Book Review: Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping

Since Not Buying It inspired me to start this experiment, and since I used it as a rough template for the endeavor, I thought a review of the book might be useful to others.

Not Buying ItFor anyone interested in our growing consumer culture, bucking materialism, and living simply, Not Buying It may prove an interesting book for you. However, it may also frustrate you and make you angry.

In Not Buying It, Judith Levine provides us with a very narrow and personal view on the concept of not participating in consumer culture. The book is not meant to instruct or provide resources, tips, and support. It’s a personal journal with focus and agenda. If you keep that in mind you might avoid some of the vehement annoyance the reviewers on Amazon display. (Though I should point out that I agree with most of their assessments of this title.)

I think Not Buying It had the potential to be a great book, even if it wasn’t a How-To. But several things got in the way of that.

First, the author decided to embark on her project during a particularly nasty election year – 2004. I found myself wishing that she’d come up with this idea during some other year. Then the heavy political rants might have been avoided. I’m as left-leaning as Ms. Levine (perhaps more so), yet even I got tired of the politics and Reagan/Bush/Conservative bashing. It added nothing to the book and detracted from the very interesting thoughts on how consumerism operates in our culture. I would have liked her to explore the corporate side of the problem, instead.

Second, the author is an incredibly privileged person. She and her partner have two residences, three cars, and between them so much stuff they need to build extra rooms on their house to fit it all. So much that they can go a year without buying and still have too much. Therefore her view on living simply and not buying unnecessary things is a bit skewed. When you already have too much, it’s easy to do with what you have. But that doesn’t resonate with me. That she never examines this aspect of herself is annoying. She does mention the piles of clothes and shoes she owns, some with the tag still on. She doesn’t go farther than mentioning it, though.

Third, the aforementioned nature of the book – that it’s just a personal journal not a how-to guide. The non-how-to-ness doesn’t bother me so much, but the narrow POV of it does. It’s a very inwardly focused book that offers very little to the reader. One person’s personal journey to enlightenment is only so interesting, and this book doesn’t even offer that. The whole thing is very half-hearted, in my opinion. Levine doesn’t delve deep into her own struggles to combat her consumerist ways nor does she offer any real help for other people to do so. It’s very superficial.

Nevertheless, the book isn’t a total loss. If the topic interests you, then this book provides some interesting bits on consumer culture, materialism, and the drive to buy things. Looking at them from the outside did give Levine an interesting perspective. I wish she’d gone the investigate journalism route more often than the political screed or personal journal routes.

Conclusion: Borrow the book from the library, but don’t buy it. It only takes one read to absorb what little of use there is in this book.

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