An Apology

I tried to anticipate how others would react to my challenge, hoping, of course, that reactions would be positive. For the most part, they have been. There’s one response, however, that I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t see coming. I’m glad a friend had the courage to speak-up.

“A consumer fast,” she said. “That’s interesting.”

She went on to describe how ‘choosing not to buy’ is, for some, not a question of values but a question of survival. It is as much a choice as choosing whether or not to sleep inside, feed dinner to your family, or send your kid to school in shoes.

“I understand where you’re coming from,” she said, “but for me, the idea of selective consumer fasting … well, it stirs up some emotions.”

I’m sure she’s not alone.

Her feelings are similar to criticisms I’ve heard of Occupy Christmas or, more generally, the movement towards home-made gifts and the sharing of time rather than stuff. It’s a criticism of elitism that essentially boils down to:

How insensitive to choose a lifestyle that many live by necessity and to claim ownership of that lifestyle as if you were the first to live it.

Totally fair.

If this criticism in any way reflects how you feel about The Fasting Consumer, I’m sorry. I don’t pretend to have an answer. (And definitely not one that will change the way people feel.) I will attempt, however, to speak to this criticism as best as I can.

Let me begin by disclosing a bit about my family. We rent our house (a two-bedroom, semi-detached bungalow). Our biggest material asset is my antique piano (currently at my mom’s house because it would never fit in ours). We funded our own business. I paid for much of my education, and, on the lucrative salary of a sandwich artist, my husband paid for all of his.

Having said this, I have never known hunger (nor even the threat of it).

Though I was raised knowing that life is about choices and was never given All That I Wanted (thank goodness!), I don’t know poverty.

I know nothing about not buying elastics, jars, and leggings because my survival depends on it. Choosing to do this challenge will not make me understand. And it certainly won’t make me a hero.

But I still think it will do something.

My little family of four’s decision to buy nothing for one year isn’t going to end poverty. It won’t even allow us to relate to what it means to be poor. Still, it is my hope that in some small way, it will contribute to a larger voice–one that is saying,

“There must be a better way.”

We live in a world of constant desire. Whether we can afford $10 for Christmas presents or $10 000, we wish it were more.

Empty tummies forces some to buy nothing but groceries, but then, they are faced with a deeper emptiness–the thought that somehow, this is not okay. The thought that somehow, they are failures because they have not managed to buy more. More clothes. More cars. A new phone. A bigger TV. A better couch. A house to fit it all. (And a storage unit for the rest.)

This challenge will do nothing to directly feed empty tummies (though it will free-up more money to donate to ‘worthy causes’), but this challenge might do something to diminish the emptiness of desire.

If the Western world were full of people choosing to renounce materialism, choosing to spend $10 (and a whole lot of love) on Christmas, and choosing to value people over profit, would not those who are forced to spend and own little, feel a bit better about the world they live in?

I can’t answer that question. I don’t know if anyone can.

But, if nothing else, would not a society that values community, sharing, creating, and being thankful for what we have rather than sacrificing all in the pursuit of what we don’t have, possess the means to provide a better life for all?

I hope so.

For this reason, I’m choosing a different way — at least for 2014, and hopefully forever.

Perhaps this challenge will only change my own family–which is totally fine. But if, throughout this process, I can learn from the thoughts and feelings of others, if I can listen, reflect, and respond, perhaps it could do a little bit more?

What do you think? I’m listening.

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8 thoughts on “An Apology

  1. This criticism is valid with a huge BUT. Just because not everyone has the resources to go for some time without buying anything, doesn’t mean that the effort of those freeing themselves from the need to spend daily isn’t heroic. Globally speaking most Canadians are rich and your family is demonstrating how to gracefully descend the buy-buy ladder and are showing the way for others.

    • Thanks Jacquie!
      It doesn’t feel like much to have only gone 21 days without buying stuff, but I’m sure the year will present some challenges. I’m so glad that throughout my journey, others may find some inspiration. Thanks!

  2. I see the validity of your friend’s comment – and good for you for acknowledging it. I also see that if we recognize that wealth inequality continues to increase, and that over-consumption threatens the viability of the biosphere, it seems that voluntary self-limitation is necessary for us humans to survive and thrive. So an experiment with choosing to limit consumption is still very worthwhile, in my view. We need to collectively acknowledge that just because we have excess resources available to us, doesn’t mean we have the right to use them up in service of our own pleasures.

    Are you keeping track of what you save? If so, how about donating some portion of that toward anti-poverty measures, or whatever might feel to you as though it addresses inequality? Just a thought… it doesn’t make all the difference in the world, but would have a real impact on someone, somewhere.

    • Thank you for this, Tamara.
      I totally agree. Responding to the mass problem of over-consumption, the pursuit of infinite growth on a finite planet, and the inevitable outcome of these patterns is THE root of my motivation for doing this challenge.

      Furthermore, I strongly believe that taking care of our communal earth and not consuming more than our fair share of its resources is paramount to reducing inequality, and hopefully, someday, ending poverty.

      And, yes, our budgeting software shows us how much less we are spending now that some budgets have been completely wiped out. As a result, we are excited about putting more towards causes that we believe will make a better planet for all citizens, current and future. 🙂

  3. This is a wonderful thought ….consumer fasting and also those that fast out of necessity. One of the things I don’t think you’ve taken into consideration is that if we all did this the whole population (except 1%, because that’s the amount that actually grows and produces our food) would be on a real fast or even stark starvation because the whole economy would have collapsed and no one could afford to feed themselves or keep a roof over their heads or have medical care…..The economy is one large inseparable organism…..

    • Hi Bill,

      Thanks for bringing this up. You’re right; I haven’t addressed that (YET!), and it is definitely a huge point that needs addressing.

      I have actually given this issue a tone of consideration. (I’m a little obsessed with economics at the moment.) I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it yet. It deserves an entire post – if not several!

      In short, I believe we have been lied to. The thought that a “healthy economy” must necessarily be a “growing economy,” and a consumer-based economy at that, I believe is false. I think it is entirely possible to have a stable economy (capable of maintaining a reasonable, healthy lifestyle for all), that doesn’t rely on the fervent acquisition–and disposal–of material commodities. If this is not true, we’re hooped!

      I can’t just say this, though, without having extensive materials and facts to back me up — which I do! — so, I promise you, an entire post on this issue is in the queue, and it’s going to be a doozy! (Consider this an IOU.) 🙂

  4. The large inseparable organism of our economy is so profit oriented that it is destroying our world rapidly and is getting so big box that its customer base will not be able to support it and it will fall apart. Change is the only option. That means courage to act, and try new ways of doing things.

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