I finished reading Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping today. It was an amusing read (although there was some unnecessary “language” and political idealism), but I was a bit mystified at times, with the decisions she made. (For instance, why didn’t they ever attempt to make bread?)
Their decision not to limit their cleaning and food spending seemed hasty to me. Why not learn how to do without packaged/commercial products in those areas as well? She ranted about the Proctor & Gamble products left by her tenants, but didn’t really explain what she intended to do instead.
Plus, it seemed like her “significant other” (Paul) got more “into” that lifestyle than she did! He actually learned how to fix/make things from scratch (including alcoholic beverages!), while she was just “making do” until the end of the year. She didn’t seem to really attempt to live that way as a lifestyle shift.
Although her mindset changed a bit (evaluating her purchases to some degree), it seemed to remain a self-inflicted experiment, instead of a new way of living. Even though she visited people “living off the grid” to various degrees and attended the “Simply Living” support group, she didn’t seem to internalize it to much of a degree. (She almost seemed to mock the other members of the group!)
Overall, it seemed like she never got to a place of contentment (although maybe Paul did). At times, she seemed “okay” with the situation, but then fell back into the discontentment of wanting the amusement of shopping, expensive entertainment, etc. She seemed to want to maintain her identity through wearing expensive clothes, ski wear, etc. Other people’s opinions really seemed to affect her. She wanted the status symbols of season tickets, brand name glasses, etc.
She reaped the benefits of saving money and paying off her $8000 credit card debt, but didn’t really seem to acknowledge the true personal reasons behind incurring that debt. There’s a possibility she wouldn’t go back to her old ways of shopping, but she didn’t instill much confidence (in me, anyway) that she had truly changed.
She still spent around $3000 that year, in what she called “walking around money” (cash that she withdrew from the ATM, and couldn’t always remember where she spent it!). Some of it likely went to transportation in New York (certainly a justifiable expense!), but they also regularly bought newspapers, etc. from street vendors, citing it a “necessity.” I would have liked to see if they could have lived without the newspapers! At times, she did decide to leave the house without any money, although she insisted on continually window shopping and browsing throughout the year, often coveting items she couldn’t have.
She bought clothes on two separate “impulsive” times, and then ended the year saying, “Next year, we will buy socks, because ours are full of holes.” When she did buy clothes, she didn’t actually buy necessary ones. I also wondered why she never learned how to mend her clothes, when she described how raggedy they were getting.
At the beginning of the book, the question was posed (“So why are we building all this?” [the remodel/addition on their house]), but that didn’t ever seem to be resolved. They continued to maintain their two residences and three cars, and their efforts to expand their home proceeded throughout the year.
They didn’t ever seem to get the point that not only could they stop buying stuff temporarily, they really could just do without much of what they already owned! (Paul had more of an issue with this “packratting.”)
Only once, did she make a gift (the Valentine box for Paul). Handing down a necklace to her niece was a beautiful gesture, too. However, she didn’t mention birthdays, nor did they exchange gifts on Christmas. Paul did the work of baking biscotti as gifts for family/friends. With her, she truly seemed to be at a loss when she couldn’t buy something (ie, “If I can’t buy it, we’ll just go without!”).
In the end, she didn’t seem to acknowledge the dichotomy of her initial premise, and her final attitude. As I understood it, she wanted to prove that it was possible to live without the consumeristic/commercialized obsession that many Americans have. But, she didn’t seem to learn how to actually do that. She lived off of their stockpile, purchased the previous year (mourning the fact that they hadn’t bought more bottles of hoisin sauce!), instead of learning how to actually permanently do without or make her own. (Or support hand-crafted, sustainable producers.)
Then, it seemed to merge into, “Well, since I’m not ‘allowed’ to buy anything, I’ll just spend as little money as possible,” even though she repeatedly insisted that the goal wasn’t about saving money. It wasn’t until the very end of the book that it seemed like she really began personalizing the ethical issues of buying things cheaply (noticing all the “Made in China” labels), which surprised me.
I think it was a great endeavor, and loved reading her sociological research that came along with it. However, I think there really could have been more of a personal benefit for her in that year.