Every year there’s a Buy Nothing Day, during which people, well, buy nothing. This is an annual day of protest against consumerism which started in September 1992 in Canada. In 1993, it was moved to the day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, the North American day of frenzied buying for the holiday season, as it’s known over there. As such, it has a slight flavour of an American import but in this case it’s largely a positive one. However, because Buy Nothing Day moves around with Thanksgiving, I had it fixed in my mind as being on 28th November. Consequently when it came round this year on 23rd November, it took me by surprise, and since I have an elderly diabetic parent to take care of I couldn’t just drop everything to comply. Nevertheless, I am enthusiastic about what I’ve called “No Shop Day” (because I also got the name wrong) and I’m going to talk about that now and I’m going to call it that because what I’m actually doing, or not doing, isn’t the same because it’s on a different day, and that is significant as you’ll see.
No Shop Day is in a sense a continuation of the idea of the Sabbath, so it’s been observed every week in some places since the Bronze Age. It isn’t a new idea. The ideas behind the Sabbath are a little broader than simply not working or engaging in economic transactions, because it’s also a day of rest and a day for religious observance. People have different views on the Sabbath, with some treating it as a chance to be thankful to God and others believing that “το σαββατον δια τον ανθρωπον εγενετο ουχ ο ανθρωπος δια το σαββατον” – “the Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath”, as Christ once said. Whatever else it does, one thing a day without economic activity, or with the minimum economic activity, does is to allow the environment to rest and recuperate, and this recuperation may extend beyond the obvious, particularly when everyone does it at once. In that sense it’s unfortunate that I’m doing this today rather than last week. If you’re not buying or selling stuff, that would traditionally have meant you were less likely to be taking a trip to your workplace or into town to go shopping, meaning that fewer squirrels, cats and pigeons would be killed or injured. On the other hand, that also means less carrion for magpies, crows, flies and other animals. It means less air pollution, extends the life of fossil fuels, reduces wear and tear on vehicles and roads and many other things. On the other hand, it may simply defer all these things, and to some extent I’ve done this. Yesterday I did a bigger shop than usual because I knew I wasn’t going to be buying much today, and I’m not sure that’s really in the spirit of it. Nonetheless it probably means fewer impulse purchases.
A few years ago, there was an article in the Guardian decrying Buy Nothing Day because for many people most days are perforce buy nothing days since they have little or no money, and with current governmental policies that’s increasingly so in this country. However, I note that the person who wrote that article was being paid to do so, and whereas I don’t want to presume, I suspect that this means she was a full-time journalist for a national newspaper living in London, meaning that her own income was in fact quite high. In fact, most of the people I know who observe it have very little money and the disapproval and suggestion that it’s only pursued by middle class people who are out of touch is, ironically, possibly an opinion which is itself bourgeois and poorly-informed by experience. It isn’t a guilt-trip by people with loads of money by any means.
One thing which does bother me a little about it is its apparent non-Keynesianism. Keynesianism is more or less the belief that the best economies are those whose money moves around them quickly. It clearly is a problem that money is sitting at the top of the economy right now and seems to be funnelled up by this allegedly trickle-down system we’re supposed to be living in. This is clearly not about Greenness, but it nevertheless appeals to me quite a bit. A day without shopping is a day where a lot of your money stays where it is, and isn’t going to end up in tills, bank accounts or wage packets. Whereas Keynesianism appeared to break down in the 1970s, Milton Friedman’s approach which replaced it is clearly highly undesirable, and isn’t the same direction as the motives behind the day. One problem with Keynes is that he saw paid work per se as a good thing. For instance, he once said that if money were to be put in bottles and thrown down a mine shaft and people were then employed to bring it back out again, that would be good for the economy. In Green terms that clearly makes little sense because that work is then converting energy to no purpose – it’s divorced from truly productive or useful work where energy use and the consequent increase in entropy is perhaps justifiable. This is of course a major reason for having a no shop day.
I did in fact end up buying one item today, namely a newspaper, because my father has one every day except Sunday. I’m doing what he wants there and I was pessimistic about persuading him to do without today. Likewise, our son has been waiting a long time for a delivery needing import duty paid on it, which I could’ve done today but didn’t on principle. If I had done that, he would’ve been thankful and happy about it. Not all purchases are selfish or materialistic. Likewise, the actual reason for not doing Buy Nothing Day this year is that it would’ve meant starving an elderly Type II diabetic, so I do have some sympathy for the idea that there are good reasons for not doing it.
On several occasions today I found myself almost forgetting what I wasn’t doing. I have a bad habit of buying new clothes, mainly underwear, when I run out of clean clothes rather than doing the washing. In my defence this increases the length of my clothes rotation, meaning that my knickers end up lasting longer. I considered doing this today. Ultimately many of my clothes will end up doing some degree of environmental damage. Since my socialisation and probably also my dyspraxia means I’m not good at darning, sewing or knitting, my version of “make do and mend” is to stick holes in my knickers together with sanitary towels, which are of course disposable, but it does at least mean that I don’t end up throwing as much underwear out. It also means more sanitary towels get bought and discarded than otherwise though.
Rather horrifyingly, the online retailer ASOS estimates that the average garment they sell is only worn thrice. Landfill is also full of clothing with tags still on them – they’ve never been worn. There’s even a trend among young people to buy an outfit for a single social occasion which will never be worn again. Moreover, the phenomenon of fast fashion is pretty disturbing. Although it means that the actual clothing itself is made fairly locally, in my case in the same county because I live in Leicestershire and Leicester’s clothing manufacture industry is very active, the manufacture of the textiles themselves is not local and much cheap clothing, claimed to be loss leaders by the retailers, is a polyester lycra mix. Polyester is wont to shed tiny fibres which are utterly non-biodegradable, find their way into the food chain and ultimately into our own internal environments if we are not veggie. Like many other fibres, it’s made from petroleum, takes twice as much energy to produce than cotton. Every time a polyester garment is washed it sheds up to nineteen hundred fibres, so merely wearing and laundering one is bad news. It’s also basically plastic and can’t be dyed using biological dyes. It’s produced in countries with lax environmental and labour laws. And guess what I’m wearing right now.
This is a guilt trip for me. Having said that, it is both recycled and recyclable. I’ve singled out polyester here but there are plenty of other dodgy fibres. In fact the problem is finding ones which aren’t.
Moving away from the specifics to something more positive, I have found myself with a sense of time to contemplate today which isn’t as true of other days. It’s also led me to use my resources less wastefully – I used up the vegan cheese in the fridge for lunch.
On the whole then, my No Shop Day is working out well.
In closing, I just want to mention one more thing. This blog post was produced using the new WordPress editor and I’m not impressed. It’s quite difficult to do even the most basic things and if I can work out how to turn it off I will. Anyway, this is the reason for the ragged lines all the way through this: I can’t find out how to justify text. Maybe there’s a learning curve though.