Posts

How to buy nothing on Black Friday

Every Black Friday, I set myself a challenge. To buy nothing. (I also like to do this challenge in the Boxing Day/January sales. I just discovered this year that Amazon has started a thing called ‘Prime’ day, and whilst I never shop at Amazon, if I did buy stuff from Amazon, I’d do this challenge on that day, too.)

When I Googled ‘Prime Day’ for the purposes of writing this, I found the following explanation: ‘an annual deal event exclusively for Prime members, delivering two days of special savings on tons of items.

‘Special savings on tons of items.’

‘Tons of items.’

Shudder.

If you’ve been reading what I write for more than about five minutes you’ll know that I’m not a fan of stuff. Mostly because I’m not a fan of waste, and 99% of everything we buy becomes waste within 6 months of purchase (according to the Story of Stuff, by Annie Leonard).

Stuff uses resources to make, energy to manufacture, fuel to transport and creates carbon emissions at every step of the journey – including the rubbish truck that eventually takes it from the kerb to ‘away’.

That’s not to say that I never buy anything. Of course I do! Some stuff is necessary. Some stuff is not necessary, but we (I?!) buy it anyway.

In my mind, one of the most effective skills to have when it comes to sustainable living, is being able to distinguish between ‘need’ and ‘want’ and resist the constant call of advertising.

And Black Friday is the day (well, one of them!) when I particularly like to test my skills, and resist the siren call of ‘stuff’. Which is the same day that marketers are doing everything in their power to seduce us to buy.

Black Friday, the day after US Thanksgiving, actually has another name – and one that I much prefer. Buy Nothing Day. It’s an international day of protest against consumerism, and it began in Canada in 1992.

And so on this day that is a recognised day of protest against consumerism, and on a day when we are being sold to harder than ever, I pledge to buy nothing.

And if you’d like to join me in buying nothing this Buy Nothing day, I thought I’d help you prepare. Because unless you have a will of steel (and if you do, hats off to you!), you’ll likely find it a little more challenging than you expected.

What Buy Nothing day is and what it isn’t

Buy Nothing day is protesting consumerism, a social and economic order that ‘encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.’

That’s not to say you’re subscribing to the idea of never buying anything ever again. It’s about standing up to the marketers, not filling your house with more stuff that in reality you don’t actually need and it’s strengthening your resolve to resist the urge to buy stuff on a particular day only.

And if you do genuinely need something, all you need to do is wait until Buy Nothing day is over (which is the following day – but I’d encourage you to wait a full 30 days if you can) before searching and making a purchase.

I know you think you’ll get a better deal on Black Friday, but so many retailers extend their sales to the weekend, and then have Cyber Monday offers, and then do pre-Christmas sales, Boxing Day sales, New Year sales, discontinued sales, fire sales…

You get the picture.

If you need something, you will undoubtedly be able to get a great offer another time.

And if you’ve been waiting all year with your eye on a particular product that you need and hoping for it to reach a price that you can finally afford, and Black Friday is that day, then there’s no need to feel bad about making that purchase. This post (and Buy Nothing day) is not about that.

This is about protesting consumerism, and avoiding going to the shops or browsing online to look for stuff you might like and will probably find useful and buying it all in the name of a ‘bargain’. It’s about not buying stuff that it hadn’t even crossed your mind to buy the previous day.

Buying an essential item that you’ve been looking out for and genuinely need and couldn’t afford any other time is not the same thing at all.

Am I committing to buying absolutely nothing on Buy Nothing day?

That of course, is up to you, but I like to buy nothing at all – even groceries – on Buy Nothing day. Going to the store or a shopping centre or even going online is bound to tempt me to buy stuff I didn’t need.

And so I’d suggest making sure the pantry is stocked, the car is filled with petrol, you have postage stamps, you have laundry powder, and there are emergency snacks in the cupboard (or whatever it is that you might need) in the few days before, so there is no need to head to the shops.

If that’s not going to work for you, have a think about what you might need to buy (you might only get the opportunity to grocery shop on Fridays, for example, or you might be waiting for Thursday payday before you top up the tank with petrol) – and stick to that list.

And of course, if there’s a genuine emergency – you need medicine, or your hot water boiler explodes – of course you can buy these things.

Remember, it’s about protesting consumerism.

How to prepare for Buy Nothing day

Every* single brand you’ve ever shown even the slightest bit of interest in is going to have some kind of offer, and they are going to do their best to make sure you see it – TV adverts, billboards, shop windows, radio, social media feeds, email newsletters, sponsored posts, etc.

(*Actually this isn’t entirely true. Forward-thinking brands are recognising the negative impacts that Black Friday has, and are choosing to opt out themselves, by closing their stores on this day, or pledging to plant trees or donate proceeds they do make – such as via their websites – to charities on this day. It’s sometimes called Black(out) Friday, or Green Friday. But for the most part, brands are still on the let’s-sell-people-more-stuff bandwagon.)

The less adverts you see, the less you’ll want to buy stuff. It is amazing how often a ‘great deal’ makes you consider buying something that just wasn’t on your radar before.

How to reduce your exposure to advertisements, starting now (because most brands are advertising already – getting us warmed up and ready to buy):

  • Avoid the shopping centres as much as possible;
  • Unsubscribe from retail mailing lists (I’d recommend doing this forever, but even if you unsubscribe until after Christmas, you’ll save yourself a lot of temptation);
  • Unfollow those companies on social media that just sell, sell, sell… or at the very least, mute them;
  • Install an ad blocker on your computer or phone to stop advertisements following you around as you browse the web – I use AdBlock Plus which is free to download;
  • Make a plan to do something away from screens on Buy Nothing day.

With sponsored ads appearing everywhere (even in email inboxes) the best way to avoid temptation is to be offline.

Make a plan to do something else on Black Friday – a hike, an outdoor picnic with friends or family, or a swim in the ocean. Or you could read a (borrowed) book, spend the day doing crafts, or start (or finish!) a DIY project.

Fill the time you could be spending browsing the internet with something else.

Resisting temptation on Black Friday

But what if I see an amazing deal on something I’ve been wanting forever?

You might do. You probably will do. It’s very hard to buy nothing on Buy Nothing day. I’ve been doing this for years, and whilst I’m pretty good – I’ve practiced – at not buying stuff, last year I was bombarded with emails and advertisements from software companies and website plugins and other tools I use for my business.

I wasn’t expecting it, the deals were great – and of course I was tempted. I spent the day agonising over whether I should make a purchase, before deciding not to. But it was close.

(Because of course, these were the ‘best deals ever offered’ and ‘for one day only’. Scarcity is a tool marketing companies use very effectively to encourage us to buy.)

For me the goal is to avoid purchasing anything no matter how amazing the deal might be. It’s standing up to consumerism, flexing my ‘no-more-stuff’ muscle, and putting my values where my wallet is. There will be other days to buy stuff, if I really need to.

I find it helpful to ask myself: is it a ‘want’ or a ‘need’? What would happen if I didn’t make the purchase at this price on this day?

What would be the worst that would happen if I didn’t buy it? (We have to answer this based on our unique circumstances.)

I hope you’ll join me in taking part in Buy Nothing day this year. In a society where we are encouraged to shop, shop, shop and that more is good and upgrading is even better, where marketers have even hijacked sustainability and zero waste to persuade us we need to buy (their) things to be eco-friendly, it feels really good to opt-out.

To say ‘no thank you, I have enough stuff and your marketing isn’t going to work on me.’

Embrace the best deal of Black Friday and make the biggest saving you can: save 100% of your money when you buy nothing at all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you a regular participant of Buy Nothing day, or is this your first time? Have you taken part in previous years? Did you succeed or did you end up buying something? Any tips for resisting the siren call of the stores? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Gift-giving, sustainability and minimalism at Christmas

In less than two months, Christmas will be upon us. There are aspects to Christmas that I like. I like being able to spend time with family, to eat great food, and to relax. The bit I’m less keen on is the huge consumer-fest that goes with it. The huge amounts of stuff that get bought, the money that gets wasted, the stuff that gets wasted, the frenzy that comes with having to buy this for that person or that for the other person.

I’m not against presents. I love the idea of finding something perfect for someone, putting some thought in to find something that they didn’t know existed, something that they’ll love and use and enjoy. The thing is, at Christmas that generally isn’t what happens. People write lists, or ask for specific things which other people buy for them. Or maybe the gift-giver is worried about choosing the wrong thing, and so gives money instead. For birthdays this is slightly different but at Christmas the reciprocity of it all makes it a farce. You want a jumper, so someone buys you the one you choose. They want a torch, so you buy them the one they want. You both wrap them up and hand them over. You open the present you chose yourself. Assuming the presents cost the same amount, they effectively cancel each other out. You may as well have bought the jumper you wanted in the first place. Only, would you have actually bought it if it hadn’t been necessary to request a gift, or would you have spent the money on something else?

The older you get, the more quickly Christmas seems to come around, and the harder it is to buy things for people as each year they’ve accumulated more and need less. They don’t need anything, so we tend to buy things to replace things they already have – that probably don’t need replacing and haven’t worn out. Or worse – the dreaded novelty gift!

The thing is, my boyfriend and I may feel this way, but not everybody does. For me, quality time with the people I love is far more important than receiving gifts. That’s why I treasure experiences, and why I enjoy the family part of Christmas. But for other people, gifts are important. For children particularly, receiving gifts makes them feel special and loved. For some people that feeling must never go away.

Last Christmas, I made all of the presents that we gave to our family, except one (a vintage trinket pot that I’d bought before I decided to do a homemade Christmas). Basically I baked. For days. I love cooking and I enjoy it, and I figure that everyone loves eating! So I made biscotti, and cakes, and cookies, and biscuits, and spiced nuts, and flavoured sugar… I can’t remember everything, but there was a lot. I also cooked Christmas lunch. For my family in the UK, for whom homemade gifts weren’t possible, I simply didn’t send presents.

But after Christmas, I had doubts. I wondered whether I had assumed that because we like homemade presents so would everybody else. Because we wouldn’t expect presents or mind not getting any, no-one else would either. It didn’t solve the consumerism problem. None of the gifts we’d received were homemade. We also received gifts from my family in the UK – they hadn’t thought of our no-present idea as reciprocal. Everything we received was store-bought, and yes, we received some gifts that we didn’t really need or want. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I’d just rather people saved their money rather than feeling obliged to give us things.

I wondered if our Perth family had judged us for making gifts rather than buying them. I wondered if they thought we’d been cheap. (Not that making homemade gifts is actually cheap – ingredients can cost a fair amount – but they can be perceived as being cheap.) I wondered if the UK family thought we were being stingy, or lazy. I wondered if we were trying to push our values onto our family, and in turn they were trying to push their values back onto us.

We did a great deal of thinking. My boyfriend and I have concluded that we don’t need presents and we are happy for people not to buy us things. If someone thinks of a great appropriate gift then that is one thing, but we don’t need certain amounts spent or certain numbers of gifts on certain days of the year just because that’s what everyone else does. However, other people in our family don’t feel this way. They like to receive presents. And presumably because they like to receive presents, they like to give them too – even when asked not to. We’ve slowly come to understand that if we want them to understand and respect our wishes, we need to understand and respect theirs too. If they want and expect presents, then we need to acknowledge and respect that (whilst keeping to our sustainability/eco/waste-free values) and we can’t try to force our own ideas on them. What works for us might not work for them.

How this works in practice we don’t know yet. I guess we need to find the balance that works for our family, that takes everyone’s desires and wishes into account. Maybe one year we will do a proper family Christmas, and the next year we will take Christmas off. One year we indulge in the gift-giving, and the next year we don’t. Having not tried it yet, I can’t comment about how or whether it will work.

In the spirit of that, my boyfriend and I have decided to take this year off from Christmas. We’ve leaving the country on 7th December and not coming back until 3rd January, which means we will be missing everything. We will not be buying Christmas presents for anybody, including each other, and we are asking our family not to buy gifts for us either. Not before we go away, not for when we get back. No money either. Nothing.

This is the first time we’ve ever requested for our family not to buy us gifts, or give us money. It might be a big deal for them; after all, it’s going against the grain. It is a big deal to us, because it will mean that they respect what we want, and how we choose to live our lives. We hope that they will understand that we’re not buying gifts for them either. By saying that we don’t want gifts but we will be buying them for everyone else just complicates the issue – we don’t want anyone to feel the need to reciprocate. We’ve taken part in consumerist Christmas many many times, so maybe they can try things our way too. Just once. Hopefully in the future we can come up with something that works for everybody.