Welcome to Buy Nothing Day, where we try to stop all consumer spending for an entire 24-hour period. Gasp!
I love this holiday. Even though I already screwed it up this morning by dashing to the grocery store for Cream of Wheat.
Even so, I like the idea of noticing, just for a day, how much stuff we habitually buy, and how we go about acquiring it. The buying habit is so incredibly reflexive, so interwoven into our existence that it’s hard to even see it. It’s as if we’re fish in the ocean asked to notice the water. It’s all around us. It defines everything about us. (Queue Obi Wan Kenobi – “The Force surrounds, binds us together…”) We just whip out a credit card or cash for whatever we want, and away we go.
I didn’t even pause as I went out the door to buy the cream of wheat.
Contrast this with the salad I made for Thanksgiving dinner. I used greens from a local greenhouse, sold through our local coop (buying again!), red cabbage from our garden picked earlier this fall, and carrots and beets that I dug out of the ground on the day of the event. It took a fair amount of attention to put the salad together and to decide what to do with my available ingredients, and a fair amount of work earlier in the season to make sure that the ingredients were on hand.
There’s a lot of back story in a carrot or a beet that you’ve dug out of the garden: the beet seeds that didn’t germinate, and the second planting it necessitated; the grasshoppers that ate down the carrot tops and the screening we laid over the cabbage when the grasshoppers started punching holes in their leaves as well; the watering and the weeding; the fencing to keep out the rabbits… at the end of all that, when you go out into the November chill, pull back the insulating leaves and mulch, and dig out a carrot, there’s a certain satisfaction that accrues. Everything about getting the carrot was deliberate.
There’s also a backstory on a box of Cream of Wheat… but I have no idea what it is; it’s pretty well masked. The box is supposed to exist on a shelf, and where it came from or how it got to be there is irrelevant. All I’m supposed to think about, as a consumer, is whether it’s waiting for me when I want it. The convenience is the beginning and end of the story. And that’s pretty much what a highly functional consumer society does: makes things so convenient that you don’t have to think about the buying process at all. Just swagger in, grab the box, throw down money, and satisfy whatever urge twitches within you.
So, I’m interested in Buy Nothing Day, not just because it’s a very brief pause in my cravings for a new computer, or a bouncy ball seat for my office or a new set of speakers, but also because it focuses my attention on how quickly and easily I reach for my wallet to satisfy my needs and wants, and by extension, how many things are passing into my life without my even noticing.
For a few minutes, the buying process is deliberate, rather than reflexive.
Happy Buy Nothing Day!