Buy Nothingism

by: Sara on 11/26/2015

In the run-up to Buy Nothing Day 2015, Mark Boyle, the author of Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi argues that we need to think beyond green consumerism towards buy nothingism, and challenges you to a Buy Nothing Month in 2016.

Born out of the intense cognitive dissonance we experience from our addiction to more and our accompanying desire to feel good about our level of impact on the biosphere, green consumerism is a term so oxymoronic it's moronic. Surely the brainchild of Darth Vader or some ambitious marketing graduate (like myself), it's an exceptionally cunning concept. It allows us the pretence of doing something about the converging ecological, social and personal crises we're facing, without posing any challenge whatsoever to the politico-economic power structures which control the cultural narratives that manipulate us into wanting to consume so much in the first place. Properly perceived, the idea that we can collectively buy our way to sustainability becomes no less absurd than trying to shag your way to virginity.


One aspect of Buy Nothing Day's raison d'être is to encourage us to question the idea of buying green as an ethical response to the ravenous culture we find ourselves in. Green is never spoken about in absolute terms, instead always relative to the norm. The norm it is currently relative to, however, is pretty gruesome. Plastic-cased solar mobile phone chargers, made from mined materials and constructed using unquantifiable levels of embodied energy, are considered “green” in this age of total ecological disconnection.

We need to give the Earth, and ourselves, a long overdue break. We're both heavily overworked. The more we consume, the more we need to work to pay for it all. The more we work at jobs that bring us little meaning, the more we feel the need to consume. It's a vicious cycle, and one that ensures we don't have time to do the work that urgently needs to be done, or that which we passionately love to do. We must ignore the calls of politicians, clinging to their delusions of infinite economic growth, who urge us to max out every credit card we can get our hands on. For only a people desperately disconnected from the rest of nature could conceive of an economy without limits, or a healthy economy within an unhealthy planet. We need to stop buying, and we needed to do it yesterday.

Such a course of action, we are told, would be terrible for the rampaging beast known only as The Economy. But here is where the real sleight of hand takes place. Politicians and economists regularly conflate words relating to economy with words relating to finance and money. Economics actually has nothing in particular to do with money; it's about how we meet our needs. The monetary economy is one model out of many. It's a model that seems intent on converting all our intimate human relationships into services to be bought and sold, whilst reducing the splendour and pageantry of life into imperishable units of account. It we can instead meet our needs by utilising the mega-tonnes of stuff we've already produced, along with freeing ourselves from the desire to have bigger, shinier distractions, then why not?

Buying nothing has never been easier. Websites such as Freecycle, Freeconomy, Couchsurfing, Freegle,HelpX, Warm ShowersStreetbank and WWOOF cover the various departments of the gift economy, and have members numbering in the


millions now. There are now thousands of ways you can de-monetise every aspect of your life, to whatever degree works for your unique circumstances. In doing so, not only will you drastically reduce your ecological footprint, but you'll also rediscover your sense of interdependency with the rest of your local community and the land under your feet, for if money has come to replace intimate relationships, that's exactly what you'll rediscover.

Buy Nothing Day wasn't initiated in 1992 to encourage us to stop us buying stuff for just one day a year. That would be fairly pointless, as we could easily make up for it the day before or after. It began to help us drastically reconsider our consumption habits – green or otherwise – on a longer-term basis. So I challenge you to a Buy Nothing Month in 2016.

Pick a month, any month. January would be a perfect opportunity for all sorts of good reasons. Create your own rules. Make them realistic enough to be achievable yet challenging enough to be considered an appropriate response to the ecological and social issues we're confronted with. Some of you may not be prepared to forage from the wilds or the supermarket bins, whilst others will get excited by the adventure of it. A few of you will be up for a completely moneyless month, whilst for others going moneyless in terms of travel or entertainment may be more appropriate. The point of it is to take stock of your consumption habits, and to see what areas of your life you can replace monetary transactions with real relationships. The extent to which you take it is up to you.

The worst that can happen is that you'll save a few quid. The best? You may realise what a little part of you already knows – that there is another way of getting rich than accumulating more material wealth.

Mark Boyle's new book, Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi, is out now. He has lived without money for three years.





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