This morning I finished Judith Levine's Not Buying It. Levine and her partner Paul decided to go for a year without buying anything beyond food, personal care items, and bare essentials (such as the New York Times). You can read my full review on GoodReads.com, if you're interested. But here are some random points related to the topic of this blog:
- Levine points out the irony of Real Simple magazine: Mike gave me a copy of Real Simple featuring organizing lists for Epiphany...and although I enjoyed reading it and got some ideas out of it, in general it does promote shopping! Although it does promote some positive, simplifying ideas, it also encourages the reader to buy new, expensive, shiny and simple-looking products. The title of the magazine is somewhat deceptive, I agree.
- Because she's not buying books, she becomes a big library patron (as am I). Where we differ is that I live in the beautiful, book-loving city of Portland, Oregon, where we always pass library bonds and fund our libraries adequately. She talks about the distressing state of most of our public libraries, and her difficulty in finding good reference books for such simple things as making silk flowers. I feel very lucky that I do not have to deal with that, and I am a huge believer in library funding!!
- I am dismayed at Levine's refusal to pay more than $0.25 per visit when she goes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The "suggested donation" was $12 at the time of writing the book. She's chagrined at the cashiers' consistent lack of thank yous for her paltry donation. She believes that the Met is so wealthy that it doesn't need her money. This is not because of her year of not buying it, but simply because she is being a skinflint. In fact, she saves $8,000 that year. Couldn't she have given a little of it to the museum? Even $5 or 6?
- Levine goes to visit a man named Richard, who lives far off the grid. He explains why he keeps his small amount of money out of the bank, because it's "more likely than not your money will be financing some venture that is unfair to people, unfriendly to the earth, or both. In a bank or stocks, money gets up to no good. It's filthy lucre." Very good point. In our daily lives, we constantly make compromises, in our purchases and our investments. Levine does, too, when she has to buy clothing for her elderly father who is in stages of advanced dementia. She opts for the inexpensive, sweatshop variety of clothing for him--not only because it is cheap, but also because he wouldn't care what it looked like. Another compromise, as she realizes all too well.
- Again, another reason to be grateful for Portland, Oregon: Levine and her partner save their hazardous wastes and take them to a disposal site and pay $23 to get rid of them. In Portland, our METRO government has regular hazardous waste collection days. As she says, "in America, saving the earth is something of a bourgeois consumer privilege." This is indeed true. The same can be said for eating healthy.
- Levine does cave in a couple of times to buy items of clothing. On one occasion, she describes the appeal of going shopping and buying something fun and flirty. I have to confess that I have experienced that rush as well...usually for me it's finding something delightful at a great bargain. If I pay too much for something, I usually feel guilty about it. Lately, I've been trying to stay out of the stores unless I have a specific purpose, and focus on organizing and offloading instead.
- As partner Paul is preparing to install a "closet system," Levine mulls over the whole concept of household organization, including closet systems. Just think: The Container Store, Hold Everything, Linens and Things, and other storage stores hardly existed 20 years ago, and now they are everywhere. We have more CRAP, and we need more places to store it. That's not even considering the preponderance of self-storage units out there. Apparently Americans spend about $100 million per year on closet systems. (I am not criticizing all closet system purchases, but just marveling at the fact that we spend so much money organizing all of our stuff!!)
(Google Facts: The self-storage industry grew from about 289 million square feet in 1984 to nearly 2.2 billion square feet by the end of 2007, according to the Self Storage Association. The average American home has grown from 1,400 square feet in 1970 to 2,300 square feet today, but the average size of the household has shrunk from 3.1 to 2.5.)
- Levine rants about Bush quite a lot (after all, the year of not buying was 2004, during election season). I was reminded of his great idea to have Americans open private investment accounts for Social Security--remember that grand plan? Where would we all be now if he had been successful? In the toilet even more than we already are. Interesting that Republicans don't talk about that idea any more...further, Levine's observations about American's shopping habits and corporate greed are very timely given today's economic crisis.
I like books like this that make me think about my own habits and lifestyle. I am thinking more carefully about what I am purchasing and how much good I will get out of my purchases. I'm already quite thrifty, but my concern about how many possessions we have (that we don't use much!) is making me think much more carefully about every purchase.