Tomorrow is Friday, Nov. 25. It’s also the day after American Thanksgiving and that marks the 14 th Anniversary Buy Nothing Day.
The premise of BND is simple – refuse to engage in consumerism for 24 hours. In urban centres around the world this message is reinforced with acts of guerilla theatre and culture jamming. People are invited on street corners to cut up their credit cards, "zombies" infiltrate malls chanting anti-consumer slogans as they lurch along and various pieces of propaganda advocating keeping coins in pockets mysteriously appear in places where people are inclined towards unbridled spending.
The timing of the day, created by anti-consumer activist and Adbusters magazine founder Kalle Lasn, is not coincidental. Traditionally, the day after American Thanksgiving is the day when the most money is pumped into the U.S. economy via the retail sector.
Known as Black Friday, because it’s the day when retailers move out of the red and into the black, this day is used as an indicator of what overall spending trends for the month leading up to Christmas will be. (Economists estimate that between 25 and 40 per cent of sales happen during this period.)
Last year, Black Friday spending topped $22.8 billion with 86 million people taking part in 133 million shopping trips. The average expenditure per person was $265.l5. This year the National Federation of Retailers is projecting that Americans will spend $453 billion on holiday shopping, excluding auto sales.
Excluding auto sales? A Chrysler for Christmas? A Honda for Chanukah? A Kia for Kwanzaa? The mind boggles.
For me, an invitation to "go shopping" holds all the appeal of a group pap smear. I am a goal-oriented shopper. Get in, grab the item, drop the lucre and get out.
This is not to say that I am anti-retail. A number of people I am especially fond of make their living in this sector and do so employing business models I respect. Furthermore, small acts of casual commerce actually make me feel pretty good. A friendly 20-second social exchange while purchasing some of life’s essentials is one of the reasons I enjoy living where I do. It’s nice recognizing, if not exactly knowing, the people that I buy food, toiletries, hardware and various other essentials from.
While other folks I know lament the lack of choice they have in securing consumer durables in a tiny town, frankly I find it liberating. The idea of being confronted with dozens of brands of single items makes me shudder. The last time I was in a Superstore I ended up experiencing a list of symptoms that were consistent with having a full-blown anxiety attack – and that was before I realized I had no idea where the car was parked.
Sport shopping, the act of entire families descending on the local mall for a group outing to exercise their purchasing power, is something that I find incomprehensible. Yet, the act of trying to find a parking space at Park Royal on a weekend afternoon attests to its popularity. (And in the world of sport shopping, Christmas shopping, with it’s timeframe-supported frenzy is clearly the "extreme" version.)
This year we, the Spousal Equivalent and I, have been discussing the importance of reducing our consumption with Number One and Number Two. The effect has been amazing. Both kids, whether using their own money or ours (which I think they believe to be an extension of their own finances), are becoming more aware as consumers, asking themselves questions before deciding to buy something.
They are the types of questions all of us should be asking ourselves every time we reach into our wallets: Do I need it? How much will I use it? How long will it last? Will I be able to maintain it or repair it? Is this the best quality item for the best price? How will I dispose of it when I’m done using it?
It takes practice and commitment to not just buy something on a whim. It takes more commitment to ask the hardest of the consumer questions: Am I just buying this to make myself feel better?
Because of the impact un-checked consumerism will have on my kids and their kids’ lives, this year I am committed to observing Buy Nothing Day and spending a few minutes at the dinner table tomorrow night talking about it. Maybe the theme will be: "Do you own your stuff, or does your stuff own you?" or "Do you remember what happened to that Spiderman playset you couldn’t live without?"
As sure as the concept of recycling went from being a fringe notion embraced only by freaky-ass, long-haired hippies and into the mainstream, the idea of thoughtful consumption will trickle down.
Buy less, live more. It could be the new Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Happy Buy Nothing Day!