I’ve just finished what I called ‘no buy July’. At the start of the month I decided I would go a whole month without buying anyTHING. (I would still spend on services, and of course, on food and drink. But I wanted to see if I could go a whole month without buying things.)
First, the rationale behind my decision: it was not about saving money, but about taking a good hard look at my own consumerism and minimising my own impact on the planet. If you stop to think – as I made myself – about the amount of resources that go into creating, packaging, shipping and selling things, and then question whether you really truly needed all that material, energy and money spent on fulfilling that precise desire… honestly, not many things would pass the ‘do I’ test.
My decision was prompted, in part, by my frequent visits to India in the course of this last year. As any of my migrant friends will appreciate, a visit ‘back home’ is almost always a shopping expedition: all those special treats you really only get out there, the traditional clothes, shoes and accessories in colours and designs you’d be hard pressed to find in London stores (and when you do, they’re certainly not at comparable prices!) By now, the impulse to buy in bulk is an almost automatic one.
But as I made more than a couple of trips back and forth this year, I realised I didn’t really have to stock up quite as much, and I certainly didn’t ‘need’ to go shopping on each trip. More to the point, my decision to exercise sensible restraint was in glaring contrast with the behaviour I witnessed while in India…
As the country has ‘developed’, with globalisation bringing most brands into the domestic market, and the urban middle class enjoying more and more disposable income thanks to salaries starting to reflect international collaborations, consumerism has become quite the phenomenon. So much so, I found myself wondering if people were even conscious of how impulsively (compulsively?) they were buying things!
Every single time I made plans to meet family or friends in India, they would suggest we met at a bar or restaurant – either in a mall, or in the middle of a ‘shopping area’. (Not surprisingly, the food and retail markets seem to coexist, and feed each other.)
Every single time we met, at least one (but usually more) of my drinking/dining companions would be carrying a shopping bag, with something they had just bought.
Every single conversation with friends was therefore inevitably punctuated by exclamations over what had just been bought. Discussions over where similar – or better – items had been bought by the others. Arguments over whether similar – or better – prices, alternatives, other brands had been found.
And no one seemed to stop and think, did I really need to buy that?
Perhaps as an over-reaction to what I saw as absent-minded consumerism, I decided I would impose mindful un-consumerism upon myself.
I was determined to see if I could go a whole month without buying anything, and force myself to think of clever alternatives to buying the things that would only contribute to plunder at one end of their life-cycle, and waste at the other.
Here’s a small sample of the choices I made:
- Cooked my friends a present instead of buying them one.
- When visiting friends, took them flowers from my garden, arranged in a once-used gift bag I had saved. (Yes, I always save wrapping paper… and would probably have wrapped them in recycled paper if I didn’t have an old gift bag at hand!)
- I started baking in glassware and covering dishes with plates instead of taking the easier way out with aluminium foil and cling film. (Even though I was already using recycled foil and biodegradable cling film)
And yes, I didn’t buy any new clothes or personal effects: but then, as someone who doesn’t wear makeup, and never paid much attention to trends, that wasn’t hard for me to do either.
In fact, I ended my no-buy July by wearing a shirt** that I recently realised (thank you, Facebook memories!) I have been wearing since 2005!!!
If this sounds like a challenge you would enjoy too, do check out the wonderful Buy Nothing Project, from whom I borrowed the title photo on this page.
** And yes, I cheerfully wear a decade-old shirt on my own birthday too!