Friday, September 16, 2011

Weekend Reading: Not Buying It

Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine. Simon & Schuster, 2006.

I found this book while wandering in the library stacks and initially thought it would be an interesting read.  Then I started reading it and thought it was a piece of pretentious garbage; then I got over that and realized that I actually liked it quite a bit--so many feelings!  I was initially drawn to this book because I've failed spectacularly in the three No Buy Months I've attempted (always in February), so I was curious to see if someone could actually pull off a whole year.

In addition to talking about her own experiences, Levine actually explores other aspects of consumer culture i.e. the rules of gift-giving, and she does some research.  I have a very well-developed set of prejudices against any books that includes the phrase "A year of" or "My year of" because it's so  gimmicky, and it seems like you can always get something out of an experiment like that if you know you're planning to write a book about it.  That said, I'm always racking my brains to come up with something I could do for a year and then write a book about, so maybe this is all sour grapes.

Either way, this is a real book (if a bit gimmicky) written by a talented writer, and she has convinced me that she has something to say other than just complaining about how she misses her smartwool socks.  Judith and her partner Paul (I can't believe she convinced someone else to go along with this, but it would have been truly awful if 1/2 the couple didn't participate--like every time I've done this), spend a year, New Years Day to New Year's Eve only buying what is absolutely necessary.

The Rules:
No eating out
No prepared foods--including those from the grocery store
No gifts unless those gifts are home-made foodstuffs or re-gifted items

What's allowed:
Only necessities for sustenance, health and business i.e. toilet paper, but no q-tips

Best Takeaways: 

  • In the beginning of the experiment, there was a lot of complaining, a lot of deprivation, but by the end, the author actually says "As our stockpiles of socks and sauces dwindle and the buffer between ourselves and extremity fall, I can see that Paul and I have everything we need.  This makes me feel less, not more afraid... Having less, I feel more financially secure than in decades." (194)  I have to say, that since our household lost most of our food to the pantry moths and tropical storm power outage, I've actually taken pleasure again in coming home and figuring out what I can make to eat with what I have.  I actually found a recipe online that I'm going to make for dinner tomorrow, and was shocked to realize that even though I feel like I have no food, I have everything I need to make it already.
  • "The preference for private over public is based on at least two fallacies.  One is that a dollar circulating through the government's till behaves differently than one moving through Wal-Mart's.  Now, there are differences in how these dollars are spent.  For one, unlike the Wal-Mart cashier, the worker at the Motor Vehicles Bureau is likely to belong to a union and therefore earn a decent salary and get health insurance and a pension.  Anti-tax pundits would lead us to believe that we taxpayers are bankrolling the fat wage and benefits package of the public-sector worker, while Wal-Mart is carrying its own weight.  In fact, by declining to offer its workers insurance or sufficient wages to buy the basics for themselves, Wal-mart shifts the bill to the state.  After all, the cashier gets sick anyway, her children get hungry.  When these things happen, she turns to Medicaid or food stamps, and the rest of us subsidize not just the cashier, but Wal-Mart itself."  
  • "As I noticed on the mountain trails in Bozeman, leisure is a form of work.  Teach a man to fish and he will buy a pair of $400 Simms waders."  That was a bit of a slap in the face after my recent overspending on hobbies woes.  I've been toying with the notion of doing back to back weekend 1/2 marathons--one this Sunday, another the next week.  It's a new challenge, and could be fun.  But what might be just as fun, is not paying another $60 and driving 45 minutes, but just running 13 miles because I can and want to.  Yes, the pressure of competing and paying registration ramps up the excitement, but it also makes me very aware that a lot of people run faster than me, which crushes my spirits a bit.  It's a mixed bag, but I've decided I'm going to save that $65 for next season.
Final verdict: recommended.  It's interesting, a bit preachy in parts, but overall--solid.


  1. !

    I have this out from the library right now, too! One of my coworkers saw it and checked it out for me. I actually borrowed it once before, but never got around to reading it. Something about the author's voice annoyed me right off the bat - but I can see it would be interesting to read. I understand she had to make her own q-tips or something?

  2. I don't remember if she made her own, or just lamented running out of them. Either way, q-tips get some facetime in this book :) Personally, I wouldn't want to be out of them either.