Last year I heard and read a lot about a book out called Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping – a non-fiction tome chronicling one woman’s experiment in not shopping for or buying unnecessary things. Clothes, shoes, dinners out, even movies were off the list. The book is one woman’s perspective on American consumerism, the buying impulse, and the social aspect of spending and buying amongst her acquaintance. One of the main criticisms I kept coming across was that the book wasn’t a how-to guide. The author isn’t interested in teaching others how to live without shopping, she’s only interested in telling us about what happened when she did it. Many people pointed out that she was coming from a position of privilege, which allowed her to start with a baseline most others don’t have.
When looking over the reviews, Amazon helpfully pointed me to another book in a similar vein: Give It Up!: My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less. In this narrative, the author, over the course of a year, gives up one thing she really loves for a month. Alcohol, chocolate, taking taxis, reading the newspaper, etc. This book garnered similar (but harsher) reviews. It isn’t a how to guide, the author is very focused on herself, she gives up things many people consider an unaffordable luxury, anyway.
The statement I noticed more than anything was this business about the books not being how to guides. They weren’t advertised as such, nor were they meant to be. Yet this is what people complained about. Seems people really want to know if any person, regardless of income or class, could really spend a year or a whole lifetime not shopping and buying? If so, how would one go about it? What resources are there for those who voluntarily take themselves out of consumer culture? Is it possible to escape without becoming a hermit in the woods?
I have more than a passing interest in these questions because I am the Ultimate Consumer (so my mother tells me) and yet I don’t have much money. I’m not hurting for cash because I buy too much. In fact, my spending is severely curbed by my lack of funds and lack of credit. Yet I do manage to spend every penny I make, and not just on the necessities. If I find, toward the end of my fiscal month, that I have some extra money, it flies out of my bank account as if by magic. I am embarrassingly ruled by my wants and desires.
Though I know this about myself, I have not changed. If I see something I want, I buy it if I can. Amazon is my enabler, New York City a den of temptation. Maybe taking a year off from buying things I just don’t need will force me to observe my buying and wanting habits.
However, my personal journey to salvation is probably not all that interesting to most. The people want a how-to guide, not another whiny New Yorker going on about temptation. Thus, this blog won’t be just about how I navigate not buying. It will be about collecting and sharing resources, experiences, and approaches. Of course, I can’t come up with a universal path to lessened consumerism or greater simplicity. I won’t limit the resources I search for or share to those that only work for people like me (a single woman living in New York City). And I invite readers to share their experiences and resources as well.
Starting today, January 1, I am spending One Year Without Buying. Let’s see how far I get!