Living Room

Buy Nothing New

Could you go one week without buying anything new? A month? How about a year? This may sound ridiculous, but what started as a short term goal for me has become a new way of life. 

In 2019 I set myself the ‘Buy Nothing New Month’ challenge. The goal was to reduce my environmental impact by not purchasing new stuff for a whole month. At first, this seemed impossible, a true challenge. But the further along I went and the more I learned, the easier it was to make this challenge a permanent one.

The physical things we buy and own use up energy, water and material resources, all of which have a major negative impact globally. If every person in the world consumed the same as the average German, we would need 3.1 planets to support our consumption habit.

Pretty scary. 

My initial goal was to reduce my impact for just one month, but after more than 1.5 years, I’ve ended up fundamentally changing how I think about my possessions while also saving a bucket load of money. Ca-ching!

How does ‘buy nothing new’ work?

No, you don’t need to give up all your worldly possessions and move to a barren cave in the mountains with Greta Thunberg (though that also sounds appealing)! The rules are simple: you are allowed to buy groceries (and obviously any medical items you need to survive) and IF you really need something else it must be sourced second hand. Two steps! Then just set yourself a timeframe and see how you go. I recommend starting with a month, but if that seems too daunting try 1 week, a fortnight, etc, and off you go

Getting into the conscientious consumption mindset

Do I really need it? 

Is that 5th pair of jeans really necessary? Will buying the newest electronic spark joy? By rethinking what you actually need (that is, after our basic needs are met), you put into perspective what is actually important to you – and it helps you to avoid mindless spending.

Put it on a list 

If you decide there is an item you need or really want, put it on a wish list along with the date you added it. If you still want the item one month later then you can try to source it second hand. Often, after 1 month you’ll find that you no longer want that item, or have realised you can easily live without it. And if you still really need/want it, then I have some tips on how to source the item more sustainably… 

Buying ‘Nothing New’, Some Words of Wisdom

Use what you already have.

Are you sure you don’t already have one – or something similar? Can you repurpose something you already own? Before you rush out and buy that shiny new exercise mat, are you positive you don’t have one stashed in the back of your closet? You probably do! 

Fix it.

Get out your tool belt, pull out your screwdriver, power up the drill and repair it! I’ve also found sticky tape fixes a lot of things… But seriously, if you love an item then why not pay a seamstress to patch that dress that fits you perfectly, or find a cobbler to re-sole your favourite shoes? 

Pile of books

Borrow it.

From the library, from a friend, from a school… you can even call out on social media! Plus it’s an excuse to befriend a neighbour (there are studies to show people are happiest when they have strong ties to the local community, so get borrowing for your mental health). Don’t buy a cake tin if you only bake a cake once a year – borrow it!

Swap it.

Clothing swaps are a great way to feel like you have a new wardrobe without spending a dime or being a contributor to the environmental issues we face. Organise one with your friends or find one in your area, Kulturlabor Trial & Error in Neukölln hold a “Swap Shop” twice a week. 

Find it second hand.

second hand items

Berlin is a perfect place to find second hand clothes, furniture and homewares. Here are my top places to shop from: 

  • Flea markets: There is an abundance of flea markets around Berlin every weekend, just search for flohmarkt near you. I found a beautiful marble mortar and pestle for €3 from the Kunst & Trödelmarkt Fehrbelliner Platz market.
  • Second hand stores: Berlin has second hand stores for homewares and clothing all around the city. They range from cheap junk shops where you have to dig deep to find the gems, to upscale handpicked vintage wares. I found a €49 & Other Stories skirt for €5 in a junk store and bought €40 Nike tracksuit pants for €6 at Humana.  
  • eBay Kleinanzeigen: a treasure trove for furniture and homewares. You can even set up alerts for specific items you want – it basically shops for you! My best find was a €40 modern L-shaped 3 person couch, the girl was moving the next day so she also gave me her coffee table, a bookshelf and picture frames for free (thanks Leonie!).
  • Facebook: In addition to Marketplace, ’Free Your Stuff Berlin’ and ‘Berlin Plant Swap’  are great groups to join.
  • Kleider Kreisel: Excellent for name-brand second hand clothes and shoes.
  • Zu Verschenken aka ‘to give away’: Berliners have a culture of gifting things for free on the street. It took me a while to realise that most of it is good quality and people just want it to have a new home, rather than throw it out. I found a €70 Cos dress this way!

The benefits.

As you can tell, I’m a total advocate for the new life. Once the initial month was up I decided to continue implementing my ‘Buy Nothing New’ mentality into my life, which has saved me a lot of money and taught me to value the things I do have a lot more.  

In the last 18 months, the items I bought second hand helped me save nearly €2200 compared to if I bought things brand new. I would have saved significantly more considering there are things I just went without! I was surprised at how easily I adapted to living so frugally.  

More importantly, I realised my mindset around possessions changed significantly. After realising how unnecessary a lot of things are, I often feel uncomfortable when I see the amount other people consume so easily. Now when I do buy something I appreciate it so much more. I was genuinely so excited when I bought a pair of shoes from Kleider Kreisel, my only shoe purchase in almost 2 years. It still makes me happy when I put them on! 

The difficult part.

Searching for things second hand can take more time, which unfortunately isn’t feasible for everyone. Setting up alerts for things you want on second hand websites is a good way to save time, however can still be more effort than buying something new quickly online. On the flip side, perhaps living more frugally and saving money means you can work less and enjoy life more? Some food for thought!

I found that there are some things that are really easy to find second-hand, for example, furniture and most clothing. The difficult bit comes with that last 10%, like socks and underwear; these are probably not going to be something you’re after… 

No body’s perfect.

Given that the system is set up to encourage us to buy and consume new things it can be hard to change. While I’ve reduced my consumption significantly, I haven’t been perfect. In the last 18 months, I have bought the following items new (sorry, Greta): a vacuum, a kettle, a pillow, a charging cable, 4 picture frames, 4 ceramic plant pots, a showerhead, a diary, a padlock (though this last one was so I could upcycle my broken bike chain). Given that I’ve moved to a new country, I think this is a pretty damn good achievement. 

I highly encourage you to try the ‘Buy Nothing New’ challenge, if only for a month, simply try your best! In order to make a difference we don’t need to be perfect, we only need millions of people making imperfect but impactful changes!

Author

  • Sarah Eager is a freelance sustainability consultant living and working in Berlin. Follow her eco tips via her Instagram and blog The Guilty Environmentalist.