“Dreading the holiday season? The frantic rush and stress? The to-do lists and sales hype? The spiritless hours trapped in malls? This year, why not gather together your loved ones and decide to do things differently?”
Thus begins the invitation from supporters of the 20th annual BUY NOTHING DAY campaign. This year the global event is being celebrated in North America on Friday, November 23rd (always the day after American Thanksgiving – also known as Black Friday, the busiest retail shopping day for Americans and an obscene extravaganza of over-consumption).
Once upon a time, we used to buy what we needed. Period.
But once we have all we need, we buy for other reasons: to impress each other, to fill a void, to kill time, because we can. Buy Nothing Day is a simple idea: try not to shop for just one day, and see how our view of the world changes.
- Where does all this stuff come from?
- Where will it go?
- Why do we buy it?
- Aren’t there better ways of spending our time?
Even though I realize that halting my own puny spending habits for just one day will hardly make a dent in the overall excess, I still do my bit every year on BND.
If nothing else, the exercise is profoundly useful in reminding me of just how often I unconsciously reach for my wallet, for reasons big and small (well, mostly always small, given my current fixed income these days!) Yet even a tiny purchase that hardly causes a ripple on my retail radar screen is likely one that others less fortunate would find simply impossible to even contemplate.
Some of my friends have told me that they just can’t do it, and that taking even one day off from retail spending is not humanly possible.
Some years, it means just forgoing a Starbucks visit on BND in favour of bringing coffee from home in a travel mug. (And please explain to me why we don’t do this every day anyway). One year, I realized that after-work dinner plans with friends happened to fall on BND, so I called them up to suggest that we meet at my apartment instead that day for wine and homemade nibblies.
For me, Buy Nothing Day is an awareness-building exercise – not a protest movement. Does it still count if I gas up my little car the day before, or load up with groceries the day after? Yes, it just might.
Because for that one 24-hour period, I become conscious of every time I reach for that wallet. And as the campaign’s Vancouver originators AdBusters explain:
“Buy Nothing Day isn’t just about changing your habits for one day, but about starting a lasting lifestyle commitment to consuming less and producing less waste.”
With the simplest of plans, BND organizers suggest, you can also create a new rhythm, purpose and meaning for the upcoming festive holidays. They ask:
“Why not take the spirit of Buy Nothing Day and morph it into Buy Nothing Christmas?”
And if that’s too extreme for Grandma and the kids, try for a Buy Less Christmas. The average Canadian adult spends $1,100 on Christmas gifts and festivities each year. So maybe a buy local, buy fairer, buy indie Christmas might help make a dent in that.
Just this morning, my friend Gail shared with me this challenge to rethink gift-giving this year.
“As the holidays approach, giant Asian factories have been kicking into high gear to provide North Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply-produced goods – merchandise that has been produced offshore at the expense of Canadian and American labour.
“But there is no longer an excuse that nothing can be found that is still produced by North American hands.
“What about useful gift certificates that help to support your local small business neighbours such as: a haircut, car detailing, gym membership, lawn mowing, snow shovelling, golf game, oil change, housecleaning, computer servicing, sewing machine tune-up, amateur theatre, local concerts, art/crafts from hometown artisans, breakfast out at your favourite diner, servicios de satelite, and countless other creative ways to help your business neighbours make a living as comfortably as the Big Box stores crammed with Chinese products.”
Still stumped? Try printing this gift exemption card to send to those who normally wander the malls desperately searching for your Christmas present this year.
Whatever you decide, say the BND folks, ’tis the season to reclaim our year-end celebrations and make them our own again.
But if you absolutely insist that you really must line up overnight for Friday’s door-crasher specials, check out these Black Friday retail shoppers’ training tips first.
This post was originally published here November 23, 2011.