If you are an American, especially an urban one, there are few moments in your day where you are not being encouraged to shop. An endless variety of stores bombard each street, and within each store is a seemingly boundless variety of products, so many, in fact, that at times it is difficult to locate or even remember the product you were looking for. Advertising not only pervades traditional media, but also the subways (the newest practice of the entire interior or even EXTERIOR of a full train being wallpapered with ads from the same company is particularly distressing), buses, and even now taxis, thanks to the insertion of TVs in the backseats. Thanks to the internet, those of us who are lazy or dislike the process of shopping can now buy all the junk we want from the privacy of our own homes, 24 hours a day, and ads pepper almost all popular websites.
Even if you are not an anti-materialist like me, or are of the mind that shopping is positive in that it "stimulates the economy," there are still some real, undeniable problems. For starters, much of what is being sold is made in other countries, often in sweatshops, and the cheaper the commodity the more likely this is true. Additionally, while the stores selling various products are indeed providing jobs, many of the jobs they are creating are low-wage jobs, while some corporate mogul reaps most of the profit. What is particularly distressing is when these huge corporations oust small local businesses, as has happened in spades in New York in the past decade. Much of the country is in debt, and while some of this is due to dire situations in which one's income is less than one's necessary expenses (see "minimum wage jobs" mentioned above, ahem, not to mention predatory lending), some of this debt is due to people overspending on junk they don't need-- not because they are bad, irresponsible people, but because they have been caught in the web cast by the corporate advertisers in which they are endlessly fed the lie that their purpose in life is to buy, buy, buy, and the thing that is bound to make their lives better is more stuff. This psychological assault on the public is, in my opinion, a problem almost as significant as its economic results.
I have been a fairly minimal shopper for a number of years, and mainly buy stuff secondhand, both to save money and also to avoid supporting sweatshop labor. Last December, I became so fed up by the hypermaterialism of the holidays that I decided for the entire month of December I would not buy a single item except food. I also asked people not to buy me any gifts, and if they felt they absolutely wanted to give me a tangible token, to make a charitable donation in my name. I also made a few charitable donations with the money I would have spent had I had to get people presents.
After December was over, I realized that making a blanket decision not to shop was liberating. When I walked down the street, instead of feeling frustrated that there were all these cues to shop, and even more frustrated that so many of the products were unethical, I actually started to not even notice that these stores were there. I decided I would continue the experiment, indefinitely. No more shopping...ever.
See how Jessica's experiment turned out tomorrow!
Jessica Danser Schwarz, a native New Yorker, is a choreographer, dance teacher, and dancer, on the faculty of the Ailey School as well as multiple other dance institutions. She is the Artistic Director of Jessica Danser/dansfolk, a modern dance company committed to bringing socially conscious dance performances to underserved communities. She has received multiple grants and recognitions from the Bronx Council on the Arts for her performances.Aside from communicating with children and adults through the powerful medium of dance, Mrs. Danser Schwarz is deeply interested in food justice, social justice, sustainability, socialism, atheism, veganism, nutrition, and radical politics, whether through research, writing, volunteer work, home experiments, or relentless facebook ranting.