• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.


Buy nothing

Consider these three words: alcoholic, chocoholic, shopaholic.

November 22, 2011

Consider these three words: alcoholic, chocoholic, shopaholic.

An alcoholic is addicted to a substance.  Alcoholism is a substance dependency.  Recovering alcoholics are often advised never to take another drink.

A "chocoholic" is "addicted" to a substance.  Chocoholism is substance desire masquerading as dependency.  To my knowledge, there are no recovering chocoholics.  (But then, the condition is very rarely fatal.)

A "shopoholic" is "addicted" to an activity.  Shopoholism is habitual behavior masquerading as an excuse.  The most common cure for shopoholism seems to be the maxed-out credit card.  Fatality is financial, hopefully not physical.  Of course, as Frau Rendell often points out, the segments of society which do the most to encourage overextending consumer credit also fund the socio-political leaders most prone to castigating overextended consumers for having insufficient retirement savings.  And then they lobby to cut funding for Medicare and Social Security. 

Thus, encouragement to overconsume is something even the encouragers don't, in the final analysis, believe in.  It may not really be an addiction, but it is pathological.  And the people who encourage us to indulge in it are not our friends.  Not really.

Unlike substance addictions -- real or supposed -- activity "addictions" are never satisfied.  You can buy a bottle of alcohol and get yourself drunk for several hours.  You can buy a big box of chocolates and satisfy your craving for several days.  But as soon as you make it home from the store, you're not shopping any more.  Your peak high is quickly followed by a resounding thud.  Maybe it really is an addiction.

Either way, shopoholism is one root cause of the sort of consumption-flowing-directly-to-waste that I commented on yesterday.  It's both a facilitator and an indicator of the unsustainability of our current socio-economic patterns.  It needs to stop, but none of the players in the tight loop of production/consumption/disposal/debt have enough short-term motivation to stop it.

Think of it as a learning opportunity in search of a teachable moment.  Then think of this Friday as just such a moment.  Friday is the twentieth annual Buy Nothing Day.  And, with some retailers now starting their Black Friday sales events as early as 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, we've never needed it more. 

One day of reduced consumer spending -- particularly when that reduction is only at the margins -- isn't going to save us, but it's a start.  If it's not a necessity, don't buy it.  If it's going to to almost directly into the trash, don't buy it.  If the person you're buying for wouldn't buy it for themselves  (not couldn't, wouldn't), don't buy it.  If we can keep that behavior up through the holiday season, our chance of a successful, sustainable recovery will be markedly increased.

First things first.  One day at a time.  It's been eighteen days since my last shopping trip.


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