MELBOURNE -- Last month, two Australians moved into a pre-fabricated, architecturally designed, sustainably built apartment craned onto Melbourne's Federation Square, dressed in nothing but their underwear and bathrobes.
Meet the New Joneses -- a social experiment in new consumption.
For five days the couple, Millie and Adam, were asked to buy nothing new. They had to borrow, swap, rent, and source everything they needed -- second hand.
Conceived by Tamara DiMattina, a Melbourne public relations professional, the aim of the New Joneses was to get people thinking about wasteful consumption. Though short-lived, the campaign gained widespread exposure in local, national and global media.
The New Joneses is a product of DiMattina’s bigger Buy Nothing New Month (BNNM) initiative -- an annual campaign which asks people to pledge via the website to buy nothing new in October, challenging them to buy only second hand, fix, reuse, recycle, swap, and share or rent necessities.
Since BNNM was conceived in 2010, it has become something of a beacon for the conscientious and collaborative consumption movement in Melbourne. “Part of it is about conscientious consumption or collaborative consumption and asking the questions like who made it? Where is it going to go after I use it? Do I really need it? How much is ‘enough’?" DiMattina says.
According to DiMattina, there are different models of new consumption. For example, some people would never consider going to a charity store but will go out and buy something new that is made ethically. While other people swap their wardrobes around constantly and share their things.
Despite DiMattina’s best efforts, the BNNM message is sometimes confused. One common misconception of BNNM is that it’s against consumption or shopping, but DiMattina is clear that this is not the campaign's objective.
“Buy Nothing New Month isn't buy nothing new never. Nor is it about going without. You can consume in a way that positively helps other people. It’s antiwaste, not anti-capitalism. There is nothing about BNNM that says shopping is bad or new is bad. It is just about getting us to think about how we are consuming our precious, finite resources, and looking at how we can do things better, smarter, more efficiently," she says.
DiMattina herself loves to shop and is particularly interested in fashion, but shops second hand as her default. She believes that there will be some businesses that will thrive as consumers become more considered in their choices. She cites Silo by Joost Bakker and outdoor clothing company Patagonia as examples of conscientious businesses.
The public relations consultant says that BNNM came from her own personal experiences. “For a long time, I was confused more than anything how we as a society were being wasteful consumers, and being selfish about how we were living. I felt I could not do anything about it.”
After taking a trip to Mumbai and Antarctica, DiMattina went on to study at the Centre for Sustainable Leadership. Here she gained the skills and confidence to start the BNNM initiative, aided by her public relations skills and a supportive community ready to embrace new consumption.
DiMattina reports that so far she has received pledges from the Netherlands, U.S., U.K., Portugal, Spain, France and South Africa. She has also seen the positive ground swell in Melbourne, and is encouraged to see many school kids responding to the campaign. Groups in the Netherlands and USA are starting their own local chapters of BNNM.
In Melbourne BNNM has inspired a family of six to embark on the challenge of buying nothing new for an entire year. DiMattina hears similar stories from people around the world.
“I think now people are waking to the fact that having more stuff doesn’t make us happier and that we need to change our consumption patterns, but that in doing so, in many cases, people get much more than they give up, when they start shopping less and living more, buying experiences over stuff,” she says.
Photo: Courtesy of Tamara DiMattina.