Buy Nothing Day

“Buy Nothing Day” is an international day of protest against consumerism observed by social activists and concerned citizens, celebrated annually just after Thanksgiving. Back in 1992, a graphic artist in Vancouver named Ted Dave was frustrated with the rising unaffordability of day-to-day purchases. So he initiated “Buy Nothing Day,” a campaign to send a signal to the economy and the corporate sector that consumers do have power. The idea was to pick one day a year in which people would boycott all merchandise purchases. “Buy Nothing Day” has subsequently been promoted by Adbusters magazine, based in Canada. “Buy Nothing Day” is held the last Saturday in November internationally, and people in over 65 nations around the world participate.

Of course anyone has a right to shop whenever, wherever, and however they want to, but “Buy Nothing Day” is a reminder for people to stop and think about WHY they’re spending. Various gatherings and forms of protest have been used on “Buy Nothing Day” to draw attention to the problem of over-consumption:

  • Credit Card Cut Up – Participants stand outside a shopping mall, store, or other consumer haven with a pair of scissors and a poster that advertises help for people who want to put an end to mounting debt and exorbitant interest rates with one simple cut.
  • Zombie Walk – Participant “zombies” wander around shopping malls with a blank stare, marveling at the comatose expressions on the faces of shoppers. When asked what they are doing, participants tell about “Buy Nothing Day.”
  • Whirl-Mart – Participants silently steer their shopping carts around a store without putting anything in the carts or actually making any purchases.
  • Buy Nothing Hike & Bike – Rather than celebrating consumerism by spending money, participants celebrate nature by spending time outdoors and going on a nice hike or bike ride.

If you’re not into public protests, take the personal challenge: lock up your debit card, credit cards, and cash. See what it feels like to opt out of consumer culture completely, even if only for 24 hours. Some seasoned participants not only abstain from shopping but also keep their lights, televisions, computers and other non-essential appliances turned off, their cars parked, and their phones turned off or unplugged from sunrise to sunset. Like the millions of people who have participated in this consumer fast before you, you may be rewarded with a life-changing epiphany. If this is a difficult challenge for you, you’ll have a feeling of accomplishment. If you have to make a concerted effort to buy nothing for just one day, perhaps you’ll realize the value of watching your spending. The important message to take away from “Buy Nothing Day” is that it’s not just about changing your habits for one day, but rather starting a lasting lifestyle commitment to consuming less. Can you go one whole day without spending anything? Try it!

Can you really buy absolutely nothing for just one day? You might say “Sure!” but can you actually go one whole day without transacting ANY business? Are you totally debt free so that you can go a whole day without accruing interest on your mortgage? Are you off the grid so that you can go a whole day without paying the power company? Do you have any utilities? Water, sewer, etc.? Do you have a cell phone? Internet or Cable TV service? Do you have other debts, such as credit cards that accrue interest? When it comes right down to it, we might find out that we’re more deeply tangled in the net of consumerism than we thought. It seems like a simple enough challenge to try to go one day without spending, but for most people it’s virtually impossible if you consider your monthly bills that accrue on a daily basis.

On the other hand, due to the economy, many of us have been forced into doing without certain services and not buying much of anything for Christmas. I remember when my husband was out of work, it actually felt liberating and so relaxing to not be checking the ads and fighting the crowds at this time of year! Taking a break from shopping and instead spending quality time at home with your family is much more rewarding. There are additional benefits to “Buying Nothing”… At the very least, you’ll save money! But you’ll be saving time as well. You’ll also avoid the aggravation and other hazards of shopping at this time of year (theft, accidents, stress, catching colds, etc.). Finally, not buying anything in the first place means you’ll never have to stand in line to return something!

An alternative movement related to “Buy Nothing Day” is “Occupy Xmas.” While “Buy Nothing Day” advocates buying nothing, “Occupy Xmas” advocates buying from small “mom and pop” businesses, local artists and craftspeople while Christmas shopping, or else giving homemade Christmas presents. The union of these ideologies calls for a season of supporting local economy and family. I know of one family that, beginning on December 1, turns off the television and starts making Christmas decorations and presents. Everything in their home connected with Christmas, and everything they give as gifts, has to be handmade. Their tree, for example, has no electric lights. They use old-fashioned recipes to make cookies, candy, and even Christmas dinner. They say they have a wonderful Christmas and even the kids have fun without the TV or video games.

Rather than CONSUMING, many families have a holiday tradition of GIVING. They donate their time and talents, and/or provide monetary gifts to families in need. Gospel For Asia publishes an annual Christmas Gift Catalog in which donors can contribute toward a wide variety of items to help the poor including mosquito nets, water filters, blankets, sewing machines, weaving looms, bicycles, water wells, tool kits, building supplies, solar-powered lights, radios, and even animals such as chickens, goats, pigs, lambs, and cows. World Vision also publishes an annual Christmas Gift Catalog in which donors can help poor families around the world by choosing a gift to give on behalf of your family or in honor of someone special. Choose from farm animals, clean water, clothing, medicine, and other necessities. Instead of spending $25 on a plastic toy that will soon fall apart, for that same $25 you can give a gift that truly changes a life.

For more food for thought on the subject of consumerism, read an excerpt from the book American Mania: When More is Not Enough

Homemade Gifts from the Heart – Sometimes the best gifts you can give are those from the heart. Remember, it’s not how much you spend that is the measure of your love. Gifts given from the heart are always appreciated more than those from the wallet.

Recycled Christmas – “Sitting around the dinner table out at the farm last Thanksgiving, the subject of what to do about Christmas came up. … Everyone seemed completely unenthusiastic about engaging in another orgy of shopping and crowds and waste.” Read about what this family did!

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