Live Well, Do Good

Buy Nothing Day

Brandon Sun, November 23, 2006 - David McConkey

What? Spend an entire day buying nothing? The very idea challenges us, shocks us even, especially at this time of year.

Buy Nothing Day was started in 1992 by Adbusters, a magazine published in Vancouver. The Day is now celebrated in dozens of countries.

Buy Nothing Day has become 24 hours of quiet reflection for some, a chance for pranks at shopping centres for others, and a source of discussion for everyone.

The date for Buy Nothing Day was originally the Friday after American Thanksgiving. In the US, this is the start of the Christmas shopping season and one of the biggest retail days of the year. In other countries, some mark Buy Nothing Day on the Saturday, or on another day.

The Adbusters magazine is a glossy critique of our consumer society, with a website at You can check out the magazine at The Marquis Project’s Worldly Goods store on Rosser Avenue. (If you stop in on Buy Nothing Day, though, just leaf through a copy. Don’t buy it!)
Controversy has always dogged Buy Nothing Day. Adbusters prepared a TV ad and offered to buy airtime. But TV networks CBC, CTV, Global, and CHUM in Canada, as well as ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and MTV in the United States, refused to show the ad. (The only network to accept it? CNN.)

The Internet, however, has made TV and other media a little less relevant. Anyone now can view the Buy Nothing Day ad on YouTube and other websites.

As I watched the ad I found myself thinking: The ad is not that controversial. And, notice how commercialized the Net has become.

Don’t we have an obligation to buy more things, to support our community’s businesses and the people who work there? Well, in our free enterprise system, actually we don’t.

Instead, we have the freedom to choose. We are free to shop wherever we want: at local stores, from businesses in other places, on the Internet, or not at all.

Buy Nothing Day challenges us to reflect on our consumer choices. Reflecting can be difficult amidst the commercial hubbub. Adbusters points out that we are bombarded by some 3,000 marketing messages every day.

Buy Nothing Day can be a time to consider the environmental, economic, equitable, and even emotional sustainability of our consumption.

Businesses are offended by the idea of Buy Nothing Day. The Chamber of Commerce in Victoria, British Columbia, for example, criticized the Day as an “unjustified attack on small retailers.”

The Chamber pointed out that many businesses have fewer than 25 employees, are locally owned, and support the local community and charities.
I think the Chamber’s criticism of Buy Nothing Day is misplaced. Much advertising promotes the large multinational corporations. Shoppers taking a day’s breather from the mall could well decide to pay more attention to local small businesses.  

Buy Nothing Day is strategically positioned at the start of the Christmas shopping season. Shopping at Christmas was in the news just recently. Wal-Mart announced it would bring back “Christmas” into its US advertising this year, after removing it last year.

I remember, a generation ago, when Christian churches spoke against the “commercialization” of Christmas. Now churches seem eager to be part of the buying rush. Wal-Mart buckled to criticism and even threats of boycotts from churches if it didn’t have carols and other references to Christmas in its US stores and advertising.

One day to take a break to reflect on these important questions? What a great idea!

* * * 

See also:

Learning to Step Lightly

Reflecting on Consumption

Live Well, Do Good

Tax Time Offers Folks a Chance to Reflect

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