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buy nothing new month

Trading goods and services without money is known as bartering, and was the norm in ancient civilizations. Back in the day, as money didn’t exist, bartering was the currency. Swapping goods for another was how people acquired what they needed. Shells for sugar, carrots for eggs, a new front door for a new horse saddle.  

October is 'Buy Nothing New Month' and for those who are game, volunteers commit to making zero non-essential purchases for the entire month.   The idea behind the initiative is to change the perception of consumerism and to value what you already have and perhaps find alternative ways to acquire what is required (outside of a shopping mall or online shopping cart).   Of course groceries and home essentials are not included in the month long restriction, neither are a new pair of shoes if the ones you are wearing happen to fall apart.  But as a participant (offically or just a curious bystander) the idea is to be more mindful about every single purchase you do make over the month, to ask yourself the question every time you go to make a purchase - do you actually need it or just want it?  

Most of us are guilty of just buying what we want when we want it and turf it away when we are tired of it or it is no longer of value to us. We exchange pieces of paper with amounts printed on them or a handful of metal with numbers on them for these items. The printed paper and metal coins themselves of no particular value. The value of money lies in its purchasing value not in its physical value. When we barter however, each item or service in the transaction is considered of value, and usually equal to that being exchanged. We are swapping something of ours, either we have made it, grown it or will provide a service – we have invested ourselves in whatever it is we are offering up. When we receive whatever good or service on offer in return, we are more likely to value it, as we gave away something of value to us to get it.  

When we value things, we take better care of them, we appreciate them more. Take 200g of green beans for example. You can go to the supermarket and buy them for a couple of dollars. A couple of dollars can’t buy you much, it is a small investment and as a result your bag of beans is not that valuable to you and perhaps they will end up soggy and unused in their bag at the bottom of your fridge.  Alternatively, say you swapped a bunch of home grown daisies for a handful of beans which have been grown by your neighbour. You watched those daisies grow, you watered them and were proud when they bloomed. When you swap them with some beans, the value you ascribed to your daisies is transferred to the beans. When you cook your beans there is acknowledgement of where they have come from, there is appreciation of the crunch, the texture, the flavour. You enjoy your bartered beans immensely more than the supermarket beans for which you paid a few dollars. Likewise your neighbour will lovingly place those daisies you grew into a vase and value them because he swapped them for beans he tended for many months in his garden.

Good friendships will often unconsciously involve bartering. A favour for a favour, it might not be a formal swapping of a good or service. For example you know that when your bestie helped you pack up your house you made a promise to yourself to make sure you help them out next time they move. Or you might always let your friend go through your pile of clothes destined for the op shop, before you donate them, and they always bring you fresh lemons from their tree when they visit. Good friends will naturally be there for each other, and that includes sharing their skills with each other or giving away what they have in surplus.

Here are some simple ways to reap the rewards of bartering:

  • Join a craft or hobby group and every 6 months, the group does a swap of something you have each made.
  • Invite a small group of friends over for an afternoon. Each of them simply brings household items or clothes they no longer want. Invite everyone to trade their items for things they might need or want!
  • At Christmas try swapping handmade items or home grown produce, or make up a voucher for a service or skill you have instead of buying presents.

There are even websites which invite its visitors to browse through the various items on offer, with bartering the only way to get your hands on them!

Finding ways to bring bartering into your life can be a wonderful way to celebrate friendships and share what you love with others. The sprit of bartering can also remind us to be more conscious consumers day to day (not just limited to a single month in the year), encouraging us to invest in good quality, hand made, local products or services.  In doing so we avoiding the mass produced rubbish, and connect with the little people who keep our local economy alive. Plus, if you learn the art of bartering and if you’re clever, it can mean you get what you need or want without spending a cent!