Buy little, buy small


The first snow of the season fell around us in Saint Paul, a wet gloppy snow that froze into a slick shield of ice.  The city pulled in tight around itself as driving became an ordeal, knuckles tight and eyes wide and everything as white as the world itself.  A week and a season defined by rush-rush and shopping started with a moment apart from the world made for hot cocoa.

Perhaps nature was telling us something.

This is the week that starts with a great American holiday but ends with an orgy of spending and crowds for many people.  But it can instead be one long holiday, one celebration of what really counts in our lives – family and community.  After Thanksgiving there is Buy Nothing Day, followed closely by a little light shopping on Small Business Saturday.  Together they make a holiday which is more meaningful and bright.

Through the last few very hard years the holiday season has been redefined for many families.  Gone are the great excesses that once defined Christmas, replaced by more carefully chosen presents that express true love.  It seems like about all anyone can do in the face of a Depression.  Yet this is more than frugality when it becomes a simple movement, a series of careful actions that add up to a people taking control over their lives.

For about as long as the day after Thanksgiving has been called “Black Friday”, there has been “Buy Nothing Day”.  The principle is simple:

On this 20th anniversary of Buy Nothing Day, we take it to the next level. We realize that consumer minimalism is one of many strategic operations in our continued fight for real democracy and life without dead time. This year lets fast like never before. Lets get monastic with our actions. Lets take back our holidays. Lets wean ourselves off of mega corporations, put our money back into the local independent economy, and live for a different kind of future.

It starts with more time spent … not shopping.  Not going anywhere, not buying the gadgets not made in the USofA, not doing anything.  A day spent being truly thankful for what we already have, even beyond the turkey induced coma.  A day to reflect and be part of a movement that simply refuses to be part of world defined materially.

That may be a bit much as a movement.  After all, we all consume a few things here and there.  But the day after has been declared “Small Business Saturday”, a day to go to local small shops.  According to the Twin Cities Independent Business Association (MetroIBA):

Supporting locally owned, independent businesses keeps more of your money in your community.  When you spend $1 at a local independent, an average of 68 cents is recirculated into the local economy.  In contrast, when you spend $1 at a national chain, only about 43 cents stays at home.  If Twin Cities consumers shift even 10% of their spending from chains to locals for one day, the Twin Cities economy gains some $2 million.

That’s more than just feel-good, that’s a big boost to the community we all depend on.  More to the point, it’s not entirely “monastic” and stark – there are a lot of great small shops which sell things that are unique and special, helping local craftsman and artisans make a living apart from some big conglomerate life.  A handy guide for those of you who live in Saint Paul can be found on Sara Kerr’s website in a series of articles she has been writing to promote Small Business Saturday.  She is profiling a dozen stores a day that make life in our little city rich and wonderful.

There is no need to push back the crowds at Wal*Mart to get the last discount battery powered gadget made far away.  A better life is there at a slower pace, one with more meaning and love in every carefully chosen box.

Taking these together we have the perfect antidote to a life defined by material goods and constant rushing to make or spend money.  They are something like the pause in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when Linus tells Charlie Brown what Christmas is really all about – nothing fancy, just a simple statement of love and devotion.

Thanksgiving Day, Buy Nothing Day, and Small Business Saturday.  Three days where we can be truly thankful for the family and community that define a life apart from the emptiness of material things.  Three days full of love and togetherness.  What more could we ask as the winter closes in tight around us?