Sold Out: How I Survived a Year of Not Shopping
by Robert Llewellyn
This is a fast read—I whizzed through it in just a couple days (and I’m a slow reader). It’s the sort of book that while I read it, I wished I had a highlighter because I kept thinking “Ooo, I want to remember that for later.”
I read this book because a while back, I stumbled upon Robert Llewellyn’s YouTube channel and caught the most recent episode where Mr. Llewellyn was informing his viewers that he had just bought his first new thing. Not knowing the context, I went back and found that I had just missed a year-long vlog called “Making Do” where Robert Llewellyn vlogged about his progress of not buying anything but food and medicine for a full calendar year. Strangely enough, I found this series at the same time as I was desperately trying to think of something to give up for lent, so I took a cue from Mr. Llewellyn to not buy any material items for the Lenten season. That was hard enough, and I’m not even a shopper. Imagine doing it for a year.
Although he does quote a few journal entries at the beginning of his chapters, if you’re looking for a day-to-day in-the-moment journal of his experience, go watch “Making Do.” This book isn’t that. Instead, this is a book of essays. In fact, I’d say it’s more like a memoir, revolving broadly around what occurred during this year and memories relating to consumerism. These memories include his relationship with his parents, trying to go vegan for a girlfriend, living in a truck, buying his first Mac, and driving various kinds of cars (oh, yes, he’s managed to work cars into the theme). My favorite quote is about the Prius:
“Anything that [Jeremy] Clarkson hates that much has got to be a good thing…I make a point of loving all the things he hates. I use him as a moral compass. He’s a very useful man” (p 152).
But even when he’s not taking a stroll down memory lane, his pontifications on what drove him to give up buying things for this period are very interesting. As a wet liberal, Mr. Llewellyn goes into some political analysis, but also some self-analysis. The chapter on Guilt is of particular interest. He disclaims right away that this is a very middle-class book, and middle-class people tend to feel the most guilty. I have to admit, as I read this book on the subway, I felt guilty with all the people begging for change and can’t-afford-a-shower-ers (I tend to read with books near my face where people can read the cover, not in my lap). I didn’t want them to think that my worst problem was that I buy too much and was trying to learn how not to. The ideas surrounding middle-classness are things that the middle-class are aware of but things that they’re trained to ignore. This book brings to light some of these issues. It’s interesting to me, as an American, to see how class differences work in England. Are they really as different as they are here, as he suggests? Because class doesn’t mean nothing in America either.
Although I learned a lot from reading this book, even if I have to keep in mind it is the observations of one man, and not god-given fact, I think I learned the most from the chapter on Misogyny. That is, why do women like to clothes-shop and wear make-up. I actually don’t know the answer to this because I don’t like doing either of these things. I think I’m missing a gene somewhere. If I need to buy clothes, I prefer to guess at the size and buy it rather than try it on, and heaven forbid I need to try on more than one article of clothing. I also don’t see the appeal of wearing makeup. Mr. Llewellyn wagers that women wear makeup and fashionable clothes not to look good for men, as many assume, but to look good to other women. Ah, it’s a show-off and acceptance thing. I am both uncompetitive and oblivious to what other people think of me, so this rings true, at least for me.
The book more of a thought-provoker than a leisurely stroll through a mall-less year. Don’t read it if you’re afraid of looking at your own behavior and responses to what goes on in consumer society and a world that is trying to go green. But if you’d like some insight into class, the changes the world is undergoing now versus the ones of the past, and the hypocrisy that makes us human, check it out. It’s a really good read.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, why not help fund Llewellyn’s next book project here?