Jen Gale talks to us about her inspirational Make Do and Mend Year, and the things she took away from it…
In September 2012, I convinced my husband that it would be a really great idea for us, as a family with two two small boys, to try and go for a whole year buying nothing new.
I think at first, hubby couldn’t quite understand why we might want to do that, and why he would have to give up his occasional newspaper, but I managed to talk him round. If I’m being totally honest, I’m not really crystal clear about why I wanted us to do it either, but it seemed like a really good challenge – just to see if we could actually do it. So after a trial month in the August, and a couple more ‘debates’ about the inclusion criteria for newspapers, we were off, and my Make Do and Mend Year was born.
We set our own rules, and I think that is the beauty of a project (or a lifestyle) like this. If there is something that is a real deal-breaker for you, then write it into your own personal rules. We decided we could buy food, toiletries and medicines, underwear, and shoes for the boys (I wanted to know that they fitted properly). We also agreed that if something broke, and it was possible to mend it, but with a new part, then we would do that rather than consign something usable to landfill.
We spent the year Making, Making Do and Mending, and discovering a whole new world of pre-loved retail outlets. We learned new skills, like patching jeans (a gazillion pairs of jeans!); we discovered new fixing materials, like Sugru (google it, it’s amazing); and we learned that the best way to keep small people entertained at a flea market is to create a treasure hunt of the weird and the wonderful for them to find!
As the year progressed, the reasons behind buying nothing new became clearer and clearer to me. I had never really given a huge amount of thought to what we bought before – other than where was the cheapest place to get it. We weren’t hugely profligate, but if we needed new furniture, we would all pile into the car for a tortuous day at Ikea without a second thought. And I guess really, that that is what the year has taught us. To stop and think rather than knee jerking in to buying yet more ‘stuff’. It made us stop for a minute to ask ourselves if we really needed it, and if we did, then whether we could we make something similar, or make do with something else, or even wait until we found what we wanted secondhand (I learned the art of patience). We also learned to make do with what we already had, to appreciate the things that weren’t exactly what we wanted but were fit for purpose. Most importantly, we learned that our lives weren’t any poorer, or harder, or busier as a result.
For me, the biggest ‘take home message’ from the year has been an empowering one. It has made me realize that as an individual, I can only do so much but that on the flip side I can do something to make a difference. Every time we open our purses, we are making a choice, and casting a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. Each of us has an individual responsibility to ensure that the choices we make, the words we speak, the things we buy, are a reflection of the values we want to live by.
We really can be the change we want to see in the world. We need to stop worrying about what everyone else is or isn’t doing. We need to slow down, and take time to stop and reflect on what our buying habits are saying about our values. Only then will change come about.
My Make Do and Mend Year
And if you’re in need of tips on how to patch a pair of trousers you can read Jen’s nifty piece for The Guardian here