Like the rest of the world, I’m more than aware of Black Friday. It’s impossible to escape the barrage of texts, emails and ads promoting the red sale signs and supposedly huge price slashes. So it’s embarrassing to admit that Buy Nothing Day – a protest against consumerism to raise awareness of the environmental, social and political damage caused by overconsumption, celebrated on the same day – is a new concept for me.
Since the early 1990s, Buy Nothing Day has grown into an international event held worldwide in more the 50 countries. The idea is simple. Don’t shop for 24 hours. While many choose to watch movies and hang out in their PJs, some unleash their inner performance artiste and sit in shopping mall fitting rooms dressed like a Halloween-esque corpse. Still, both extremes produce the same outcome; nobody spends a single dollar – or dirham.
Usually every year, even if I have promised to be more fiscally-aware ahead of Christmas, Black Friday has always nudged me off course, leading me to unnecessarily spend, spend, spend. I buy things for the sake of it just because they’re (allegedly) cheaper. And I feel a bit sick afterwards.
For me Black Friday has become a day I’m desperate to avoid as it is swamped in chaos and greed. Did you know that more people have been killed in door-busting Black Friday stampedes than by shark attacks in the U.S? How disgusting is our need for stuff? Items that once they’ve been unboxed and used once or twice will lose their shiny new appeal and eventually be dumped, destined for landfill.
Buy Nothing Day
In short, we need to consume less. Recycling is good. Reducing is better. There are serious issues linked to shopping. Rich western countries make up only 20 per cent of the world population, and yet they are consuming over 80 per cent of the earth’s natural resources.
This is causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage and unfair distribution of wealth. Of course, it’s unrealistic for me to protest, ‘I’ll never buy anything ever again!’ But I can question the products and challenge the companies who produce them. To make a change for good, we need simple solutions and small steps for a better, more sustainable future.
So I vowed that as Buy Nothing Day approached this year, I wanted it to strongly overshadow Black Friday. Last week, for seven consecutive days, I kept a diary of my spending, with the intention of going an entire week without consuming. Was it possible? You’re about to find out…
Here we go – my first Buy Nothing Day and my challenge started with a bang. Well, a text. From the bank. A payment I’d made via telephone banking was being routinely investigated and I had to go into a branch to show ID. Apparently there is a rise in scams at this time of year so the banks have to be extra cautious. Since it was a Sunday – and I was away for the weekend visiting my parents – going to a branch was impossible. So my debit card was frozen. Contactless was a no-go.
Whereas I’d usually stop at the services to grab snacks during the five-hour drive home, I raided my mum’s fridge. I made the kids some sandwiches, found a couple of chocolate bars. Sure, we still stopped to spend a penny on the way home – but for comfort, not consumerism!
By 10am my bank account was fully active again. But I’m not supposed to buy anything, am I? Well, I do have two small children. Grocery shopping is a necessity. They do have to eat. However, aware that I was muddling through a challenge, I found it refreshingly easy to get what we needed, not what I fancied or dithered over.
Last week, I’d picked up some new Christmas decorations (all fully reusable, I might add) and more chocolate than necessary. A few weeks ago, I bought my groceries and an air fryer because it was on offer! Today, I got the bare essentials, period, and saved myself a chunk of time.
Back home one of my children announced they needed a costume for school and rather than buy anything ready-made, like usual, I got creative with scissors, needle and thread. I found an old red apron and used my extremely basic sewing skills to attach handmade flames onto last year’s Halloween Grim Reaper costume, transforming it into a devil. Not bad and it cost nothing.
It’s the little things we just don’t realise. After dropping off my kids at school, a couple of parents got coffee. Usually, I’d buy one for myself too but I decided to wait until I got home. I mean, it wasn’t hard. I have a coffee machine. How silly it suddenly seemed to buy that extra coffee – although I do like to support local businesses and it is Fair Trade – and it made me wonder if I was just following the herd.
I did mess up later though. During my son’s swimming lesson, I bought myself a tea from the leisure centre kiosk. I was thirsty and it was there. As I sipped, I felt a sense of unease. It wouldn’t be difficult to just take a flask of tea with me next time, would it?
I did it! I got through the entire day without buying a single thing. To be fair, I was sat at my desk working for the majority of the day so the degree of temptation was low. And I had to endure mini tantrums from the kids when I refused to buy them a carton of juice after school, but if it hadn’t have been over juice, it would have been over something else. Like socks feeling weird in their shoes. Or the zipper on their jacket not working. Or fresh air. Kids, eh?
Once again, I achieved my goal. As in, I did not buy anything for myself. I did, however, order a Christmas tree online – and stop, before you shake your head in despair and curse me for failure, it was a fundraising initiative. For every tree bought, a percentage of the cost gets donated to the local primary school that my children attend, and the deadline folks, was today.
Plus, it’s a real tree from a local supplier, so it won’t require the intensive carbon emissions that it takes to produce and ship artificial trees. And because of the material they are made of, most artificial trees are not recyclable and end up in local landfills.
Buying real trees helps keep tree farms going —and in turn keep their lands covered in the healthy forest habitat that wildlife depends on to survive. They’re also recyclable.
It’s my friend’s birthday, so I will be going out this evening to celebrate and that will mean buying some drink and food, because what’s the alternative? Not go? Show up and not take part? That will ruin her birthday party so I choose to ruin one of my Buy Nothing Days instead.
So today required a little more creativity to make up for the necessary spending. Instead of buying a birthday card, I made one. Honestly, I have always enjoyed making cards, but the juggle of life admin and parenting has left me with little time to keep up this beloved hobby. This week’s challenge forced me to make time and what a mindful, relaxing task it was. I hope she likes it.
Often, we will go out for lunch at the weekend. But today, I made use of whatever food and leftovers were still in the fridge from the weekly grocery shop I did on Monday. This is a habit I must stick to long after Buy Nothing Day is over.
We mindlessly say, ‘I haven’t got anything in’ when, in truth, there’s plenty of food in the cupboards, waiting to be cooked. My family enjoyed a delicious pasta lunch, finished off with some ice cream that had been sitting in the freezer since July.
So what take aways did I learn from Buy Nothing Day? Seasons change, special occasions occur, and there are plenty of reasons – and companies – urging you to splurge. But it’s worth having an internal dialogue with yourself. Just because my husband’s birthday is coming up, do I need to hop online and order a banner, balloons (absolute no no by the way) and that gimmick gift to make him laugh (or cringe) for a few seconds before he hides it away in his bottom drawer for years until I decide to donate to the local charity shop or school fete?
When my favourite sweater bobbles or shrinks in the wash, can I find a replacement on Vinted? And can I pass by a cafe (particularly if it’s a multimillion dollar corporation) and make myself a coffee when I get home? I hope that this week has at least shifted my mindset, giving me a much more sustainable outlook on what I spend and why I spend it.
When it comes to buying bigger items, maybe I’ll stop, breathe and ask myself: Do I really need this? What impact will this have on my life, compared to the impact on the planet?
It’s your choice whether or not to participate in Black Friday today or next year. Just try and use this day to save on items that you need. Make a list and stick to it. Or, maybe you’ll celebrate Buy Nothing Day. Remember, it’s just an escape from consumerism for a day and all you have to do is, well, nothing.