Perceptive, often funny month-by-month diary of life as a nonconsumer by journalist and memoirist Levine (Do You Remember Me?, 2004, etc.).
Strong disagreement with the administration’s post-9/11 linkage of spending with patriotism; a deep-seated ambivalence about consuming; and malaise brought on by Christmas shopping prompted Levine and live-in partner Paul to take a vow to purchase only necessities for a full year, starting on New Year’s Day 2004. Just what is a necessity took some working out, but essentially, they agreed to spend money only on the basic business expenses of their home-based jobs and on what was needed to keep themselves and their pets fed, sheltered and in good health. Every year, they spend the winter and summer months at Paul’s house in rural northern Vermont and the spring and fall at Levine’s apartment in Brooklyn. The experiment began in the Vermont town of Hardwick, a place with relatively few commercial temptations. Whether in Vermont or Brooklyn, however, their connections with friends and family forced decisions: how to ask for and accept help, how to entertain, how to give gifts, how to maintain relationships without meeting for lunch or going to a movie. Discoveries about themselves and what’s important abound. Levine is a keen observer of her own emotions as well as an experienced reporter, providing vivid accounts of attending meetings of a Voluntary Simplicity group, watching a Buy Nothing Day demonstration and visiting the home of an extreme practitioner of simple living. When she admits to breaking the rules in June, buying a shirt and pants at a thrift shop because she had “nothing to wear,” and then in August succumbing to a luscious pair of pants that made her “look thin,” most women will understand and will sympathize with her growing weariness with Paul’s “effortless purity.” By November, Levine reports, she was not only free of the desire to shop but free of the desire to judge those who do.
An entertaining exploration of personal desires and needs, with larger social and economic implications.