Is new really needed?


MONEY WELL SPENT Westport charity shop Curiosity sells secondhand clothing, books and all sorts of interesting items. Every year, they donate proceeds to a range of worthy local and national charities. Here, Curiosity’s Melissa Hoban (left) is pictured presenting Maureen Halpin and Fidelma Rutledge with a cheque for the Irish Motor Neurone Association.

There’s a better way to look at acquiring clothes, appliances, furniture and more

Green Living
McKinley Neal

It’s very hard to believe it’s September again, with back to school and All-Ireland finals and other exciting reopenings. Last year I wrote about Secondhand September, which has really taken off since being so designated by Oxfam in 2019. The idea is to raise awareness of the environmental and human impacts of the fashion industry by encouraging people to shop secondhand exclusively for a month.
Because we have talked here before about the environmental impact of new clothes, here’s the brief summary: we are producing and buying too many new things, and the best things you can do to the lessen the impact of your wardrobe is to wear what you have, mend items, swap them with others, shop secondhand, and, for new items you do need, buy as sustainably as possible.
Now, though, Secondhand September is a great opportunity to think about our relationship with items in our lives beyond our wardrobe, and whether we can make more sustainable choices generally.
I feel that a person’s relationship to stuff is not just about what they currently need or like, but also is influenced by the history of how their family managed their belongings and money as well.
I grew up with some mixed messaging: we were very securely middle class in a suburban/ rural area of the US, so we fortunately did not struggle with money. However, we were encouraged to value things based on how ‘cheap’ they were, and sometimes items were purchased because they were on sale, or seen as a good deal, whether we needed them or not (which is very much the American way: to encourage non-stop shopping). On the other hand, it was normal to shop secondhand at yard sales, thrift shops and antique stores, and repair our items instead of discarding them.
When I moved out on my own, I realised what a reluctant shopper I am, but that I love the challenge of discovering a hidden treasure. While living in apartments, solo or shared, I spent time sourcing furniture, appliances and other furnishings via online listings, flea markets or from friends; buying new was a last resort.
Before moving to Ireland, we lived in Germany, and attended a weekly flea market, plus several special-event ones, regularly, from which we sourced more grown-up vintage pieces for great value. We also learned from friends that it’s good practice to have a yearly ‘stock take’ and sell on what you have less need or love for, so we also booked a stand at a flea market to rehome items.
Here in Ireland, it has been incredible to see the shift toward secondhand buying, swapping and borrowing increase over the past five years since we arrived. To keep up the momentum, we all need to make it a priority to keep items we own in the best possible condition so we have less to buy in the first place. Then, when we do need something, let’s be clear about what we actually need and then try to find it secondhand first.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.