Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Not buying it

I have just finished reading How To Be Free by Idler editor Will Hodgkinson and would heartily recommend this book as food for thought.  While I didn't always agree with his ideas, he certainly puts his opinions forward in an entertaining way and the book is extremely well-researched, covering philosphers and thinkers from Neitszche to de Beauvoir.  One of his central theses is that the consumer treadmill - buy stuff that adverts tells us we need, get into debt, work to pay the debt off - is damaging, that "We desire things, we are attached to things, we believe that things will make us better" but that to find happiness (or, at least, freedom) we should step off the treadmill.

Well, with a credit card debt the size of a small country's GDP and a sneaking feeling that the path to true happiness does not lie in Topshop, I've decided to try an experiment.  Loosely based on Not Buying It, a book about journalist Judith Levine's year-long abstinence from consumerism, I've decided to buy nothing this half term.  Which is to say, I will still be buying food and other essentials (the Guardian, painkillers and wine-type essentials, not my usual idea of an 'essential', which tends to be yet another dress).  But apart from that, nothing.  No books, no clothes, no CDs, no random bits of crap for my house.  Until school breaks up on October 14th I will endeavour to spend as little as possible.

Why?  Well, getting rid of some of that debt will be nice.  I'm interested to know whether I can find different ways to occupy my time, so that weekends don't revolve around a trip into town and my evenings aren't spent shopping on the internet.  And let's face it, I can hardly close my dress wardrobe (yes, I have a whole wardrobe just for dresses) and my books are beginning to spill off the shelves and onto the floor.  I don't actually need anything new.

How many times do we say to ourselves, "I need that cushion/t-shirt/CD," when we already have cushions on the sofa, many unworn t-shirts in the chest of drawers and piles of CDs that are never listened to?  We become convinced that without the item in question, our lives won't quite be complete.  That the pretty dress will make us happy forever and ever, rather than sit lonely and abandoned in the cupboard a few months later.  And of course stores collude in this.  My inbox is constantly clogged with 'Free delivery: ends soon!' or '20% off, shop now!' emails.  I subscribe to Groupon, Vouchercodes and Moneysavingexpert emails, all of which promise bargains if you buy now, without hesitating to consider whether you really need the product or service they're offering.

My 'Not Buying It' rules will be:

1. Food and drink are essentials and as such are allowed.
2. The Guardian counts as an essential but magazines do not (and anyway, most magazines only exist to point out how rubbish your life/house/wardrobe is and make you want to buy new things).
3. Replacing something that has run out (e.g. deodorant, face powder or tin foil) is allowed, stocking up on random things just because they're on special offer is not.
4. Buying birthday presents is allowed.  Not Christmas presents though (I know it's only August, but I start my Christmas shopping in January and carry on throughout the year so it's not as weird as it sounds).

I will be regularly updating on my progress.  I don't think for a minute that this will be easy: I'm a borderline shopaholic and shopping (whether it's for clothes, books, food, whatever) is one of my favourite pasttimes.  But it will certainly be interesting to find out how I manage.  Wish me luck!


  1. I just ordered this book as it sounded interesting :)

  2. It made me want to move to the country and set up a commune!