Don’t buy into the buy, buy, buy propaganda machine

Cut down on 'stuff' and focus on what's really important

IT SEEMS LIKE every time you turn on the radio, tune into the news, pick up the paper, anywhere you look or listen these days, you hear: “supply chain,” “panic buying,” and “shop early for the holidays.” I’m in a panic alright, but not related to the buying I need to do — quite the opposite. I’m alarmed that the “Buy! Buy! Buy!” propaganda machine is lulling us into a state of collective amnesia.

Just 10 months ago, as the pandemic surged, what most of us wanted more than anything was to sit next to our loved ones, share a meal, visit with friends and/or family inside our homes. During the last holiday season, a mere 40 weeks ago, the supply chain of hugs was all we were so desperately seeking. It was as if, at long last, we discovered the true meaning of the holidays. But now, suddenly, we’re being told our 2021 holiday season happiness depends on buying that hard-to-find gift imported from some faraway spot.

I’m not buying it and neither should you. Fortunately, there are signs that building back better lives doesn’t require consuming and disposing of more stuff. Here, with a h/t to Ian Dury and the Blockheads, are three reasons to be cheerful:

Reason #1: On the local scale, the Buy Nothing movement is flourishing. The Buy Nothing Project is a network of community-based groups that encourages another version of a “free market” — offering or asking for consumer goods and services at no cost. In the past few months, I’ve received an Intro to Spanish book and a beautiful  pink shawl. I gifted a Buy Nothing member a mini-freezer that was sitting empty in my basement. The group in my community split into smaller “slices” because it was  growing so quickly. The New York Times recently noted, “Created in 2013 by two women in Bainbridge Island, Wash., it has grown to 6,700 independent Buy Nothing…groups in 44 countries. The Buy Nothing Project recently developed an app that it will release more widely in a few weeks.” That’s not nothing.

Reason #2: People in California realize that we cannot recycle our way out of the ever-growing piles of crap that manufacturers make and leave for our cities and towns to dispose of. Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a  bill requiring manufacturers to apply the “chasing arrows” recycling symbol only to recyclable products.

And on an even more ambitious scale, we’re seeing the concept of “producer responsibility” gain traction. This summer, Maine and Oregon both adopted laws shifting the cost of cleaning up plastic trash onto the corporations that create it. Reducing waste by disincentivizing its production in the first place beats worrying about what to do with it once it’s here every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Reason #3: Speaking of holidays, Independence Day 2021 was a good one, for those of us who march to the beat of the “reduce” drummer. President Biden took us a step closer to independence from waste when he issued an executive order initiating the breakup of the tech manufacturer monopoly on repair of cell phones, tractors, and more. The fact that we are blocked from repairing many of our electronic devices is a huge source of waste. For example, Apple, like Samsung, LG, and others, doesn’t make spare parts, service diagrams, or diagnostic software available to third parties either, all of which limits repair options.

 If we held on to our phones one year longer on average, the emissions reductions would be equivalent to taking 636,000 cars off the road.  But now we’ve got Microsoft also joining the Right to Repair party, unveiling an important new commitment to repair access for its product line.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Luddite who sits by a kerosene lamp eating what I canned last winter. But after 18 months of being starved for handshakes, hugs, snuggles, crowded concerts, worship in a packed chapel, and more, I suspect many of us wonder how and why the “supply chain of stuff” has seemingly become the antidote for our troubles. Let’s snap out of it, don’t believe the hype, reduce the stuff, and return to the prayers for health that hopefully bring us the solace, spirit, and sense of self that has no price tag.

Janet S. Domenitz is executive director of MASSPIRG and the MASSPIRG Education Fund.