Last year, I went on a buying fast for Lent. It almost killed me. I didn’t think it would be a big deal, but it was. I am a consuming machine. I didn’t need to take classes to learn how to consume—I’ve been schooled in consumerism since I started breathing. I’m exposed to images that encourage me to buy more than five thousand times a day, on average.
That’s a lot of unintentional learning. And it leaves a terrible mark—an insatiable need for more, even when I don’t need more. Our society is marked by this insatiable hunger for more stuff—a hunger fed by an extreme commercial conspiracy. I recommend the short video The Story of Stuff to learn more about the absurdity of the situation.
Of course, it’s not true. The last thing we need is more stuff. One of the latest consumer trends is a best-selling book about how to get rid of stuff you don’t need. I’m serious.
This discontent is an epidemic that eats away at us on the inside, but it’s also making a massive mess outside of us. The consuming machine moves from consuming us to consuming the world. The inevitable outcome of this consumption is slavery. We get so used to buying things that buying people becomes normal.
There are an estimated 29 million slaves around the world. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. You can find out how many people you use every day just by living in our commercially soaked world here.
Buy Nothing Day is an international day of protest against consumerism. In North America, it’s held on the Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States (also known as Black Friday). The purpose is to awaken us to the consequences of unchecked consumerism for us and for the world. It is meant to be an alarming and disrupting campaign. If you check it out online, you’ll find it to be cheeky and a bit harsh. It needs to be that way, because that’s how waking up feels.
It’s not a long-term solution to anything in and of itself. But it could lead you to change your habits. It could encourage you to ask more questions about what you buy and why. It could awaken you to the reality of the deep emptiness inside you that simply can’t be filled with more stuff.
Why not try it? What would prevent you from participating in an exercise of self-restraint that could, if we all did it at once, sound a cry—one that might echo the cry of a mother whose child is growing up to be another worker in a sweatshop, paying a debt that never stops accumulating? Buy Nothing Day is a great place to begin the journey into justice.
Major Danielle Strickland is the territorial social justice secretary in the U.S.A. Western Territory.