26th November was ‘Buy Nothing Day’ (www.buynothingday.co.uk): a 24-hour anti-materialist national call to see if you can go a whole day without consuming anything. “That seems like the sort of thing a left winger should take part in,” I thought. And so, to reaffirm my identity, I took up the challenge…
I had to wake up early to go to work: so I downed an espresso (that had cost me £3.99 for the packet) and jumped in the shower (using a squirt of Lynx shower gel). I then put on a pair of O’Neil cords and a Debenhams shirt and I was on my way.
In the car heading through town I passed shop fronts opening up for the day with their adverts in the windows showing their latest offers: “2 for 1? BOGOF!” I thought. Driving past I then saw ‘For Sale’ and ‘To Let’ signs on various buildings and then a few billboards on the side of buses and the side of the road: “Nice try, capitalism!” I grinned to myself.
But then disaster, on the way home from work the fuel light came on – I had finally used up the £60 of petrol I had put in the car at the beginning of term – but refilling would have to wait till tomorrow!
I get home and switch on the TV while I’m eating my lunch. It’s ‘The Simpsons’ and every 10mins of episode is accompanied by a 5min advert break. Cars telling me I could be faster, perfumes telling me I could be sexier, supermarkets telling me they could improve Christmas – all were forcing me to consume their images and I feel like the guy from ‘Clockwork Orange’.
Enough of that, I thought, and I headed to campus to watch the rugby wearing my England Rugby shirt with the Nike swoosh in the middle. I get there and all over the pitch I see sponsors, advert breaks, logos… And that’s when I slipped up. Before I know it, in almost an automatic reaction, I’ve bought myself a beer and its not until I’m halfway down the bottle that I realise my error!
I was upset. But nevermind, I’m going to a house party later, that’ll cheer me up. So I took the last three beers in the fridge and walked straight past Co-Op – with its bright green logo and wide window display – without picking up anymore drink just to prove to myself that I could do it…
But I couldn’t help wondering: although I had gone the whole day without buying anything (excluding the single beer!), was it ever really possible to go a day without consuming? I mean, all the stuff I had physically consumed I had already paid for and would have to replenish in the future (like the fuel). And I also didn’t really have a choice in consuming the materialist ideology that came through the television or from the widespread splurge of adverts that seem inescapable.
Perhaps there is no non-consumerist space anymore.
Perhaps a true consumer detox is impossible.