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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"The Year Without Purchase" (Scott Dannemiller)

TITLE: The Year without a Purchase: One Family's Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting
AUTHOR: Scott Dannemiller
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (200 pages).

Can anyone survive without having to buy stuff? The symbols of capitalism are everywhere. Every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, and every end of the year, we have the mad rush to stock up on goods and gifts. The parking lots would be packed. Shoppers would be frazzled trying to get the best deals with the limited funds. Many go on credit that could haunt them for the most part of next year. As people shop until they drop, as they let their fingers do more online shopping, inevitably, something else had to give. One of such is the decreasing level of quality relationships. By allowing themselves to become prey to an endless quest for stuff and more stuff, they fail to connect more with their loved ones and friends. We all know the common cliche, that a house is not necessarily a home, especially if our loved ones seem like strangers. Writer, blogger, and former missionary with the Presbyterian Church USA, Scott Dannemiller and his family tried for one year to live counter-culturally and resist the temptations of purchasing. He diagnoses the problem of modern America as one that has become "preoccupied with money." Through the book, he hopes to share with the rest of his countrymen and readers beyond that money and purchases do not necessarily make the world go round. Simply put, the world is becoming more transactional and less conversational. Must one become a cross-cultural missionary outside one's home country in order to connect more with people? After a self-deprecating introduction, the author plunges into his family's quest to stop the mad shopping craze so that they can start to connect with one another, and with people they meet each day.

Part One begins with the setting out of objectives, guidelines, rules, and a statement of their year long project as a family. Dannemiller reveals his missionary experience trying to share the "ministry of presence" with people in Guatemala. In fact, their decision to live a year without purchasing stems from a series of factors. First, it was from their daily encounters with the Guatemalans who did not seem interested to ask about what they do for a living. He realizes how much his American culture has hemmed him into linking everything in life with money and purchase. Together with his wife Gabby, they decided to do something practical with their mission statement: "To tirelessly seek God’s will each day by living lives of integrity, owning what we have, growing together in faith, and serving God’s people to build a world without need." Second, it was more progressive than revolutionary. Even though they have decided a pro-people ministry, they find themselves locked into a cycle of purchase and goods, using a bulk of their resources on buying stuff for their family and ministry. Finally, Gabby asked: "What if we didn't buy anything for a year?" This set in motion the year long project. They set out the following rules:
  1. They can buy stuff that are perishables (gas, groceries, hygiene products) but not those that last beyond a year.
  2. They can fix anything that breaks (as long as the repair is not greater than the replacement costs)
  3. They can donate gifts to charity (to build connections)
These were not just rules, as the author found out. It challenges their marriage relationship. It needs a sustained commitment. It becomes a giant step of faith.

Part Two continues with decisions surrounding everyday matters. Gift-giving has to be creatively done with alternatives to buying new presents. They had to think about whether to repair a torn sock or to replace them. They had to resist from the amazing deals that they get from emails or coupons in the mail. They have to make decisions about household appliances. They also learn about being grateful for what they owned and when things worked. Plus, there wonder if it is possible to celebrate Easter and birthdays without buying stuff. The tests grow even more difficult as the whole experiment takes on a more personal note, when it involves having to make decisions to deprive the kids of new gifts from others. Readers will appreciate how daily decisions about not purchasing can impact the family in many ordinary ways.

Part Three reveals more upsides after overcoming various challenges. They become more creative on keeping within their rules while adapting to changes, like using frozen vegetables to numb one's pain after a surgery. They learn lessons about distinguishing between needs and wants. The biggest lesson of all is their experience of how relationships (not money) truly brings happiness. They de-clutter by giving away things. They start to be in control of themselves whenever there are sales pitches, flyers, and temptations coming at them. He learns how the Saudis observe prayer even in the middle of a retail mall.

Part Four brings into perspective the purpose of the year-long program. What is the reason for trying to live through a year without purchase? Is it for mere spiritual growth? Is it to boost one's ego? The Dannemillers are convinced that it is about being equipped to serve the people of God better. They minister in the area of food and hunger, choosing the "Society of St Andrew" that minimizes food wastage by channeling them to the needy. They get to re-evaluate their year long project and see positive changes in the whole family. Three big things happened.

  1. They had more energy for the more important things in life.
  2. They had more money to spend for what really mattered.
  3. They had a deeper understanding of the things that mattered. 
Not many people would be able to do exactly what the Dannemillers had done. For those of us who live on shoestring budgets, some of the things they had done are nothing new, like using hand-me-downs, and refraining from shopping sprees during festive seasons. People serving in ministries can also identify with the frugal lifestyles. Personally, the rules the authors have set up appear easy to follow initially. When the crunch occurs, like the major shopping times of the year like Thanksgiving and Christmas, the temptations do come fast and furious. Families with kids will face exceptional challenges. Overall, I think every one of us ought to spend a period of time de-cluttering and de-accumulating our stuff. We should practice a purchasing sabbath from time to time. The Appendix provides eight very practical helps to maximize the use of what we already have before going out to buy more things. For those of us who are not sure of where to start, this book would be a good diving board.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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