In December 2003, Levine was holiday shopping and she noticed that buying presents was joyless because of its necessity. Wasn't gift-giving supposed to be infused with happiness? Why not stop buying unnecessary presents? In fact, why not stop buying completely?
Levine and her partner, Paul, decided that, starting on Jan. 1, 2004 and for one full year, they wouldn't spend any money that was not necessary.
"Necessary," however, had a definition that was up for interpretation. Anything for work was necessary unless it was a business lunch; dining out of any kind was forbidden in the "rules." Gas, cab, subway, and bus fares, along with donations to political or charity organizations were allowed. Food, of course, was necessary but not wine or beer. Renovation on Paul's Vermont house: necessary. Car repairs, likewise. Almost everything else was verboten. No movies or DVDs. No new clothing. No new shoes. No books that couldn't be borrowed. No candy bars, snacks, or frivolous impulse purchases. No fudging the budget, and no cheating.
In the course of the year, Levine attended classes on living the simple life. She explored New York City and Vermont, and took advantage of free entertainment. And she learned how deeply embedded consuming is in our consumer-based culture.
The first question you're tempted to ask as you're reading Not Buying It is this: Could I do it? The honest answer is "probably not" -- which only makes this book all the more interesting. I got tired, however, of Levine's heavy politicking toward the end of her year without. Yes, part of the premise of the book is how shopping can harm natural resources and cultures -- but some chapters simply ranted too much. Still, Levine's excursions into different aspects of shopping -- or not -- are what make this book worth reading. I especially enjoyed her visits with the man in Vermont who lives on less money per year than most Americans pay for their vehicles.
Next time you're at the mall, look for Levine's book. What the heck -- you're shopping, right? Might as well buy Not Buying It.