Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Simple Suggestion #188... Live within your needs (Buy Nothing Day 2013)

Do you remember Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos' wife Imelda, the woman with 3,000+ pairs of shoes? No? I guess I'm really dating myself!

We've all heard the phrase "live within your means," meaning, don't spend more money than you have, be frugal, choose sensibly, and only buy that which you can afford. But Imelda could afford all those shoes -- she was living within her means even though she had rooms and rooms of shoes and clothing at a time when most people in the Philippines were living at subsistence level. (Really, they were unwittingly bankrolling her and her shoes -- until they ousted her hubby.)

Ever since a little quotation out of the writings of a fellow named Nilus of Ancyra landed in my inbox last month, I've been thinking how it would be better if people like Imelda and our present day celebs -- and all of us, too -- lived "within our needs" instead of our "means." Here's what Nilus had to say:
We should remain within the limits imposed by our basic needs and strive with all our power not to exceed them. For once we are carried a little beyond these limits in our desire for the pleasures of life, there is then no criterion by which to check our onward movement, since no bounds can be set to that which exceeds the necessary.
Nilus was an abbot in charge of a monastery in Ancyra, Greece, early in the third century. From all accounts, he was a wise, spiritual and thoughtful man... who would probably shake a finger at Imelda (whose aide got caught last week selling a Monet painting that went missing when Ferdinand's dictatorship ended with the People Power revolution in 1986). Nilus would also roll his eyes at all the other excesses with which we surround ourselves now, shake his head and say, "People, people, when will you wake up?"

The abbot of Ancyra was the kind of man who would encourage us all to join the Buy Nothing movements that have recently appeared in social media, simply because our "onward movement" -- toward the pleasures of life in the form of addiction to our possessions -- is running our earth (and many of our brothers and sisters in the developing world) to ruin. Would Hurricane Haiyan have been so powerful if we weren't spending so many of the earth's carbon resources to ship unnecessary "stuff" all over the planet?

What do we really need in order to live a joyful life? Love, food, shelter, and clothing. Too much more than that gets in the way of our joy because it demands that we spend less time with those we love and more time working to buy, own, maintain and defend what we own. Once we have our basic needs covered, do we really need to buy anything more? How many of those 3,000-some pairs of shoes did Imelda wear more than once? She probably couldn't even remember each pair!!! And most of them have been destroyed in the last few years' floods in the Philippines...

Mention of Black Friday, November 29th, the big kick-off to Christmas consumerism, has been lurking around for the past few weeks, but I prefer to think of it as Buy Nothing Day, a holiday from consumerism. The day after American Thanksgiving needs to become another day of gratitude for and awareness of our fulfilled needs rather than an all-out-gimme-gimme-consumerfest, no matter what stores have planned for us that day. News coverage of Black Friday the last several years seems to indicate that we take shopping far too seriously in North America, and could all use a shopping-free vacation! Imelda included.

To be honest, most days of my year are Buy Nothing Days (except for groceries), so my contribution to the Buy Nothing movement this year is spreading the word here, and sharing this little poster (feel free to copy and paste all over the internet, or email me under my profile and I'll send you a PDF file for printing and posting anywhere your heart desires).

And here's the challenge to all my readers: try living within your needs. Why not observe Buy Nothing Day on Friday, November 29th? Feel free to check out the Buy Nothing Christmas website on my sidebar (click on the top bar titles ("Alternatives," "Resources," "Stories," etc. if the links on the page don't work for you). See what the next seven days as a Buy Nothing Week feels like. And the Ultimate Challenge -- make 2014 a Buy Nothing Year!

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.


  1. Great post - I was thinking pretty much exactly this, walking back home from town today, and it's a new commitment for me :) Thank you for writing this tonight x

    1. Lovely to hear from you, Hannah! Somehow your blog fell off the list of those I was following... I'll catch up now!


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