Two months of nothing new

Back at the beginning of the year I set myself the challenge of getting through a year of only buying pre-loved or vintage things for myself, the children and the house. Two months in and I thought it was time to review how it’s all been going.

Over the years I seem, somehow (ahem) to have ended up on the mailing list of quite a few of my favourite shops. First thing I’ve learnt is that the Cath Kidston, Boden, Joules, Toast and Jojo Maman Bebe catalogues have to go straight from the doormat to the recycling bin. I just don’t want to look at beautiful things I can’t have for another year!

The second thing I’ve learnt is that I can still get some lovely clothes by going pre-loved. I have recently acquired a beautiful navy and white polka dot dress, a denim tunic dress, some black skinny jeans (mummy essential!), a vintage look denim jacket and a floral maxi dress (anticipating summer  will arrive at some point) for myself, and a stunningly pretty tulip-skirted Jigsaw dress, a Cath Kidston denim skirt and some Gap shorts for Anna via my local Facebook Sell or Swap group. One of my favourite items of clothing Sophia has at the moment is a bright stripy cardi I picked up in the BHF charity shop near us, and she also has a gorgeous pink cotton dress with a bird-cage print from the same source for when the weather warms up.

My total spend has probably been about £40 – which you could easily pay for one item of new adult clothing.

The third thing I’ve learnt is that Ebay can be great, but needs to be treated with extreme caution. Not being able to try stuff on is a problem. I bought a dress for Anna, intended for immediate use, but it is actually something she will need to grow into. Probably in a  couple of years’ time, by which point the tiered tulle style of skirt she craves aged nearly eight might not be what she wants to wear at all! I’m absolutely thrilled with the vintage Cath Kidston shirt dress I picked up for a fiver, and it’s so versatile – it looks great now with thick tights, biker boots and a v-neck jumper over the top, but in a couple of months time it can be worn over leggings with some Converse, and then by itself with sandals once I’m brave enough to get my legs out. The other dress I purchased recently was less successful, however. I put it on this morning, and Sophia, who is developing quite an eye for these things, immediately declared “No. Mummy not wear dat dress. Dat dress not nishe dress. Mummy wear nishe pwitty dress.” Surveying myself in the mirror, it was clear the child had a point. How is it possible for something which is technically the right size to totally flatten your bust, whilst doubling the size of your hips and tummy, and halving the length of your legs? I pretty quickly swapped it for an old favourite jumper dress which does meet with my sternest critic’s approval. And is warm and comfortable too.

January and February is one birthday after another for us. My dad, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, several friends and several children of friends all have beginning of year birthdays. I stuck to the principle of challenging myself to consider whether there was a present they would really like which didn’t involve buying ‘things’, and only heading to the shops if there really wasn’t. So, my dad got home-made chutney and lemon curd (he is impossible to buy for anyway!), my sister-in-law got some vintage 1960s ear-rings and a second-hand book in perfect condition, one friend got a vintage brooch, another friend got a bag I had bought for myself last year and never used but which I knew she loved, another friend’s daughter got a super-cute vintage pinafore dress, and my mother-in-law got a year’s membership of the Royal Festival Hall. These all seemed pretty popular, and actually in many cases, the challenge of not just heading to a shopping mall and waving my credit card around meant that they got a better and more thoughtful present as a result.

So, what have I bought new? Keeping within my self-imposed rules I have bought some knickers and socks for Anna, some shoes for Sophia as her feet had grown, and two pairs black opaques for myself. It’s honestly not exaggerating to say that the cost of these (and they were from Next, Clarks and M&S, so not particularly high-end brands) cost more than all the other clothes I have bought put together! Boden were kind enough to send me a £10 voucher for my birthday (I suspect an unwelcome side effect of this experiment will be that I won’t be a similarly valued customer this time next year!), and I used it to buy Sophia some new vests, having tried and failed to source some second hand. The voucher expired within a fortnight and was non-transferrable, so it seemed silly to waste it. I did buy some new children’s books as other presents, too. Unfortunately secondhand children’s books don’t tend to be a condition I am happy to gift. I also slipped up and bought myself a magazine – it was popped in the trolley at the supermarket checkout without thinking, and it was only when I got home I realised what I’d done. And finally, I have replaced our milk pan, as its nonstick lining started to peel off, and I didn’t really think that was a healthy addition to the children’s morning porridge!

Writing it all down like this, it is shocking just how much money I spend, even when I’m not buying anything new! I am definitely getting a lot more bang for my buck this way, but I think I need to treat Ebay with much more caution during the rest of the year, and possibly consult Sophia before clicking the bid button. And keep my fingers crossed that my family and friends are as entranced by their pre-loved or home-made presents as I hope they are!

I had a fantastic response on social media to the idea of this challenge, with lots of people saying that they felt inspired to do something similar. Do let me know how it’s going for all of you too!

 

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Happy (Nothing) New Year

Towards the end of last year I blogged that I was thinking about making 2017 a ‘buy nothing new’ year for me and the girls. I got masses of enthusiastic support from friends both online and in real life, and so I have decided to go for it. One of the most enthusiastic supporters has been my husband – I think he may be suffering from the delusion that by sticking to vintage and pre-loved I’m going to spend less money. Bless him.

Seriously, though, cutting down on the amount I spend on clothes and shoes and frippery bits we don’t really need is one of my objectives. Another is to reduce my carbon footprint and the amount we are contributing to landfill. Another is to make me appreciate the things I already have rather than constantly seeking something new. Another is to spend the money I do have to spare on experiences rather than things. And the final is to cut down the amount of time I waste in browsing, online and in shops, for things I don’t really want or need. I am hoping to be able to fill that time with more productive or relaxing activities – baking, reading, hot baths, keeping in touch with friends – rather than moaning I have no time and then frittering the brief windows I do have on the Boden website.

So what are the rules? I’m not being super strict, because I don’t think I need to be to achieve those objectives, but I do need a framework to stick to.

  1. I won’t buy any new clothes or for me or the children, with the exception of underwear.
  2. I won’t buy any new shoes, bags or accessories for me, but the children will get properly fitted new shoes as and when they need them.
  3. Food and household products like washing powder etc are not included in the challenge.
  4. Basic toiletries – cleanser, moisturiser, cotton wool, nappies, body lotion, toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel – are not included in the challenge. However, I won’t buy any new make-up or nail polish, with the exception of mascara. You’re meant to change your mascara every 3 months to avoid eye infections, and I can’t manage without mascara or with permanent conjunctivitis.
  5. If I run out of my two Clinique must-haves (CC cream and Happy perfume) I will replace, but only if I have managed to save enough money from things which I have sold myself.
  6. I will not buy any new books for me or the children, but e-books are an exception (no waste or carbon footprint!).
  7. I will not buy any new toys for the children, with the exception of specific and reasonable requests for birthday or Christmas presents which I cannot source secondhand. I will replace art/craft items such as paper, card, glue, felt tips and paint as they run out, but I won’t buy new for the sake of it.
  8. Presents for other people are not included in the challenge, because the most important thing to me is that I give gifts my family and friends want to receive. However, I will challenge myself to consider vintage/pre-loved/hand-made/experiential items as a starting point, rather than heading straight to the high street shops.
  9. Presents for us are not included – we will be very happy and grateful to receive anything anyone is kind enough to get us!
  10. I won’t buy anything new for the house, other than like for like replacements of essential equipment (think cooker, kettle etc) if they break.

There might have to be exceptions within the year – for example items required by Anna for a school play costume which I can’t track down second-hand in the time available. Any exceptions like this will be recorded, exactly what I bought and why, so that when I look back at the year I can see how well I managed!

I will be using charity shops, Facebook selling/freegan groups, and Ebay for specific items we need.

Anna has decided that she does not want to join in the challenge with her own pocket money, so she will be free to spend her £1.50 a week on whatever her heart desires.

I’ve got off to a flying start, getting a pile of free tights and some t-shirts for Sophia, and a beautiful, barely worn, pure merino wool Cos sweater for myself for just £15 via the wonderful Walthamstow Sell or Swap.

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Really interested to hear your thoughts, and see whether anyone wants to join me. I’ll be blogging regular updates on how I get on and my pre-loved bargains. Oh, and a very Happy New Year!

Nothing new

I recently read a blog post by a mum of two toddler girls who has decided not to buy anything new for them, or herself, during 2017. It has got me thinking about challenging myself to do the same thing.

I definitely buy too much, for all of us. Whether it’s popping a cute t-shirt in the trolley as I do the Sainsbury’s shop, or racing straight for my laptop the moment a Boden 30% off voucher pops through the letterbox, or being intrigued by a beautiful outfit by a retailer I’d never come across posted on Instagram and tracking it down, I do love a bit of retail therapy. But. It’s not a great habit to have got into for lots of reasons. Obviously the financial cost is a big one, and now my husband is running his own business we have to live a little (lot) more thriftily. And then there’s the cost to the environment of old things ending up in landfill long before their useful lifespan is passed, and the production of new things consuming fossil fuels and leading to masses of wasted packaging. I also feel there’s an emotional cost; there is an immediate satisfaction in a new pretty dress for me or, more likely, for one of my girls, but it doesn’t always last very long and it can all too easily be replaced by a sense of guilt at my spoilt spendthrift ways. In fact I often find hunting down a bargain on Ebay or my beloved Walthamstow Sell or Swap gives me a feeling of satisfaction which is far deeper and longer lasting.

The idea of abandoning all this consumerism for a year, and getting what we need on Sell or Swap, eBay, from charity shops or as hand-me-downs is very appealing. There would, of course, be exceptions.

Underwear for example. For almost three years now I have been living in maternity/breastfeeding lingerie. Comfortable and appropriate it might be, pretty and sexy it certainly isn’t. As soon as Sophia has stopped breastfeeding I have been promising myself a trip to Debenhams to restock my underwear drawer, and I’m not giving up that for anyone. Neither is there any way my daughters will be wearing second-hand knickers.

Footwear for the children would be another exception. I’ve always been a big believer in having their feet measured regularly and properly, and buying good quality leather shoes. I really think it makes a difference when they have such soft little bones, and I don’t want to store up podiatry problems for them in years to come. Don’t get me wrong, there’s the odd pair of hardly-worn canvas pumps of Anna’s which will be passed on to Sophia, and I’ve got nothing against second-hand wellies or party shoes, but I think that the shoes they wear most of the time should be properly fitted to their feet rather than pre-moulded to the shape of another child’s.

I would also be gracious enough to accept presents of new things, as I think it is a bit much to try and dictate to other people if they have been generous enough to think of getting you or your children a gift. (Hello, Mum. *waves*)

And obviously food. I live in London. I do not have a big garden or green fingers. The limit to my kitchen garden activities is a pot of supermarket basil on the kitchen windowsill (and that’s looking a bit brown and crispy at present), and it is a far bigger leap of imagination than I can possibly make to see me feeding a family of four for a year on what I manage to forage from Epping Forest!

With so many exceptions it really does seem do-able. It would force me to ‘shop my wardrobe’ and discover clothes and combinations I don’t wear enough, or make repairs to things I love but don’t wear because of small tears or missing buttons. It would hopefully prevent the children, especially Anna as she is old enough to be more aware, getting spoilt and thinking that nice things grow on trees or that you need new stuff to be happy. It would cut our spending and our environmental footprint, and maybe serve as a reminder that the best things in life really are free. So really the only question is whether I am strong enough to change my spending habits.

What do you think? Could you say no to new for a whole year? Do you think I should? And what are the rules on frenetic spending in the Boxing Day sales?!

A & S Merton

Epic Ebay Fail

Sometimes I have the gravest doubts about my ability to operate successfully in the modern world. Take Ebay. I’ve had  a moderate degree of success in buying on Ebay – a vintage silver mirror for my mum’s 50th birthday present, a pile of maternity clothes which saw me through my pregnancy with very little cash outlay and an enormous bundle of Peppa Pig figures and toys for my daughter’s most recent Christmas present, for example. I’d never really gone in for selling, though.

Partly it’s just that I can never believe people will want to spend good money on things I’m throwing away, so I tend either to donate to a charity shop or Freecycle. And partly it’s just that I was scared of it. It seemed like so much hassle. Take photos, upload photos, describe item, post item – surely it couldn’t be worth it?

However, a chance conversation with my best friend last month persuaded me to reconsider. She had spring cleaned her wardrobe, and gone through everything her baby boy had outgrown, and not only did she feel masses better for having got organised and created so much free space, she had also made around £300 selling things on Ebay. But wasn’t it really stressful?  She claimed not, and so I decided to get brave and give it a go.

Sorting out my wardrobe didn’t go particularly well. My aim was to get rid of all the size 10 clothes which just make me feel guilty and depressed, but also to lose the size 14 clothes which provide me with a comfort blanket – they’ve allowed me to feel it doesn’t matter if I put a few pounds on here or there, because I can still fit into something. The problem is that since turning 30 those few pounds don’t seem to vanish quite as easily as they once did, and I don’t want to have an entire section of my wardrobe giving them permission to stick around. However, after what I thought was an extremely rigorous cull, I realised that I’d only actually got about 15 items on the ‘to go’ pile, and several of those were in no condition to sell on.

Undaunted, I decided I’d give it a go with what I had. I took photos, and painstakingly uploaded them. I spent over an hour trying to resurrect my Paypal account – since last using it I’d changed name, address, phone number and bank, so I suppose you can hardly blame their systems for being a little sceptical that I was still me. I was beginning to wonder myself by this stage. Finally, I got my items posted.

It went really well for a few days – it was fun checking the number of ‘watches’ and bids coming in. Unfortunately, realisation then struck me. My seven day posting was due to end on the second day of my week’s holiday in Cornwall. Oops. You’d think I might have counted forward when I set it up, but you’d be wrong.

Never mind, I thought. Lots of people can’t get to the post office during the working week. As long as I send them as soon as I get back it’ll be fine. So when we came home, before I’d even unpacked my suitcase, I was getting the sold items ready to parcel up. Then I realised my second mistake. My friend had strongly recommended that I purchase a bulk lot of plastic post bags before my sale came to an end. Of course,being in Cornwall all week, I hadn’t. So there was lots of running round the house hunting out stray jiffy bags and bits of brown paper, which it then took me most of the evening to fashion into acceptable parcels.

I got there in the end, however. Bright and early the next morning I set off to the post office, only to get there and find it closed. I looked from the locked door to the opening hours in bewilderment. It should have been open. I pushed at the solid oak, tentatively at first, and then harder and harder, until I realised I was attracting the attention of passers-by. It was at that point I noticed the small sign saying that this branch was closed due to strike action. It listed ‘nearby’ branches which were open. None of them even remotely qualified as near for someone without a car carrying an enormous and bulky bag of items to be posted.

I went home. I tried, and failed, to send messages to my buyers explaining the situation. Then messages from them started to arrive asking, very nicely, where their items were. After nursery drop-off on Tuesday I set off to distant post office, and finally, after spending 20 minutes queuing (don’t get me started) I got them posted. The relief. It only took another 15 minutes to work out how I changed the status on Ebay to ‘dispatched’, and then I felt I could wash my hands of the whole thing. At that point I worked out that I’d made a grand total of £16 – given that this represented about 7 hours input on my part it was so far below the minimum wage as to be laughable. And even that was counting my chickens too soon.

I’ve since had a message from one of my buyers to say that the shoes were the wrong size – I’d advertised them as 6, and they were actually a 7. I hadn’t even checked. I’m always a size 6, Except, I recalled a little too late, on the very rare occasions where sizes seem to come up small and I buy a 7…

So I’ve wasted another ten minutes this morning composing a grovelling email. I will have to refund the money and the postage, which means that my profit goes down to £8, and I have to try and work out how to refund money on Paypal. I could cry.

The only silver lining is that, although I expect my seller ratings are going to be rather poor – after all, they received the wrong item, inexpertly packaged and late – it doesn’t much matter because in future, if I ever get round to clearing out the rest of my wardrobe, it’s back to Freecycle and the charity shops for me.