Can you stop buying for just one day?

“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.

Really?  Seriously?

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.

9 thoughts on “Can you stop buying for just one day?

  1. I think your idea is a great one —— one that I have adhered to for many years — more from not wanting to join in the crush of shoppers or getting up at 5 a.m. 😦

    There’s a Huffington Post article here that addresses Occupy Black Friday.

    And remember the ‘don’t buy gas’ efforts from years past?
    But A plus for those of us who try.

    • I agree, Cave – it’s not a movement for everybody, but every little bit just might add up someday, right? We live in hope…. BTW, I disagree strongly with the HuffPost quote from some “expert” who asks what’s the difference between buying at Walmart and buying from your local neighbourhood store (that may be getting the same item from the same wholesaler). BIG difference – one purchase voluntarily sends money far away to the head office of a huge Big Box mega corporation, and the other purchase helps your neighbours make a living.

  2. But what about the recession? What if too many of us cut down on Christmas shopping, or stopped buying gifts altogether? The stores can’t stay open without customers. How many people could lose their jobs due to our “enlightened” perspectives?

    The economy has given me a whole new perspective on things. From an ethical perspective, what is the right thing to do?

    (I will add, I am a FIRM believer in buying local and supporting small independent businesses. It’s getting harder and harder to even find small independent businesses to support, so many have gone bankrupt trying to compete with the big box mega-stores.)

    • Hi Bev – those massive Black Friday overnight lineups of frenzied shoppers have nothing to do with “supporting small independent businesses”. Realistically, the Big Box stores have little to fear from those of us who celebrate Buy Nothing Day, do they?

      • Well, let me be clearer:

        My belief in supporting small local businesses is strong, to help them hang on against the big box stores. However, If there is a drop in overall sales, as in the “Buy Nothing for Christmas” this will drop in sales for small businesses, too, and of enough of us do, some may go flat out of business.

        In addition, with the same bottom line down, the Big Box stores will cut some staff too, won’t they? And all of these employees of any business are local people who will join the ranks of the unemployed.

        Trust me. I avoid giving my money to the huge chains who are gobbling up small businesses, at least most of the time. I just worry about the overall impact of cutting spending in general. There’s already been plenty of that and we’ve already seen plenty of empty storefronts.

        Also, if enough people do cut back, the stock market will drop, and there will be more talk of a second recession. Those who have enough money cut spending, not because of any belief about shopping, but because they fear how a second recession might affect them, (ie “will I be the next to lose my job?”, will probably spend even less.

        Again: with the effects of decreased spending and the effects on any size business, are bound to be felt all around and at least cause some jobs to be lost. Am I right here?

        There is also the issue of buying power or the lack thereof. So many poor, some for a lifetime and some struggling to learn how to make ends meet or at least to survive. These people, regardless of their values, may not be able to pass up the low prices these giant stores can offer. Are they being unethical?

        And besides – my view of literal clerks losing their jobs is a narrow view. There are truckers, manufacturing plants with their employees in a hierarchy of head honcho down to those who may string beads on a string to make a neckless, and who may need the job more than anyone else due to the meager income: These people will suffer if a store makes cutbacks in reflection of sales.

        Stupid as it reveals me to be when it comes to national economy, until recently, I had no idea how much our buying things made a difference for so many things!

        So what to do? I frankly don’t really know. No easy answer to it, to figure out what is the most ethical.

        But maybe there’s an answer I didn’t think of. I’d love to hear it.

        • Hi Bev – we are on the same page, actually. And in a fairy tale world, those of us who observe Buy Nothing Day or embrace the philosophy of a Buy Nothing or Buy Less or Buy Local Christmas are hardly making a dent in the fact that 20% of us on the planet consume 80% of the world’s goods. Check this U.K. cartoon for a graphic example of why this over-consumption train is unlikely to derail in the near future. But we live in hope that we can start making conscious buying decisions to prevent those boarded up storefronts (which incidentally, I’m betting are NOT Walmart stores….)

          • Thwack! Bev smacks herself upside the head.

            I need to read what’s written and not make assumptions! I’m new here and from the title of your site, I assumed it meant the discussions would only be around ethical questions. Because of that I read your introduction and unconsciously filled in a an ethical question you never asked! That’s why my entire take on this is not what you intended. The topic, as presented, doesn’t contain an ethical question at all. Now that’s not a criticism. After all, it’s your site, and being loose in what you present for discussion allows room for more choices in topics you can select. It took several back and forth responses before I caught onto my error.

            Certainly, most people with money to spare spend far, far too much on things for the sake of buying them. Need has nothing to do with this kind of buying. Or perhaps we buy more for the experience of buying things whether we even want them all that much. What’s worse, since we’re a buy, buy, buy society, those without money to spare, myself included, spend anyway. Spending is a way of life here. And yes, I agree: few will cut back based on your opening comments of our discussion. I think only something very frightening such as a fear of job loss will change behavior.

            My question to this is why? Before anyone can get very many people to change, I think it’s necessary that they have the needs which I think are fulfilled by shopping met in some other way.

            And by the way, I did go shopping yesterday. I had one actual purpose: My daughter hosted Thanksgiving dinner for the first time and someone inadvertently burned a big spot on the (brand new) placemat. I went to buy a bit of fabric to patch it and I did get that. However, right after telling my girlfriend I was kind of tired of my card making and crafts, I bought some pretty little craft rhinestones on sale….. Ah, the joy of shopping and buying!

  3. First:
    I’m in complete agreement with supporting local/small business.

    I’m on a very fixed (read small) income.

    Oh, the unfairness of it!

    What’s the solution?

    • Hi Cave,
      1. Good! 2. Me too! 3. Who said life is fair? 4. Think global, act local, as they say.

      Meanwhile, we witness insanity like shoppers stabbing each other at a New York mall today, and a Los Angeles Walmart shopper incapacitating dozens of rival shoppers with her pepper spray. I can’t control those morons – I can only manage myself and my own consumer spending decisions.

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