"Not Buying It?" I’ll buy that

So I was reading Judith Levine’s book Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping. What a crazy concept! Stop buying things you don’t need.

As my daughter has gotten older, her tastes have changed. No longer is she content with shopping at discount stores. She gravitates to places like Abercrombie, Delia’s, American Eagle (not even sue I’m getting the names of these places right). Although she still looks for bargains and is very proud to show off how much she saved.

I blame her friends. Moreover, I blame their parents. “Just say no” should apply to more than just dealing with drug issues. It should also apply to making kids (and adults) learn they can’t always get what they want. Many of her friends are rewarded for good grades. My daughter routinely brings home high marks. She also gets an allowance, gets paid for helping her mother with office work, and supplements with babysitting. She saves up for many things she wants (although we do give her a “clothing allowance”) She had a bat mitzva last summer — probably too pricey, but what the hey, she’s our only child — and paid for a couple of high-ticket items (a laptop and video camera) out of her gifts.

Now she wants the latest gaming console. This after purchasing several former “latest gaming consoles.” Like many kids, she plays with it for a while, a few months perhaps, then it gets boring. I’m sure she’s not unique in that. I try to explain that to her, but of course, I’m ust a kill-joy parent, what do I know?

Aside from the financial aspect, there’s the prospect of sitting in front of one screen or another — computer, cell phone, video game — at the expense of being out with friends. Even though she’s a very social person, I worry from time to time and would rather see her out of the house than tethered to electronics.

Am I Scrooge or a grinch? Perhaps.

Anyway, Levine’s book got me to thinking about my own philosophies. As I get older — and more morbid — I start thinking about all the junk I’ve accumulated over my lifetime, a lot of which I still seem to have. I no longer posses high school papers (although I did recently through away a couple of middle school report cards) or many other items associated with my youth. It’s gotten so frantic that I even started tossing photographs. You know the kind I mean — those out of focus shots that sit in the envelope with all the rest of the pictures from that vacation to somewhere average.

So with all this in mind, I thought I would try to follow Levine’s example — for a month. February. The shortest month.

Yesterday I was in the mood for some wasabi-soy almonds someone had brought to the office the day before. On my way to work, I pulled into the Pathmark parking lot to pick up a can. What are we walking here, $3? But I remembered my plan and pulled right back onto the road.

Not only did I save the money, but I saved the calories, which is important since I’m trying to lose the weight.
So I put off such an impulsive purchase, at least until marketing day.

Such a pledge to postpone includes not only snacky footdstuffs, but other things that are pretty unnecessary, like books, magazines (unless work oriented), lunches out, fast food, trips to Staples, etc. And this isn’t even a trip to find best buys, buy-one-get-one-free deals. It’s a test of not consuming.

So how do you determine what is necessary? Is a Valentine’s Gift “necessary?” No. But neither is a night sleeping on the sofa if I were to try to explain my newfound epiphany to the missus.

Which leads to a further examination of the concept of “necessary.” For some, say Buddhist monks, nothing is really necessary save a few grains of food. Others would say without the “unnessecities,” what fun would life be? Who’s right? Levine’s thesis — that all these extras are a drain on resources — is well-meaning, especially in this time of environmental crisis. But how far will that take you in a society accustomed to having the best?

So join me on my adventure (?) to see how long a normal, everyday person can go without choosing unwisely.


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