Going without luxuries for a year was difficult for Judith Levine. She especially missed clothes shopping and going out to the movies. Things became confusing, however, when she had to buy her niece a graduation present. Rather than make an exception to her strict not-buying rules, Levine and her partner Paul first tried to make a gift. “We tried to make my niece some silk flowers,” says Levine, “then Paul tried to make her some sort of Oragami crap. The process of thinking a lot about my niece and why we love her and what would be meaningful to her, led us through a process in which we finally arrived at a silver necklace that had belonged to my mother, and then my mother gave to me, and then we gave it to my niece. Not only a gift that was much more meaningful than anything we would have purchased, but also a process that was much more meaningful, and really embodied the soul of gift giving in a way that going to the store and picking up a laptop or a set of luggage would just not have done.”In the end, this process of thoughtful, non-commercial gift-giving was Levine’s major highlight of 2004, her Not Buying It year. Her regretful moments were her lapses, when she bought clothes. When asked if these lapses helped offer relief as she gave into temptation of shopping, Levine replies, “Our society, I think, constructs the guilt and shame of consumption for us all, which is that, it’s bad and it feels good. It’s a kind of transgression that I had set up this rule for myself,” she explains. “I transgressed, so I felt I had let myself down. Afterwards I felt, oh gosh, that was so trivial, I could have avoided doing that. At the same time, I did get that good feeling that one gets buying something that you really like, and the things I bought I ended up wearing quite a lot”Removed from the hustle and bustle of consumer culture, Levine became an acute observer of consumer culture. “If you have to have a lot of stuff, you have two houses and a new car, and you have to buy the flat screen TV that cost two thousand dollars, you’re going to have to work a lot to make enough money to do that. So people work in order to have the things that they are supposed to be enjoying but they actually don’t have any time to enjoy them because they’re working all the time.”Levine also points out that demands on average workers have increased dramatically in the last decade, “Your co-workers get fired and you have to work twice as hard. More than half the people we encountered were either laid off or taking on the work of two people when their co-workers got laid off. People get so busy, they feel a compulsion to keep moving all the time.”Without shopping, Levine found herself with hours of down time and nothing to do. “I didn’t have my work activities bracketed by having to go to the movies, having to meet someone for dinner, having to buy something in order to have the right clothes to wear to the thing that I was gonna go to. Almost all of the activities that Paul and I did just sort of flowed from one thing to the other. We’d end up walking for three or four hours and then moseying our way home. We never had to get anyplace.”One of the most important lessons Levine learned from 2004 was how money issues had figured into her relationship with Paul. “We did not once fight about money, and we didn’t worry about money, and that has really lasted for me, because I’ve been able to see that I could live with a lot less now, and that means I can save for later. When I can’t work as much, I’ll also be able to live on a lot less. That has put me at ease in a way I never expected.”Levine also feels that she came out of 2004 with solid advice for consumers looking to live simpler, yet more enriching lives. “If you translate dinner and a movie into giving fifty dollars to the charitable organization of your choice, you can do that, and it really doesn’t take that much out of you if you have any amount of disposable income. It’s interesting because poor people tend to give a much bigger proportion of their incomes to charities than rich people do.”Thus, for Levine, Not Buying It for a year helped her to prioritize her money and change her life, allowing her to seek the satisfaction of contribution over the temporary pleasure of a night’s entertainment. After finishing her book, perhaps readers will evaluate their spending habits as well.
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