Buy Nothing Day? How About A Year Without Shopping?

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Elizabeth Bastos

Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bastos has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and writes at her blog 19th-Century Lady Naturalist. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos

not buying itInstead of Black Friday the day after Thanksgiving, do you observe Buy Nothing Day? Could you go a year without shopping?  As we head into the wallet-emptying season of mists and mellow fruitfulness that is the holidays, Judith Levine’s 2006  Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping is an oldie but a goodie reminder of what’s important in life: connection, citizenship and duh, not overconsumption. There is no Planet B.

For instance, Do I really need this pumpkin spice cronut? The three duplicate Empire of Cotton v-neck  t-shirts? No. What about status clogs to more deeply participate in the life of the mind that is #cloglife? (Don’t you dare call clogs unnecessary! Let me figure it out for myself that the marketplace is spectacular—at hollowing out our souls.  Spend on experiences not things if you want to be happy.)


What happened to the old fashioned American value of thrift? It’s been a long adieu, Benjamin Franklin.

[See here: The Decline of Thrift in America and Franklin’s Thrift: The History of a Lost American Virtue.]


Levine asks, What constitutes the essentials? The necessities? Surely she does not need fancy cheese or tickets to that thing she loves when she is in New York or SmartWool hiking socks when she is in Vermont. The local library’s free open mike poetry slam will do just fine for her entertainment! Right? Levine struggles at first with boredom, ennui, the fear of that expensive consumer awesomeness and increasing social capital is taking place at a jazz cafe and she’s…not there. She’s keeping her Benjamins in behave mode—FOMO, we would call it now.

What experiences even are worth purchasing?

Without Shopping Who Are We? More Civic-Minded!

Levine determines that the time we spend spending money—cappuccinos in cafes, shopping for fall work-appropriate shirt-dresses—could be better spent in community, in buy nothing days, in the free public spaces that are in desperate need of lovin’ like the library! The public school board! Parks!  Benjamin Franklin says huzzah.

Eyes wide open to possibility of being more civically engaged, and not just engaged by credit card, I clomped in my (old, non-status-y) clogs to the central branch of the Alexandria public library with a carafe of coffee I made at home for pennies to the cup, and said, “This is the money I would have spent on new clogs. Put it into books for all to read.”