While it is somewhat out of character for me to have composed (and largely adhered to) a list of 2013 New Year’s Resolutions, my decision to do so was largely motivated by the desire to to pursue one particular goal – what I like to call the Nothing New Challenge. Rather than buying clothes off the rack that are brand new, this resolution entails that I only purchase secondhand items or accept hand-me-downs. It requires frequenting thrift stores and vintage-only shops instead of prowling the mall or stopping by the clothing department when picking up groceries at Target. And this challenges not only goes for clothes but also for decorative items around the house – tchotchkes, candles, artwork, furniture, and the like – as well as jewelry and accessories.
When I mention the challenge to my family and friends, their reactions tend to fall into one of two categories. The first is simply asking why I would decide to do something like this and the second is a response of plain incredulity. Regarding those in the former camp, I explain my various reasonings, from the environmental benefits of buying secondhand to the labor rights issues that purchasing from so many corporate retailers raises and the decreased burden imposed by my wardrobe on my bank account. Abstaining from purchasing new clothing items reduces landfill consumption of thrown out clothing, the waste generated by packaging new clothes, and the shipment time and accompanying environmental harm wreaked by factories sending their products to storefronts. By no means a new concept, sweatshop labor is a major concern when purchasing new items from major clothing manufacturers that many people fail to consider when they decide to make a transaction. Buying clothing in its second life reduces the number of items that must be produced in dangerous and inhumane working conditions halfway around the world in order to feed America’s insatiable appetite for fashion. And secondhand clothes are just plain cheaper. I’ve purchased untold gems for a steal after scouring the racks at Goodwill and have even found a thrift shop that carries items still on the racks in other stores, only these ones have already been discarded and discounted without any reduction in quality. I could further expound upon the benefits of buying secondhand, but that’s not my real concern here.
For those with a reaction of the later sort, I barely even know where to begin. The fact that not buying new clothes for an entire 365 days is so unfathomable to people downright worries me. It’s certainly nice to buy a fabulous new dress every so often and clothes need replacing from time to time as they’re worn out. I’d warrant a guess, however, that the rate at which many people purchase new clothes is not just a matter of replacement and occasional splurges but actually one of consistently adding to an exponentially-increasing wardrobe. It appears that clothing purchasing behavior far outruns mere need and approaches addiction, an unhealthy pattern that becomes a means of mindlessly filling the time and acting on impulse rather than thoughtfully considering what is truly needed.
It’s certainly easy for me to come up with a wardrobe wish list, to take a look through my closet and imagine other items that could complete my clothing collection. But denying myself these desired clothes by no means makes my life any less meaningful or joyful. More often than not, simply wanting something does not warrant buying it. This challenge, which does allow me to purchase clothes albiet in a more limited manner, is not nearly as restrictive as abstaining from any clothing purchases at all. But it still generates complete astonishment in many people because they are so accustomed to continually satisfy their unyielding appetites for new things.
Admittedly, I could just be talking to the wrong people about this resolution. And maybe many people curb their purchasing behavior more often than I realize – after all, the cost of living renders it nearly impossible not to do so. But there is an alarmingly high value placed upon the ability to buy whatever we like whenever we so please, with little thought to the unseen repercussions of such frivolous activity. Sticking to my nothing new guns has offered me the opportunity to practice curbing my desires, to give greater consideration to the purchases I make before check out time, to do my small part to improve certain conditions in the world, and to appreciate nonmaterial things in a deeper way. Committing to a whole year may be a bit extreme, and it may very well be a challenge I fail to successfully complete (though I truly hope not). Nonetheless, it is a refreshing test that, when shared with others, at the very least gives them pause to consider our taken-for-granted cultural appetite for consumption. Trying to go nothing new for a month (why not make it February, a mere 28 days long?) may be just the thing to allow us to reconsider why and how we buy.