Sometimes people feel uncomfortable with society’s attitudes to spending and possessions. One way of responding is by starting or joining an initiative that promotes sharing in and of itself, but when reading arguments for a more collaborative economy, I often feel there’s a suggestion that you can get more of what you want – if you share it sometimes. It could be worth asking whether you are sure you need it at all – like the ’Buy Nothing Day’ initiative.
“Let’s see if we can get #BuyNothingDay trending as opposed to #BlackFriday this year,” says Michael Smith, UK Buy Nothing Day (BND) organiser. “Buy Nothing Day” was first coined twenty years ago by the Canadian anti-consumerist not-for-profit Adbusters; it has a self explanatory concept and a simple message: take a holiday from consumerism. Across the Atlantic, BND counters Black Friday, the day on which retailers cash in on payday rich customers and host mad-dash sales. This year, the UK BND group have also decided to go head to head with Black Friday on 27.11.2015, issuing their Buy Nothing challenge in direct response to the heightened UK presence of the US calendar import.
“Black Friday has been rammed down our throats this week,” says Smith, who set up the UK BND site in 2000. “There is so much temptation out there to max out your credit card, and it puts a lot of pressure on families to compete in the run-up to Christmas. It all becomes ridiculous.”
UK-based Buy Nothing Day activists used to be a familiar street presence on the Saturday immediately after Thanksgiving: one year dressing up as doctors in lab coats and handing out mock DIY ‘prescriptions’ in Covent Garden. These prescriptions carried a tickbox list of actions such as ‘Repair instead of throwing away’ or ‘Un-brand yourself’. Another year, they were comedy East End cops whose activities were shadowed cautiously by actual policemen.
Although the BND organisers adopt a subversive tone on and offline, Smith says that the day is simply an opportunity for everyone to think about the impact of consumerism in our lives.
“We’re saying: are you aware of the things that you buy? If you replace the same item every six months, is that a worthwhile purchase, or is there something wrong with that product?”
In the fifteen years that Smith has been running Buy Nothing Day, the consumer marketplace has significantly changed. The digital arena now presents a greater challenge than the high street.
“With our phones and the internet, it’s so easy now to buy something now,” he says. “In the real world, your wallet becomes lighter when you shop. When people simply have to tap a card reader or tablet to buy something, I’m not sure if people are really aware of their spending.”
At a time when many online campaigns are geared towards measurable outcomes, such as fundraising targets or petitions signups, the BND movement is (appropriately) no-frills about proving engagement.
“We’re just asking people to participate,” says Smith. “Everyone has different opinions about what it means to consume. For some people, taking part in Buy Nothing Day might be as simple as not buying their regular coffee.”
Others use BND as a platform to do something different with their lives: one lady contacted Smith to say that she had decided to try it for a whole year. And there are many other ways to constructively mark the BND holiday, check out Shareable’s list of alternative ‘stay sane’ Black Friday ideas.
All Photo credits: Chris Hsieh