November 29th is International Buy Nothing Day. This day of protest against consumerism originated in Canada but has since spread to other Western nations. In the U.S, Buy Nothing Day is held on Black Friday, a day usually associated with huge crowds wrestling for the best deal at shopping malls across the country. The basic idea is: don’t buy anything for 24hrs. Buy Nothing Day participants sometimes take it further—dressing up as zombies and parading around supermarkets or publicly cutting up their credit cards. I’m not suggesting that you need to don a zombie costume, but I do think the motivations behind Buy Nothing Day are worth thinking about. As Christians, how should we think about consumerism?
The Appeal of Minimalism
In case you haven’t noticed, minimalism is in—big time. Buy Nothing Day, tiny houses, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and capsule wardrobes are just part of the minimalist tidal wave. For the minimalist, less is more. This isn’t new, minimalism has roots in a range of ancient philosophies. However, the current minimalist craze does point to some particularities of 21st Century Western culture.
An Antidote to Anxiety
The more stuff we accumulate, the more anxious we feel. The clearer our cupboards, the more headspace we have. That’s the minimalist argument, and it seems to have some scientific merit. Consumerism says, ‘More, more, more!’. Work harder and earn more, so you can buy the newer, faster, better thing. Our houses fill up with stuff. Then, we have to store that stuff, use that stuff and clean that stuff. Suddenly, there’s not much breathing room. Minimalism says, ‘Want less anxiety? Own less stuff!’. There is wisdom in this, and we should listen to it. In fact, it sounds a bit like Jesus.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36)
If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. (Matthew 19:21)
The solution is not merely minimalism. If you throw out everything you own, but don’t turn to Jesus, you will still be left wanting.
But, Jesus isn’t advocating for minimalism. As Christians, we know that even with the tidiest, emptiest cupboards—our hearts will still be anxious. Our minds will still be distracted. Our lives will still feel too full, and yet ultimately empty. The minimalist catch-cry, ‘go, sell your possessions’ is self-focussed and pleasure-seeking. Joshua Becker, a minimalist advocate, says, ‘The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t’. Jesus’ command to ‘go, sell your possessions’ is followed by his invitation, ‘come, follow me’. That is radically different to any solution offered by Marie Kondo.
Consumerism does result in anxiety. Scripture agrees, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10) But, the solution is not merely minimalism. If you throw out everything you own, but don’t turn to Jesus, you will still be left wanting.
Slaves to the System
Big companies don’t desire your wellbeing, they desire your money … Buy Nothing Day is a chance to remember this
Buy Nothing Day is an attempt to buck the system. The capitalist world is waking up to the chains of consumerism. Big companies don’t desire your wellbeing, they desire your money. Credit card companies don’t promote your long-term prosperity, they trap you in the cycle of instant gratification. Advertisers know that the more you have, the more you’ll want. Buy Nothing Day is a chance to remember this, and do something about it. It’s an exercise of autonomy in an enslaving system.
In Matthew 6:24, Jesus warns, ‘No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money’. In a consumerist world, Money is on the throne. Christians should fight against the rule of Money. We have one master, and should refuse to be enslaved by another.
Anti-consumerism recognises the enslaving power of money. Christians do, too—but with far greater insight. We know that money isn’t the ultimate problem, sin is. Money is dangerous because the human heart is foolish, and easily misled. Consumerism isn’t the only, or the biggest, problem. It’s just a symptom of the biggest problem—a world not in right relationship with God. Real freedom is found in Jesus.
Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:34-36)
Not a Law or a Trend—but a Spiritual Discipline
So, Christian, can you buy nothing today? You don’t have to. You aren’t bound to the social pressure of anti-consumerist movements or the trends of minimalism. You aren’t condemned if you do the groceries today. You know that real peace, real freedom and real justice are found in Christ alone. But, I think the challenge of Buy Nothing Day is worth considering. Think of it as a spiritual discipline.
The Bible takes money very seriously. Jesus does not speak lightly about it. He isn’t kidding when he says, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 19:23). Why is it hard? Because Jesus demands our whole life—every cent of it. Money has a siren call, which often drowns out the call of Jesus. God asks for our allegiance, and so does consumerism. Which will you choose?
Buy Nothing Day is a chance to fast from consumption. It’s an opportunity to render your whole heart to God. Try going 24hrs without purchasing anything, and remind yourself, “Money is not my master, and stuff will not satisfy.”