Buy Nothing Day

Tomorrow is Buy Nothing Day across North America (it’s Saturday elsewhere), an international protest against consumerism in response to the embarrassing fact that some 20% of the world’s population consumes 80% of the world’s resources, causing tremendous and disproportionate environmental damage as well as an unfair distribution of wealth, of course.

As the name suggests, it’s a day spent without spending, yet it’s also a day to hopefully think about how you spend, why you spend and what you can do to effect change through your spending by making changes to your consumer habits.

Consider the cheap labour being exploited in developing countries, producing cheap goods for you to buy – goods that you don’t need; the entirely unnecessary oil-based packaging favoured by supermarkets that you cannot recycle or compost, which ends up in landfill and takes an eternity to rot away; the poisonous chemicals sprayed on and pumped into your food and the harmful effects that they, and intensive farming, have on wildlife, its habitat and you; the immense environmental cost of transporting, not least by air, food items that would cause mere inconvenience and not starvation if we could not have them all year round.

‘Black Friday’, the Friday after Thanksgiving in the US, is traditionally one of the busiest shopping days, hence the date of Buy Nothing Day. Where Saturdays tend to be busier for shoppers, the event is observed on that day instead.

So why not have two Buy Nothing Days to think about the needless over-consumption rife in the affluent, bloated developed world and growing rapidly, which will certainly have catastrophic consequences, in many developing countries?

This weekend, invite some friends over for a meal of locally-grown produce, washed down by a glass or two of Fair Trade wine. Play Anti-Monopoly beside the glow of solar- and candle-light. Listen to Jimi Hendrix, as it’s his birthday. Read some Oliver James before bed. It’ll be great. It’ll be different.

Perhaps you can commit or convert another into shopping locally; start borrowing from your library instead of hoarding; grow your own fruit and vegetables in your garden; filter tap water and shun the over-priced bottled variety (which is often tap water, anyway); use jute and cotton bags for your groceries; tell your supermarket – the best way to tell them anything is by not buying – that you don’t need your mushrooms to come in a plastic container shrouded with shrink-wrap any more than you need your bananas to come, sweating, in a plastic bag.

As this television commercial, not surprisingly banned by most US networks in recent years, hits home, “The average North American consumes five times more than a Mexican, 10 times more than a Chinese person, and 30 times more than a person from India. We are the most voracious consumers in the world. A world that could die because of the way we North Americans live. Give it a rest.”

Ditto Europe.

If for only one day, please do not buy what you do not need.

Over-consumption not only has obvious economic and environmental costs, but personal and social costs as well.

I mentioned Oliver James back there. He argues that English-speaking countries are infected with a virus, which others have called an all-consuming epidemic – affluenza – which fosters mental illness. Indeed, the citizens of English-speaking nations are twice as likely to suffer from mental illness as citizens from mainland Western Europe, and James puts this down to excessive wealth-seeking: stress, anxiety and ultimately burn-out caused by an obsessive quest for material gain.

With the latest must-have items constantly flashed before our eyes, the new and improved version soon rendering its predecessor out-of-date, you can never possibly have it all. Or enough. Yet we work longer hours for less pay, rates of everything from depression to obesity to debt are higher than they’ve ever been, and all the while we live with the endless disappointment of the consumer lifestyle that we, in our ignorance and greed, have allowed to prosper and dominate.

It has to disappoint us because that’s the only way we’ll keep on buying: in order to feel better, to fool ourselves into thinking that we’re somehow more successful and/or content for having more. We assume that we ought to provide all the things that will spoil satisfy our children and hope they’ll make up for missing out on their childhood. We are all too easily convinced that having an expensive, usually electrical and almost always plastic-heavy gadget of some sort will shave a few precious seconds off one task or another each day, which will therefore give us more time that will, in the end, be used up on working or spending, thinking about working or spending, or travelling to wherever we work or can spend.

Do you feel pressurised in this way, believing that every facet of society is geared to make you hunger after things you simply do not need, piling pressure on you to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ so that you don’t get left behind in shame?

Have you already realised this and taken steps to counter the malaise? Are you an ethical consumer and do you boycott certain brands and products, even countries? Do you think you could go a whole day without buying anything, without absorbing any capitalist message or marketing gimmick? As with all such days of purpose, do you think this one can make a jot of difference?

As always, I’d love to share your thoughts on this.