Buy Nothing Day

by Katy on November 8, 2009 · 26 comments

buy nothing dayIt may seem a little early to start talking about Buy Nothing Day, but the heft of today’s ad-laden Sunday newspaper says otherwise.

For those not in the know, Buy Nothing Day is a 20-year-old program put on by AdBusters, asking that participants buy nothing the day after Thanksgiving, (the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season.)

The AdBusters website describes this year’s shopping protest as such:

This year we’re calling for a wildcat general strike. On November 27/28 we’re asking tens of millions of people around the world to bring the capitalist consumption machine to a grinding – if only momentary – halt. We want you to shut off your lights, your televisions and other nonessential appliances. We want you to park your car, turn off your phones and log off your computer for the day. We’re calling for a Ramadan-like fast. From sunrise to sunset, we abstain en masse. Not only from shopping but from all the temptations of our five-planet lifestyles.

Instead we’ll feed our spirits and minds with a feast of subversive activities: pranks, shenanigans, credit card cut-ups, bicycle swarms, mall invasions and all manner of culture jams and creative détournements … and some of us will take things even further with sit-ins, demonstrations, passive resistance and acts of nonviolent defiance, anarchy and civil disobedience. If we can create a big enough ruckus on November 27/28, then we may be able to catalyze what the Situationists tried to set in motion half a century ago: a chain reaction of refusal against consumer capitalism … a sudden, unexpected moment of truth … the first ever global revolution.

Okay . . . that seems to be taking things beyond the extreme. I’m a strong believer in catching more flies with honey than vinegar — and that sure sounds like a big ol’ vinegar smoothie.

The people who work in retail are not our mortal enemy. These are people lucky to have a job in an economy that is seeing a national 10.2% unemployment rate. (Much higher in some areas.)

I cannot support acts of “anarchy and civil disobedience” in the name of non-consumerism. As I explain to my children, if you act in a totally inappropriate manner, no one will listen to your side of things. Even if you’re in the right.

Instead, I suggest a less extreme route and:

Simply choose to not shop.

Or, choose to shop in a manner that’s consistent with your values. Support your locally owned businesses, buy from a craftsperson, find that perfect gift in a non-profit thrift store.

I will not be participating in any AdBuster activities, and I can most likely be found the day after Thanksgiving up on Mount Hood with my kids. Enjoying home cooked meals with my family and going on some snowy hikes.

Will you be participating in Buy Nothing Day? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”


{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Leah November 8, 2009 at 10:28 pm

The thing about Buy Nothing Day (like the Buy No Gas day) is that it’s all too easy to avoid shopping that day and buy whatever is needed or wanted later. The sentiment is fine, but it’s useless if you’re not consistently practicing responsible consumerism. You are totally right when you mention holiday shopping alternatives. There are LOTS of ways to gift responsibly and inexpensively, and still give something meaningful and enjoyed.


Elizabeth B November 9, 2009 at 12:23 am

I think Leah has it exactly right. Furthermore, the “anarchy and civil disobedience” tack seems pretty much guaranteed to tick off more people than it gets to think about nonconsumerism.

AdBusters has its place, but I think this particular plan is, to put it mildly, stupid.


Jenn H November 9, 2009 at 6:00 am

I think this is actually a good idea even if it sounds a little extreme. I realized last week that there are still a lot of people in need of a serious wake up call in this country &, I would assume, in much of the Western world. I read a lot of blogs like this one (though this one is my fave, Katy!) & hang out w/ a lot of like minded people. It is easy to start thinking everyone is thinking about doing things in a green, non-consumer way & starting to care. Then I sit in a meeting & listen a whole group of people talk about how they keep their thermostat on 77 degrees all winter so they can walk around in shorts & a t-shirt in January. They mocked me & the other only sane person in the group talking about moderation. Their attitude was “I can afford to do this, so it is therefore my right”. It is important that everyone, not just those us reading this blog, realize that the “American idea” of consumption is unsustainable & the behaviors need to be changed. There are some people still glibly living their lives w/ little thought or regard to their actions. These jokers could use a sit in! Not the retail workers mind you, just the shoppers.


Jinger November 9, 2009 at 6:04 am

My 21 year old depends at her retail job to meet her expenses and pay her bills…like you said, Katy, she feels very fortunate to be able to hang on to her job right now.

This year I have been making my gifts or shopping at local merchants only….putting my dollars back into my community.


Laura November 9, 2009 at 7:10 am

Good Morning, Katy.

I’m with you. The AdBusters campaign sounds a bit too radical for me.
Friday is my normal grocery-shopping day, so I will be out doing my regular thing, but not getting caught up in the Black Friday chaos.

Maybe I’m simple-minded, but if people want to go out and shop for gifts that day, I don’t see how that affects folks who choose NOT to…? I mean, if you don’t want to go to the mall, what’s the point of spending your day there for a sit-in or hoping to “create a big enough ruckus” ?? (And how does one determine whether a ruckus is big enough?!)

Personally, I plan to spend the day after Thanksgiving curled up on the couch with my kids, listening to holiday music, watching Christmas specials and eating turkey sandwiches. After I get the weekly shopping done, that is.


Kate November 9, 2009 at 7:19 am

We do not participate in Black Friday shopping. I just don’t like crowds and don’t think any bargains are worth what people go through to score deals that day. We also are not big consumers and don’t buy a lot of Christmas gifts. I don’t think the radical methods advocated are going to accomplish anything positive.


HeatherS November 9, 2009 at 7:23 am

I have only shopped twice on the day after Thanksgiving and it was just to a home improvement store for a really good price on a toaster oven as mine had died a few weeks before and I couldn’t find a good used one and last year for a great sale day at Goodwill. I really don’t understand others making it seem almost criminal. While I don’t want to be involved in the general craziness and hype and would rather spend the day at home, I don’t begrudge anyone else who might want to go.

I have also worked many retail jobs in an effort to pay the bills and the shoppers alone make it hard enough to do a good job and remain polite, I would hate to see the non-shoppers add to it with “pranks, shenanigans, civil disobedience” etc. whatever that is supposed to mean.


magdalenaperks November 9, 2009 at 7:36 am

It’s not that I don’t enjoy a little civil disobedience and mayhem…bt ya gotta get to the mall to cause yur ruckus, and who can walk to a mall these days? I never shop these big sale days, and make Christmas gifts, so I guess I’m past the college age antics anyway.


AJ in AZ November 9, 2009 at 8:15 am

I have not shopped on the day after Thanksgiving for many years because of the crowds, and won’t even be thrift store shopping that day for that very reason. I do have to work in the ER , so will just curl up at home before/after work and wish the whole crazy holiday season would just go away. I do not buy Christmas presents, and barely even make them anymore. I just don’t feel like I want to encourage the whole forced gift-giving thing at all. I give my friends and family gifts when I feel like it throughout the year and refuse to bow to pressure for giving gifts on this one supposedly religious holiday.


WilliamB November 9, 2009 at 8:51 am

I’m with Kate. I dislike shopping and loathe shopping in crowds. I don’t buy many gifts either; my friends have gotten used to the idea that I give them random gifts when I see something that’s perfect for them and that I don’t expect anything for Commercial Christmas, birthdays, etc.

For family I’m always on the look-out and buy when I see it. So the only persons I’m buying for during the holiday season are my sibs’ kids, who grow too much during the year to buy in advance.


Judy November 9, 2009 at 8:55 am

I agree Ad-Busters is a little extreme. We should practice responsible consumerism every day.

Personally I don’t do the traditional “Black Friday” shopping. I don’t like the crowds. I do go to our local Goodwill because they have specials starting at 8AM and I have gotten some good deals in previous years.


Cate November 9, 2009 at 9:01 am

Yes and no. We won’t be going shopping (who wants to brave those crowds?? Anyway, we try to finish up our holiday shopping before Thanksgiving), but we WILL be getting our Christmas tree and spending the rest of the day/evening at home, listening to Christmas music, drinking hot chocolate, and trimming the tree. It’s one of the best days of the year for us!

I’m with Leah–we should be practicing responsible consumerism year-round, not just boycotting shopping on Black Friday.


Kristen@The Frugal Girl November 9, 2009 at 12:53 pm

I’m totally in agreement with you, Katy, that the sort of disruption the AdBusters people are advocating is not going to be at all effective. It will just irritate the crap out of people, and won’t be at all winsome.


Lisa November 9, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Hi Katy! No Black Friday shopping for me! I can still recall my husband and I working the night shift at walmart years ago. The poor fellow that was in charge of opening the doors had to unlock then quickly step behind the door to keep from being trampled. I’ve seen people jump onto moving pallet jacks, tearing at the plastic binding that secured computers and other big ticket items. It was horrible to watch. Nearly every year reports of fights and injuries are featured on the news. It’s a sad comment on the American society that “things” have gained a place of such importance and that loving kindness for our fellow beings have fallen by the wayside.


Laura November 9, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Meh. I think there’s going to be enough mayhem, chaos, obstruction, difficulty, culture jams, etc on Black Friday at malls and such, without anti-Black-Fridayers there to cause any. Which is why I don’t go.

I’ll be spending time with my visiting family all that week. If they are interested, we might go down to the village main street and shop at some of the local stores — there’s this lovely small yarn shop….

But that’s it.


Maniacal Mommy November 9, 2009 at 8:12 pm

I won’t be shutting off my lights for Black Friday. However, “Spend Nothing” day is easy for me to do. I go many days spending nothing.

There is no way after a day of cooking and cleaning up after a huge meal that I am going to wake up before dawn to fight hordes of people to buy marked down crap people don’t really want or need.

I once was foolish enough to think that when I left my 10 PM- 6 AM job that I would “pop” into a certain big box store and get a $10 crock pot. Ha! The parking lot was full, and I drove on.


Carolee November 9, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Well, I’m in Canada, and our Thanksgiving was last month. We don’t really have the official start to the Christmas shopping.

But I do like the idea behind this non-consumer protest. Where I work, I need to come up with group activities for the public to take part in. I think I might base a craft or get-together on the ideas of “Buy Nothing Day”.


Red Icculus November 9, 2009 at 8:40 pm

You are the one that brought up 10.2% unemployment. Small business entrepreneurs are 50-70% of our employers depending on who you listen to, so you are only killing jobs with silly activism.


bloomagain November 10, 2009 at 6:09 am

Heh heh- you had me laughing at the “big ol’ vinegar smoothie” part. I’m not going shopping on “Black Friday,” but then again I have never gone shopping on “Black Friday.” Why would I subject myself to something like that?! I go on long spells of “buy nothing” (except for food of course) anyways, not for any particular reason other than because I just don’t need to keep buying stuff constantly.


Tracy Balazy November 10, 2009 at 7:49 am

I’ve never shopped the day after Thanksgiving, anyway. I have to work that day, I’m not interested in fighting crowds, and since I quit buying retail, I have no reason to enter the fray. My family’s been slowly edging away from the notion that you have to buy everyone around you something for Christmas just because, in a sort of panic so you have something to hand them on Dec. 25.


Emily November 10, 2009 at 8:48 am

It seems a large majority of shoppers are already irritated and short-tempered during the holiday season, and having people participate in “civil disobedience” will only irritate them more, not to mention the retail workers!

I work in retail and I need my job to pay bills. If I don’t go to work on “Black Friday” and Saturday, I’d likely get fired, as that is the start of the frenzied holiday season.

If you want to reduce consumption and not purchase as many things, that’s wonderful, but it sounds like these AdBusters aren’t considering that everyone that works in retail isn’t a pawn for “the man.” It’s a job, and we’re real people with the same concerns they have!


Paul Freeman November 10, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Here’s another option to shopping for Christmas, what about doing alternatives to buying gifts for people you know. Like giving a gift to someone who really needs the help, Like Heifer Project, or the Union Gospel Missions where you live or whatever charity you care to choose and then send a note or put it in a Christmas card, whatever the method you care to use to let your friend or family member know that you gave in honor of them.
For our wedding a cousin did that for us. I found it to be pretty special for someone to do that on my/our behalf.

I know of a story where the wife needed to do something different for her husband as he was getting pretty tired of the gift giving idea, so 1 yr after observing a wrestling match that her kids were participating in vs and inner-city school that ended competing in tatered uniforms and equipment. The wife made the decision to purchase needed uniforms and equipment to this inner-city school that yr and left a envelope with a note what she did to her husband on the families’ Christmas tree.

It became a tradition for her and her husband until he passed away just prior to Christmas one yr. Her sons were concerned the tradition would fall away, but to everyone’s surprise that yr there were a multitude of envelopes rather than the normal presents and packages left under the tree.

I say start your own traditions. Do something different than the normal idea of our society’s need to spend, spend, spend for the holidays. Whose birthday is it anyway?


Tracy November 10, 2009 at 5:41 pm

That’s a great idea, Paul! Thanks for sharing that story. I got a Heifer International catalog in the mail a couple of weeks ago for the first time; I think I’ll donate to that organization in someone’s name.


Anon November 12, 2009 at 8:45 pm

Just a note on Heifer International, I have had personal experience working with them and it truly is a wonderful organization run by dedicated and caring folks who are trying to help under privileged, impoverished and hungry folks in a way that is long term sustainable for both the people and the environment. I encourage anyone who has a few moments to visit their website and read about their long established and innovative way of solving hunger in a sustainable way,


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