Saturday, October 6, 2007

Not Buying It

I've just finished "Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping" by Judith Levine. Most appropriately, I got it out of the local library.

I think it's a very good book. In addition to her basic premise of buying only essential items for one calendar year, she also researches the ideas around consumption and non-consumption exhaustively and had the effect on me of wanting to write down quotes frequently as I read.

So here are some of the aspects which I found thought-provoking...

She writes about the ideas around those perennial sort of friends of all of us: 'the Joneses'. She observes of herself: "I'm not keeping up with the Joneses who drive the big trucks, but the Joneses who grow organic carrots and drive beaters like ours."

Levine gets involved (for research purposes) in a movement called Voluntary Simplicity. She and her partner attend meetings where a leader guides a small group towards a life of frugal consumption, ecological awareness and personal growth. She notes that the movement has in fact got a lot of appeal to those who have no choice economically but to become more frugal - one third of her group is unemployed against their wishes by the second meeting.

Another quote which I recognised my own illusions in: "Research shows that just about everyone thinks she needs the things she buys and considers almost everything she buys a necessity."

I found much to ponder in her book. I particularly liked the way in which she unravelled the aims and delusions of the non-consumerites as well as pulling apart the way in which US society (and by extension UK and NZ society) defines itself through its consumption.

At a personal level, I feel like I've been considering issues around consumerism for a while but I have some more thinking to do. I could define myself by my consumption and/or what I do not consume, but how to escape these terms in defining my place in our society is a slithery question.

The value of things. Today I went shopping. $8.50 at the video rental shop for two children's DVDs and an overdue fine from the last time. Irritating lack of brain cell service to go with the experience. Spent far too bloody much at the supermarket as per usual. I do the ethical torture game, just because treating shopping as a simple experience is just too sensible. I allow myself about three very ethical shopping choices until I remember that I don't want the bank to repossess our house and pull my head in. Then at the Sallies I bought: two navy blue sensible skirts in very good condition for when I go back to work next year, one curtain in very appealing fabric which will become two skirts for me, a pillowcase in also very appealing retro print fabric (no we don't NEED another pillowcase), and a coffee table sized table cloth in very appealing Irish shamrock print. The salesperson made cheerful and interested conversation with my boy and asked if $5 for the lot sounded reasonable to me. I'm thinking about the value of these things and the monetary values assigned to them and I'm a long way from a lucid explanation.

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