Friday, June 08, 2007

Step Away From the Credit Card (NOT BUYING IT)

Could you go a year without shopping? While you could still buy essentials (non-processed food, soap, toilet paper, etc), what would it be like to go an entire year without shopping for new clothes, new books, and anything else strictly unnecessary?

Judith Levine in her book Not Buying It takes on this task: to go one year without shopping. She recruits her partner Paul on the endeavor, and they vow to only spend money on the necessities (no processed food or sweets count). So no eating out, no picking up a little something, no shopping for new clothes, no shopping for gifts. The experiment spans 2004--the last presidential election--and she structures the book in a diary format with each month forming a theme about consumerism and buying.

Levine explores the nature of consumerism and American culture's shopping habits. She also takes a look at what it is to need and to want, to shop consciously, and to understand the implications of spending on the global community. She learns that the public systems (libraries, art, etc) are in serious disrepair from a citizenship that is reluctant to pay taxes. Levine also reads a lot of anthropologists, philosophers, talks to individuals who take part of movements like Voluntary Simplicity and Buy Nothing Day. Levine participates in 2004 Buy Nothing Day (here's a photo from the event she describes):

(Reverend Billy nails the Nine Theses Against Corporate Rule on a New York McDonald's)

Not only an exploration of her own habits and impulses as a consumer, Not Buying It is a book about seeking alternatives. She talks to anyone from an average consumer to a man who lives off of less than $5,000 a year. She talks to individuals who want to simplify their life in a Thoreauvian gesture, but can't quite do it.

The book's strength is in the way it looks out. Levine uses her experiment as a personal starting point or as a place to ground these larger questions. Capitalism within the United States is spinning out of control and we're buying it. We're buying the idea that it's normal and natural to want things, to want to make money. We're also buying Bush's declaration that the best way to recover from September 11th is to buy more stuff. (We have to show the terrorists what they're missing in typical imperialist style). Levine doesn't want to buy it anymore. Her experiment helps her grow in many personal ways, but she points out that when she wasn't spending on herself, she was donating more to helping others. She was involved more in the public (free) sphere of her community. Perhaps we all could do so much.

I picked up this book because even though I readily contribute to the consumerist lifestyle (and love to shop), it bothers me. I may have more disposable income now than ever before, and while I am donating to good causes and using my spending to speak (by buying organic, shopping locally, etc), I'm still participating more than I would like. I went to Wal-Mart to shop yesterday for the first time in a long time and realized that I lost the ability to shop there. The choices overwhelmed me, and I would pick items up and put them down again. The book interested me because I wanted to read books that would enrich my life in some way and perhaps steer me toward a simpler--and better--way of living.


Justin Ray said...

I want to buy less, consume less, and make my life into a valid statement of my ideals. Maybe it'll be easier than I think after Kerry and I get married, but I foresee it being hard.

I have a few things going for me, though. I don't have to buy movies or books, really, because the internet entertains me enough. I like cheap food that, while processed, is still pretty basic (we're talking beans, potatoes, and rice). Like I said, we'll see.

Anonymous said...

You have written about the book of Judith Levine on Shopping, Consumerism and Simple Living. In this context I want to post a part from my article which examines the impact of Speed, Overstimulation, Consumerism and Industrialization on our Minds and Environment. Please read.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.

Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

Emotion ends.

Man becomes machine.

A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.

Fast visuals/ words make slow emotions extinct.

Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys emotional circuits.

A fast (large) society cannot feel pain / remorse / empathy.

A fast (large) society will always be cruel to Animals/ Trees/ Air/ Water/ Land and to Itself.

To read the complete article please follow any of these links :


pseudobunny said...

problem with that book is you gotta buy it
i like the same who post online so there is a no buy situation going on
also, consider the buy local vs buy organic
you better get that box today or someone at the local USPS is going to get hurt

Jenn said...

But I didn't buy it--I used the public library system available in my town!!! :)

pseudobunny said...

yay for libraries, but in the whole context of what this new style of book touts it is an oxymoron.? kwim?
i am not going to have a freak out about your swap box because the box itself is indestructible and the contents are so is going to end up at your place.

Kerry said...

ACK. I left my flowers at your place. Not something that can be mailed. I realized as soon as I walked in my apartment. Please enjoy them in my stead, and let them be a reminder of the amazingly wonderful and much-needed party for an incredibly grateful sleeping buddy. Please send Lance my regards, and thank him once again for the flowers and the cookery services.

Kerry said...

Aww! I was hoping to play with it today! No, don't mail it, just bring it up when you come for the wedding, it'll be fine. See you a bit longer than a week and a half.

the secret knitter said...

As with anything, the important thing is to be mindful of why the purchases are being made. There's nothing inherently wrong with buying things, even if they aren't essentials.

Granted, the culture is predicated on the notion that it is our duty to buy, and we're seeing how it has spun out of control. I don't know if there's anything that can be done to fight back collectively. For instance, those people who pick a day not to buy gas to protest the prices. You still have to buy it. What difference does it make if it's one day or the next?

All we can do is be conscious of our purchases and try not to go overboard.