Sometimes, I read non-fiction. Occasionally, those books are interesting enough that they are worth sharing some thoughts with more people. Here is one such book.
Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine
About eight years ago, the author of this book, a bit overwhelmed by Christmas shopping ballooning out of control, decided to spend a year not buying anything beyond the necessities. This book shares her insights and research into economics and politics. A lot of it is junk–large portions of the book are devoted to her political activism (she, um, would have preferred if G.W. Bush hadn’t been re-elected), something about a cell-phone tower (apparently, people in Vermont don’t need cell phones), and a strange obsession with gift-giving (it took her a long time to realize that origami birds would not be a good gift for her niece’s graduation). Also, I was annoyed that the author didn’t seem to give serious thought to major changes, such as cutting back from two homes (hers in New York for six months, her boyfriend’s in Vermont for six months), which would enable them to cut back from three vehicles to fewer, or other major changes. The goal seemed to be “How can I live the life I’m currently living without buying as much?”
This book did inspire me to ponder some things, though. The most interesting issue to me was trying to divide necessities from wants. Food is a necessity, but dining out at nice restaurants is a want…where’s the line between those two? Fast food? Rice and beans? Fresh vegetables instead of canned? The same concept applies to clothing–something must be worn for modesty and protection from the elements, but most of us spend much more on clothing than would be required.
One interesting idea is what I’ll summarize as the Wal-Mart Effect: If I buy my stuff for the lowest prices possible at Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart’s full-time workers make little enough money that they’re eligible for welfare programs, which are funded by…me, is this really a good plan? There are definitely more aspects to this idea, but it touches on a concept I do frequently ponder–If I save money, what am I saving it from and what am I saving it for?
Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is that it draws out what is important to me. Intentionally deciding what is worth spending money on forces me to ponder what is essentially important to me. In some ways, what is important for me turns out to be quite different from what is important to this author. Reading her journey to buy less helped me understand how a few key values end up playing out in so many decisions in our lives.