Jen got fed up of the rampant consumerism in our society, -especially the effect it was having on her kids - and decided to try going a year without buying and new non-perishable items! I knew this would make for a very interesting 5 Questions, luckily Jen did too.... so here goes with the questions!
Question 1. Can you give the readers a brief introduction to what your Make Do And Mend Year is all about?
In September 2012, I embarked on a challenge to buy nothing new for a whole year, and I dragged the rest of the family (hubby and two small boys) along for the ride. We can Make, Make Do, Mend, thrift, upcycle, borrow.but we mustn't buy new. We set some Rules-food and toiletries are exempt, as is underwear (although we have yet to buy any, and are making do) and shoes for the boys.
It all started when I became aware of how, at the tender age of three, our eldest child was already quite focussed on 'new stuff'. I know this is just a kid thing, but it shocked me, and I wanted us to teach our kids to value people and experiences over things.
Question 2. You describe on your website that you get depressed by the sheer amount of stuff everywhere, and Make Do And Mend seems to be kicking back against that to some extent. Is consumption an addiction? Or at the very least, compulsive behaviour? What's the cure?
I guess for some people it may be, but I think for us it was more a case of just not thinking. We would buy stuff with little or no thought. If we needed furniture, we went to Ikea and bought furniture (and the obligatory bagful of other 'stuff' you didn't realise you needed until you entered the market hall..). We thought about whether we could afford it, especially for big purchases, but after that, the most thought we gave it was when we could arrange a trip, and if someone could have the kids for the day. It never really occurred to us to look elsewhere, to try and find things second-hand, or even free, and do them up. It was mindless consumption. And now that we have stopped, and stepped back, it is becoming ever more clear, that our whole society is based around consumption.
Pretty much everything is geared towards getting us to buy 'stuff'. Ads on the TV, in magazines, on the radio, on billboards. Whether it is a brand of drink or snack, or perfume, or a new car, to the latest gadget.It is constantly there, this message that we need newer, better, more.
I don't know what the cure is. Just trying to stop for a minute and actually think about what you are buying I guess. And the resources that have gone into it, and who has made it, and how it has got to the store. And then whether or not you actually need it. Can you fix something? Can you make do? Can you even.go without (shock horror!)
Don't get me wrong, I am not about to become some saint who never buys another un-necessary thing again, I still find myself sometimes buying for the sake of buying, but it's just that now it is second-hand. If we genuinely only bought what we actually really really needed (other than food etc obviously) we would buy very little. But then the year is not about depriving us of things we might want (as opposed to things we need), more about trying to demonstrate how easy it is to live a more sustainable life by just making some very little changes.
Question 3. Do you worry that in a time of austerity and economic slowdown that by buying less you might be inadvertently helping to delay an upturn in the economy?
I don't think that me on my own, not buying new will have an impact on the economy. If everyone were to suddenly turn around and do it, then yes. But do you know what? The economy cannot go on like this. It is unsustainable for the economy to keep growing off the back of continued increased consumption. There simply are not enough resources in the world. And there are too many people. And there is not enough landfill to dump all the stuff we no longer want. IT CANNOT GO ON. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work out that a growing world population vs finite resources, is not an equation that will add up. We need to find new ways of fuelling our economies. I am not an economist, I have no answers, but maybe our economies need to become more service led, with people paying for repairs etc. If we were to champion a 'Green Economy' and aim to become a zero-waste country (following in the footsteps of great zero waste cities like San Francisco) this would create jobs, AND save money-it seems to me to be a no brainer. As I said, I am not an economist, nor am I a politician, but there has to be another way.
Question 4. Do you think that upcycling will become more popular? If so will it mainly be because people have no economic alternative?
I really think that Upcycling and Make Do and Mend will become more popular, and will be the way of the future. They will have to be. As the world's resources start to run out, and become more precious, then this will have to happen. We are already starting to see this in small ways, for example, waste is now a revenue stream for many councils. There is big money to be made in recycling various materials, like textiles, and things that would previously have gone to land-fill, are now being sold on for really quite good sums of money.
I often wonder if as a nation, we could return to the rationing of the Second World War era, and we may well have to in a less enforced way. There just will not be the resources. What resources there are will be so scarce and so expensive, that people will have to Make Do and Mend. So buying new will not only be unaffordable on an individual level, but also on a grander scale too.
Question 5. Has this project helped you learn anything about yourself and/or others?
Loads! I have learnt patience (kind of!). I have learned to wait for things I really want. I have learned that most of the things I think I need or want, I really don't. It has shocked me how much mindless buying we all do, and how hard it is to avoid it. It is our youngest son's birthday next week. Being the second of two boys, he already has all the clothes and toys any small boy could want, and yet we are still under pressure to come up with ideas of things for people to buy him. It is one thing for us not to buy new, or to buy less, but trying to stop other people giving presents is another kettle of fish entirely.
I have also learned that I am not alone. That there are thousands (millions?) of people out there as concerned as I am about the future of the planet. And that one person on their own can make a difference. If we all sat back and left it to someone else, then nothing would ever change. It is easy to think that the problem is too big for any one person to make a difference, but this challenge has empowered me to think that I can have a positive impact on the world, and has made me realise how important it is that each and every one of us, as individuals, takes action.
Above all else I have learned that by making some very little changes, you can make a BIG difference.