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Buy Nothing Day and a Proposition


Shop until you drop (further into debt).

                                                                           shanna trenholm

That joyful season is upon us again; the one that seems to come around every year about this time. The season, where rampant consumerism disguised as a time to show others how we feel about them through a transactional exchange of material goods, otherwise known as Christmas.

Now I’m not going to get all preachy about the real reason for the season, because if I did I’d tell you about the early Roman and Pagan origins of Christmas and how December 25th is no where near the historical Jesus’ birthday (who was likely born in spring or summer), no, I wouldn’t do that. No, this is not an essay to validate or negate anyone’s belief system. Faith of the religious sort is just that, a set of convictions that an individual has about their God, gods, or not-god, as the case may be. Anyway, as I so often do, I digress…

Likely you are familiar with Buy Nothing Day, the campaign that Adbusters , the notorious band of self-proclaimed culture jammers and the magazine that bears the same name, started twenty (yes, twenty!) years ago. For those who are not familiar, perhaps because you have been in a coma for the last two decades, here’s a brief description from their website :

Historically, Buy Nothing Day has been about fasting from hyper consumerism – a break from the cash register and reflecting on how dependent we really are on conspicuous consumption.

While many people get this idea on a conceptual level, most are reluctant to adopt Buy Nothing Day, even for one season. Over the years I have heard many excuses from a variety of individuals as to why they can’t do this, or how it’s not possible, etc. I think the level of excuse-making is indicative of just how deeply embedded is our perceived need to consume and our serious attachment to stuff.

Aside from my feelings about over-consumption of material goods and my affinity for this movement, I do recognize that people are going to continue to shop and drop deeper into debt, often purchasing items out of a sense of obligation, and perpetuating the burgeoning waste stream that finds its way to our landfills. And I am not spotless when it comes to no shopping or gifting during the holidays, but I typically make 80 percent of the gifts I give, or purchase from local merchants. Many of the few gifts I give are small in size and cost; you’ll get no 46” vibrating plasma robot from me!

For the most part, we all have too much stuff. Yes, even your four-year-old nephew does. Your husband, he’ll be fine this year if you don’t give him the latest 348-blade fishing knife. Wherever you stand on the consumer continuum, I have a proposition for you:

Take five minutes out of your busy day and sit quietly. No television, radio, or Internet for distraction. Close your eyes and breathe deeply and fully, noticing how you feel. Meditate for a few minutes on why you give, maybe why you feel compelled to give, and if there is anything you can change in the way you approach this season (or any time you give during the year).

Now, I’d like to ask you to consider a twist to your giving routine: give the gift of your time. Crazy idea, I know, but with so many people in financial crisis, it makes sense to give where it won’t necessarily impact your wallet, but will bring much-needed connection to someone you love (or just like a lot). If you are game to give it a try, even for a few of the people on Santa’s, I mean, your, list, here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Gardening or yard care for an elder friend or family member;
  • Walk a busy friend’s dog;
  • Wash your mother’s car;
  • Bake or cook a meal for a family in need;
  • Tutor a friend’s child;
  • Volunteer to read out-loud to someone with limited sight;
  • Record yourself reading your favorite stories or poems, and give to the word-lover in your life;
  • Ask your friends how they’d like to share time with you.

These are just a few ideas to get you started—most have minimal to no cash outlay and pay huge dividends—for both the giver and the receiver. Now I’d like to hear from you—what ideas do you have to give the gift of time? What will you do this year? Will you honor Buy Nothing Day?

more inspiration here!

11 Comments for this entry

November 23rd, 2011 on 6:36 pm

‘Love this Shanna. And I’m especially appreciative that you’ve articulated ways of giving that go above/beyond money.

And since you asked…as much as I’d rather fade into obscurity…I will honor Buy Nothing Day by actually spending a No Computer Day with my two daughters. They’ll be thrilled. I’ll be anxious. But in the end, the gratitude will be mine.
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    November 23rd, 2011 on 7:07 pm

    Thank you, Ronna, for taking the time to read, consider, and reply. No need for anxiety, you and your daughters will have a lovely time together. The computer will be there, waiting for you, on the following day :)

marth Hopler
November 23rd, 2011 on 7:26 pm

Thanks for the reminder that gifts have to do more with connection then the latest fad. My favorite Christmas gift ever was a pair of hiking boots I got from my dad because he took me rather then just buy them. It was the year he decided to buy our gift with us. I was 13 little did I know it would be the last Christmas he would spend on this earth. It makes it double special……The quilt on my bed was made by hand by my sister this year she need not give me another gift ever…..thanks again.

Dyana Valentine
November 23rd, 2011 on 7:37 pm

this is fantastic–I was truly changed by the doc: What Would Jesus Buy? and had a very specific vision of doing my Woke Up Knowing show on the day after Thanksgiving to set a whole other energetic on the day–one of truth telling and looking in the crevices of what our true treasures are. Thanks, Shanna.

    November 23rd, 2011 on 7:48 pm


    Thank you! Yes, treasures abound if we just wake up and notice. We have so much, most of us, yet we are so empty in the ways of the heart and soul. I’m looking forward to your Friday’s session of Woke Up Knowing, it’s going to be good! Oh, and thanks for the link to the documentary, I had heard of it, but have yet to watch it, I will now!

November 23rd, 2011 on 10:15 pm

Shanna, I love the idea of gifting time instead of material goods. in the end, experiences are what we remember most in life anyway- and those are created by us and others spending oft-coveted (and uber precious) TIME together.

Giving thanks this thanksgiving for my loved ones and (thanks to you) thinking of how I can spend more time making sure they know they’re special to me…

    November 24th, 2011 on 8:01 am

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comments! Enjoy this time, make it yours, don’t get sucked into the hype and you’ll thrive :)

November 24th, 2011 on 4:40 am

Shanna, this was wonderful — especially your look into the “motivations” behind gift-giving. Your suggestion to “unplug” was excellent — when you remove the ads and hype and expectations and really listen to your heart, you have a much clearer picture of what you want to give, and why. Yesterday I surprised my hubby by cleaning out the garage before he got home — he was thrilled. Gift of the Magi. :)
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    November 24th, 2011 on 9:15 am

    Hello, Kim!
    Thanks for reading and commenting. What a wonderful gift to give to you give to your husband (you know I’m all about giving AND purging our spaces of stuff). Have a lovely Thanksgiving and holiday season.

Angel Collins
November 27th, 2011 on 9:36 pm

This is a very inspiring post. i hope everybody has the chance to read this article. This may not only inspire people, it may also lead to their betterment as a person and appreciate every single thing that they have. It is true that money can’t buy happiness, you just have to take time to ponder all the blessedness you receive. Thanks for sharing! :)
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May 16th, 2012 on 9:09 am

Hi there shanna I really enjoyed your informative article on Buy Nothing Day and a Proposition. Thanks for taking the time to publish.
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