I’m coming at this pretty differently to Felix.
Last year I started my first ever full-time job, and though the pay is pretty low and I’m working part-time now, I still have more money than I’ve ever had before. Having a dollar value for each hour of my labour means I know when it’s cheaper to buy something than acquire it another way, if I don’t take the environmental impact into consideration. I’ll confess that generally this influences my consumer choices less than the personal cost of alienating my labour — I’m not sure what rate of pay it would take for me to want to work five days a week, but I’ve never been paid enough for that to be worthwhile.
I also moved out of eco/anarcho world to a flat in the most bourgeois suburb, with a fabulous housemate and a very different lifestyle. We’re still relatively poor so it’s not that often we buy new things for the house, but mostly the motivation has been economic. In the lounge room I’m sitting in, all the furniture is from hard rubbish: two sofas, two coffee tables, a lamp, a cabinet, a bookshelf and a writing desk. But while most of our glasses on the liquor shelf are from op shops or garage sales, we do replenish our supply of martini glasses regularly with new ones. I haven’t gone dumpstering since I moved here, and after rent and bills, I probably spend most of my money on food — roughly a third on groceries and two-thirds on eating out.
I’ve also re-evaluated myself, and my relationship to politics-as-personal. At one point I felt really burnt out, resentful and suppressed — I felt like my life wasn’t mine, like I’d been submerged into this activist culture that didn’t really speak to me (though the initial immersion was intoxicating) and consisted more of rules than possibilities. What to eat, who to fuck, how to get there, when to talk. I felt like dreaming of utopian futures required living in a way that honoured pleasure as well as responsibility. I needed to resist discipline that wasn’t deliberate and wasn’t mine. I desperately, desperately needed not to be pure. To sluice the guilt off my body and feel the pulse of my own desires. And then, to decide.
But without making everything either ethical or unethical, subversive or problematic — I do want to think about how I live and its material impact. I want to be politically astute, if sometimes bad. As articulated in the first link to my own blog, I don’t believe every little thing matters, so my updates will be less a record of every purchase than general thoughts on living in consumer capitalism. I’m undertaking this project less as a promise to acquire nothing new for a year, than to commit to thinking more about production, consumption, waste, labour and capitalism. I’ve concentrated on politics of oppression for so long, I really need something that forces me to be more aware of economics and environment. I can’t justify these things being peripheral to my ideology any more — I couldn’t ever — and I’m excited about incorporating them into the core of my concept of justice.
So the before shot:
Practically, I’m well positioned for this project. I have a lot of privileges that enable me to undertake something like this, such as stable accommodation, a reliable income, a strong and extensive support network, no dependants, few commitments, high mobility and minimal special needs. If I had children, if I were squatting and didn’t have anywhere secure to store my things, if I didn’t have friends and family in Melbourne I could borrow things from, if I couldn’t easily spend a day scouring hard rubbish and op shops and wherever else, if I were living more hand-to-mouth and couldn’t plan ahead — any of these factors would make me much more reluctant to participate in this project; I probably wouldn’t consider it at all. This is possible because I’m young, fit, rich and free.
I also already have most things I’m likely to need for the next twelve months: most essentially, bed, bicycle, computer, washing machine and fridge. All of these things came to me second-hand, but having had stable income/accommodation/support et cetera has meant that I’ve been able to accumulate these things over time, and hold onto them. I’ve had the good fortune to never experience those common situations in which people lose their shit, like being kicked out of home or nasty ex-lovers or others who walk off wid alla yr stuff. Anti-consumerism is often framed as having very few possessions, but for any anti-consumerist practice that’s based on environmental and economic motivations rather than spiritual purity, it’s actually much easier if you have a few things to begin with — having a decent tool box and sewing kit, for example, mean that you can fix and alter stuff instead of buying it new.
In any case, I have more than a few things. I have enough clothes for not only the next year, but any occasion I’m likely to encounter, from glitterpunk queer balls to job interviews. Should my computer or phone break (both fairly likely), I have access to public libraries and my workplace and university and friends’ and parents’ houses. More importantly, I have access to some genius friends, between whom can probably fix anything in the world (and who I totally trust to fix the world, at that). So this should be really easy, on a physical level — it’ll be much harder to break my intellectual and psychological dependence on the first-pass economy, on the expectation that if I need something, I can just pay for it. Commerce is king of all. That thinking is hard to change. But, as always, I’m up for it.
Referencing myself, Tiger Beatdown, Ntozake Shange, and bastardising Herodotus.