Thursday, July 27, 2006

Book Review

I just finished reading Not Buying It by Judith Levine. It's the account of how she, and her partner Paul, decided to live for one year (2003, I think) without buying anything other than necessities. It even made Oprah. Both of them are freelance writers, working out of their home. They have no children. They live half of the year in New York City and half in a small town in New Hampshire. They made the decision after a particularly grueling holiday season where they found themselves wondering what the point was as they scurried to buy perfect gifts, in horrendous weather, for everyone in their circle of friends and family. Hmm. Recognize that feeling?

The first couple of chapters Levine talks about the decision-making process of determining what is a necessity and what is a luxury. Hair cuts make the grade, hair products don't. Bread, rice, vegetables, meat - all in. Cookies, pop, processed foods - nope. No movies. No eating out. No fresh flowers. Coffee only if made at home. Some of their friends admired them, others thought they were fools.

They didn't do it to save money (although they did, quite a bit.) They did it more as a type of social experiment, to try and see how much of who they are was defined by their consumer habits. They learned they are more tied to buying than they expected, but they discovered the expected pay-offs - mainly that not spending money forced them to spend more time being creative in how to entertain themselves, and their relationship flourished.

Now, Levine says she is back to shopping but on a much more "aware" basis - really thinking about what she spends money on and realizing how much she can live without.

So. I was impressed. Impressed enough to try it? I started thinking about what it wold be like and I can't say that I am brave enough - or strong enough - to try and duplicate the experiment, no matter how much sense it makes to me. I want to try and jump to the type of person Levine is now - still a shopper but a more careful and thoughtful consumer - but don't know if it is possible to make that change in habit without going through the time of denial first.

I do find myself thinking, though, as I walk through Target or even the grocery store, "is this a necessity?" And I also think of my friend Carla, who has had so many consumer choices yanked away from her life (or I guess a better way to say it is Carla has been yanked away from the consumer options) by moving to Africa where the definition of what you need is quite different than it is for most suburban American families. So maybe a little of the book has rubbed off on me.

The whole idea of living simply is so appealing to me. You'd never guess it by walking through my house, with piles of STUFF in every room. But I am trying, I really am (even if my husband doesn't believe me.) A close friend died unexpectedly a few years back, and now I find myself thinking I have to sort through - and get rid of - all this stuff so that no one else ever has to. I guess my superstition is that if I take care of it all, I won't have had need to - kind of like carrying an umbrella so it won't rain.

Anyway - I recommend the book. It leads to introspection and - I hope for me, anyway - better shopping habits.


Mark and Carla said...

I hate shopping for Christmas but I don't know if I'd ever be able to go 1 whole year without buying anything...although they did get to set up, at least, what "nothing" actually meant. I'd probably not last a month! Heck, let's be honest, I can barely make a week!

But it's something that has bothered me for a long time, but I can't decide if I'm irritated at the culture that drives this sense of acquiring, or at myself for getting sucked into it. And when I buy things, each thing seems reasonable and's not like I'm getting new cars or boats or expensive clothes. Still, the stuff kept rollin' in.

Over here, though, there is still a sense of "ooh, I'd love that". There are enough places that sell high end furniture or fabrics, etc. that are so great and simply beyond our means. It's still a bit of a struggle--but much less. But I wonder if I'll be a different person in that respect when I return back to the States?

Mark and Carla said...

And I have no idea why I'm now "mark and carla" when I'm only speaking for myself!

shawn said...

I had read some of that in the paper when they reviewed the book, thinking that yes I should read it too.. haven't yet.. those who know me understand that one.. but I also wonder what it would take to just buy what you really need.. to find out what your needs are. I am like you, want to be the end person without going thru all the pain to get there.. instant satifaction.. (gee something new for most people). I will have to read the book for sure now..
And just wondering... is chocolate a "necessity"?

A Peterson Family Member said...

In my life, yes, chocolate WOULD rank as a necessity. No question.

Calandria said...

chocolate is a health food. like carrots.

sounds like an interesting book.