Inspired by individuals like philosopher Slavoj Zizek (Examined Life), activists Colin Beavan (No Impact Man) and Kelsey Timmerman (Where Am I Wearing?), and religious thinkers Shane Claiborn (Jesus For President) and Jonathan Merritt (Green Like God), my family and I have decided to do something daring for 2011.
But first a report. In January 2010 my wife and I decided to go an entire year without buying a single article of new, store-bought clothing. Believe it or not, we made it to January 2011 successfully, and very proud of ourselves. Not only did we save a significant amount of money, but we lived a little softer, with more attention paid to how our everyday choices influence not only the environment, but those living in developing countries who produce the goods we consume on a daily basis. If there was one thing this year-long boycott taught me, however, it is that I am unavoidably and perpetually a consumer. I am a consuming being, and there is nothing I can do about it. Food, films, music, literature, books, sex, coffee, oxygen: I will always consume. Going a year without shopping at the mall or at popular department stores online has sharpened my sensitivity towards labor and human rights issues, especially in the garment industry.
As 2010 came to a close, however, we began to think about what our boycott meant, and if it did any good at all, other than make a statement to those few people who new about it. And we decided we felt we couldn’t stop there, at one year, without having wasted the year prior. We started tossing ideas around, and yesterday, we decided for certain.
In 2011 (beginning with the publication of this blog post), my family will extend our boycott of new clothing to include all other merchandise and goods. In 2011, we will buy nothing new, if it is in our power to do so. I imagine there will be a few exceptions (1), such as diapers. I admit that at this point in my life, I am not enough of an activist to use cloth diapers. If I didn’t have kids, I’d be in full support of them, too. But the following (new) items are certainly out of the picture: clothes, furniture, books (2), dvd’s, toys, kitchenware, computers, office supplies, vehicles, bicycles, and gifts. Any item that we can’t live without must be purchased recycled, pre-owned, used, second-hand, refurbished, or restored.
I can’t ever stop being a consumer. Consumption is inevitable. But we can be more aware of what we buy, where we buy, who makes what we buy, and why we buy it. I strongly feel that western consumerism as a lifestyle can be subverted if one would just take the time to reevaluate what one really needs to live a fulfilling life. I think, along with Shane Claiborn, that we can live on the edge of empire, recycling society’s castoffs, restoring what has been rejected. It might make our lives more complicated and less convenient, but in the end I think it is worth it.
So we’re boycotting new things this year. God help us. I’ll keep ya’ll posted on how that goes.
(1) Beyond diapers, toiletries and bathroom tissue are difficult to buy used, and probably a little unsanitary! I’ll also admit that after our long year was over I ordered new undergarment to replace some of my very well-worn ones. But take note: I did so through a company that I know practices fair labor engagements and is concerned about human rights violations, working conditions, fair wages, etc. There are plenty of companies that do so, if one will take the time to research them.
(2) This may end up being another exception. I consistently buy my books used (and I buy a lot of them), through online venues. However, I plan on starting doctoral work in September 2011 and I may be required to purchase a book new enough that no used copies exist. I don’t see this being a problem, though.