one day deciding to go spend $40 on some little canvases and some fake flowers to go with the doona cover my Mum had bought for us.  $40 was a huge amount for me to spend, and I remember being so chuffed when I ‘hung’ ( see 3m’d) the three canvases which I’d painted with cherry blossoms to match the fake flowers I’d put in vase with some fairy lights in our bedroom. It was so pretty and probably very kitch, but I loved it!

Over the year we lived there I scavenged pots and plants and set up a very sweet garden on the balcony (a lemon tree, herbs, even a wee fountain and fish pond…). It wasa tiny place, but we loved making it a home; when we moved out the last of three trailer loads was the garden.

Fast forward 8 years later and we have a house in the ‘burbs, and moving takes more than a trailer, the lemon tree has grown to include a lime, an orange and a mandarin, the fountain is not quite so wee and we have two very indulged bantam chooks, Victoria and Beatrice, who have a run the size of our first balcony…. And the cherry blossom canvases are long gone…

What we have kept is the pleasure and enjoyment we get from the challenge of renovating and learning how to do things ourselves.  Partly driven by money but also a genuine pleasure derived from ‘making’. (We both bombed art school so maybe it harks back to those youthful dreams!)  Deep down, I suspect we both aspire to be on grand designs one day but in the interim we work on our home.


Hi Jo!

Hi Jo!

Amica: How did you come up with the goal of not buying anything new for a year?

Jo: The idea not to buy anything new came up at Christmas in 2013. At the time we were conscious of being financially stretched between mortgages, normal expenses and we’d agreed to go away for week in February to Bali… and we probably didn’t have the money. The previous year had been fairly expensive, we’d done a huge amount of landscaping ourselves, levelling our back yard and building a substantial deck, having to kit out the Chef in suits for his new role, and the expense of running a house (vs an apartment) had come as more of a surprise then it should have. Then Christmas arrived and we were having a big family Christmas, with our fabulous plethora of nieces and nephews. We don’t go out every year, so when we do we try have presents for all the kids.

So we had to shop. Buying for 10 kids between 1 and 13 wasn’t cheap, but more than anything else, it meant that we were in and out of shops for a few weekends…full of Christmas carols, and sale signs, and panicked people, pretty much my own personal nightmare.  On the way out to the country town for Christmas the car was laden with gifts, and weirdly we both started speaking at the same time with a ‘I thought..’ ‘Maybe we should…’ “not buy anything new for a year”.

Fairly easily agreed then.

In part it was driven by money (as most things are) but largely it was driven by the epiphany that we were buying into (pun intended) a culture of shopping as an activity. A culture which results in environmental damage, financial mismanagement and a loss of personal identity. And having always endeavoured to be environmentally conscious we were shocked to realize our  land fill bin was often full –  of packaging.  We’d seen the extreme end of nothing new ( very admirable) but decided to find our middle ground.

We decided to remove ourselves from the cycle and see what happened.    

 I think I best described it on our blog  “We’re not fanatical about it – (credit to those that are) but rather we are trying to re-frame our thinking about consumerism, and move away from the instant gratification of stuff – to the long-term satisfaction of doing things ourselves”

Victoria and Beatrice

Victoria and Beatrice

Amica: Did you have any ‘new’ cheat items? What and why?

Jo: Of course we did!

So obviously underwear etc. was new.

A solar light for the garden (I forgot the challenge in the first week and bought it, and it stopped working after 2 months which made it worse..)

Things for my sister’s wedding; as a bridesmaid I bought make up, a new jacket and top as well as shape wear

A dress in Bali…(so pretty)

A pair of black leggings (this was a trade – no more stockings but I could buy leggings)

A sewing machine and overlocker; this was decadent, but we wanted to recover the second hand outdoor furniture, and we also wanted to learn how to sew ourselves when we had to fix things rather than going to a tailor  all the time.

Fabric and foam for the said outdoor furniture

A chook pen  – we’d considered making one from recycled material, but I became concerned about chemicals, safety and the comfort of the future residents and decided in this case a new one was ok.

The chooks (do they count as new??)

Some odds and ends of hardware for the vegie patch


Oh! And a ring in NZ when on holiday.


Amica: What has been the easiest and hardest changes to make this year?

Jo: Hmmm – getting out of the habit of shopping for the house was hard, you know shopping for that perfect thing, for that place, you know… next to the other thing.

Learning how to adapt to a diverse range of clothes was challenging, I am a creature of habit and when my jeans and blazer died I was left slightly stunned about how to dress and had to relearn my style so to speak.  I also ran out stockings fairly early on which limited my wardrobe over winter.

Shoes for my husband was a challenge; we only found two pairs in the entire year that were work appropriate and he struggled when he didn’t feel well dressed enough – he’s a far smarter dresser then I am and I underestimated that.

By far the hardest challenge was when you needed a specific thing, such as a new suit, or jeans, or a plain t shirt. Shopping was fine when it was broad, just looking for ‘things’ but the specific was quite hard.

The biggest change, and  that took about 6 months, was moving away from hoarding to just having what we needed. Slowly but surely this is moving into the rest of our lives, not just our wardrobes.


Amica: Any tips for our readers who would also like to buy less new?

Jo: Ok –  take what you will, as we all have very different ways of being – I’m quite complacent about my appearance 8 days out of 10, so some things are easier for me – for some people their appearance is very important to them so it’s not an easy choice but,

·         Step back from fashion if possible;  choose a style, and maybe only buy one or two key pieces from a season.  I’ve landed on the baggy top, tight legging/jean style, tucked into boots.  Works for my size (skinny legs, but all my weight is on my belly), but is also fairly transitional season to season, and can be layered up or down for weather – so it sees me from summer to winter.

·         Don’t go the shops as a time filler. Only go if you are after something and set a time limit. I’ve noticed this year ‘shopping’ has already snuck back in as an activity and hence I spend more.

·         Have a purpose when you go the shops.  “I am here to buy a pair of jeans BEGONE TEMPTING DEMON OF SHINY SHOES”.

·         If you’re not sure, leave it and come back – if you were meant to have it, it’ll be there.

·         Ask yourself, do I need this? I use the example of going to a wedding recently – I had the normal pre wedding panic “What am I going to wear?” so I raced to the shops, freaked out at retail prices and decided I had 6 perfectly good cocktail dresses I could wear, and really, I wasn’t the bride so who cared as long as I was respectable?

·         Ask around. we have an internal email system at work and I’ve found it really useful. For example, for Christmas presents last year I found 3 second hand guitars for under $200.

·         Always carry a green bag when you go shopping, for example when I go to the grocery store (only occasionally as we get our groceries delivered these days) if I have a green bag I buy less, because I only buy what will fit in the bag, if I don’t, I buy whatever and get plastic bags.

·         Check out places like gumtree for second hand household items.

·         And on a long term scale, figure out why you are doing it.

o   To save money? Have a goal.

o   For the environment? Great, get excited when you see one bag in your bin a fortnight.  (I rate the feeling virtuous)

o   Ethical reasons? Be chuffed that by buying ethically and second hand you’re not supporting sweat shops.

o   To de-clutter your life?  Love that your wardrobe is easy to use.


Amica: After the year is up, will you continue with not buying new?

Jo: Absolutely! We still shop second hand first, and new, second, and it’s a lot more fun now that it is optional.  We’re both the fast and effective at searching op shops and we’ve saved a lot of money.

This year we are doing some fairly big renovations and we’ve already started sourcing second hand materials, such as windows, fans, tiles and sinks; things like this are often left over from a  build or being removed for a reno  you can find things for a 10th of the price as new.   It also means we occasionally have really clever ideas or we have to think outside of the square to achieve our goals(and our garage resembles a demolition site).

I think the most surprising things was how people were interested in the challenge, for example, the blog was secondary to the challenge and in response to people asking if we had one; this made me realise how many people really wanted to step outside the current culture and I think shows a really interesting change in generational values.


Amica: Where can our followers connect with you?

Jo: If have any questions or feedback, drop a line on our blog  GENERATION DIY; THE CHEF AND I and the chef and I will be touch.

Share on FacebookPin on PinterestEmail this to someone


One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *