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The end of an affair

Robert Llewellyn

14th February, 2008

I’ve just been shopping. I went to London, walked into shops and bought things. New things. Not many – in fact my little pile of shopping bags is tragically small. I rapidly got bored and tired, and came back home.

I found the brashness of the shops a little grating. I felt I was getting a headache from the lighting and the assistants asking me whether I needed any help. The whole experience was stressful.

All this might sound like it comes from someone who has been in prison or in a desert, when all I have done is not go into shops for a year. I should clarify that I’ve been into supermarkets and farm
shops, chemists and post offices, but I haven’t been in any consumer shops; not once in 12 months.

I also haven’t done any online shopping, something I used to do quite a lot. Over the last month of my no-shopping experiment I admit I built up a list in my Amazon shopping basket. When my year
was up I went to my list, scanned the collection of DVDs, computer peripherals and a new video camera, and hesitated. All it would take was a single mouse-click and all this stuff would be
delivered in a couple of days. I couldn’t do it. It made me nervous. Did I really need any of it? I went through the list again and removed about half. As I write this I still haven’t clicked.

Something has changed and now I am worried it won’t change back. I have found the experience of the past year very easy; it’s been a massive get-out of all the stress of consuming. Over the
past 12 months, whenever I have found myself tempted to buy I have had a simple default setting. Don’t. End of problem.

When something broke, I fixed it (my watch took three months) and when something new came out, I ignored it. That was how I went along for 11 months. In the twelfth I started wasting time on the
internet, comparing the Panasonic HDC SD5 camcorder with the Sony HDR SR7E. I already have a camcorder but its lens is held together with superglue and gaffer tape. I dropped it just before my
year started and it is something I use a great deal. It still just about works but the auto-focus is shot to bits and it’s generally a bit knackered.

Then there’s the iPhone. I went into the store and looked at it. I picked it up – I admit I was vain enough to watch myself on You Tube on it. It was really amazing, but I didn’t buy it because I really don’t need one. I have a mobile phone that came free with my contract; I make calls on it and people call me. It works. I don’t need a new one.

How am I going to shake off this satisfaction with what I have already? How am I going to learn to yearn? It was such a simple little step to make and it has utterly changed my life. I am still interested in working; I am still driven to earn money; I just don’t want to buy things I don’t really need. If it really is this simple, it could catch on. More people might do it and find it’s not that hard; if they do, it could have devastating consequences for the economy. That’s the problem: you say you’re only going to give up buying new stuff for a year, but when the year’s up you don’t really want to go
back. I feel a bit guilty. It’s all my fault, I’m not doing my bit to support the economy – but then is it me that’s wrong, or is it the economy?

This article first appeared in the Ecologist February 2008

 

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