The Christmas season approaches and, even more importantly for some, the Black Friday shopping frenzy. We have all heard of the phenomenon of people waiting in line for hours even days for the best deals, rushing in like a stampede of bulls into the store, angrily staking claim to the discounted items they simply must have. There is no question that American culture promotes consumption. Buy more, buy extra, buy just in case, buy for others, buy for yourself, you deserve it, just buy!
I have never shopped on Black Friday, or Thanksgiving for that matter, and avoid malls whenever possible. I have never decided to go shopping as a pastime. But, in the four years I have been back in the United States, I have become aware that no matter how hard I try, the lure of consumption in this culture is near possible to avoid. This is interesting to me because I have always considered myself to be a bit of an antic-shopper. I make my presents whenever possible and when I do shop, I prefer thrift stores and yard sales. I try to fix things before I replace them; I buy based on what we need not just what we want.
Yet despite my constant awareness of consumption and my desire not to engage, I have found it to be a struggle, one which I don’t always win, because the push, the lure to consume in this country is so strong. Just yesterday I went into Costco to buy “a few things” and although 90% of what I got was needed and will be used, I did end up getting “a few things” that I didn’t need, simply because the offers seems so appealing. I like to think that even in that 10% I am making decent choices, but it requires constant awareness. This pressure to consume is particular strong when it comes to electronics and media. People who can barely pay their rent buy the latest phones, tvs, etc. and have equivalent service contracts for hundreds of dollars a month. Then Christmas comes and the pressure to buy is even greater, especially with the ‘deals’ and soon credit cards are maxed out.
The problem is, of course, is that this culture of consumption is creating two things: a legacy of debt and a mountain of waste. Before I moved to Miami, both my televisions were the tube TVs. They worked fine but were too heavy to move so I called charities to pick them up. But all charities refused to take these working televisions, for free, because they were outdated. I found some individuals to take them but many wouldn’t make the effort, and they would have ended up in the trash.
In the Dominican Republic, and other third world countries, you don’t have thrift stores because no one gets rid of stuff until it is broken beyond repair. They are amazed at what we Americans throw out or give away. They can’t believe how much we spend. Just recently I cleaned out my children’s rooms. I found tons of toys and clothes they didn’t need anymore. Soon we will be donating them. The difference is, however, between our family and many others, is that most of what we have was either donated to us or purchased second hand. We are passing it on, not just buying something new.
The other thing I found interesting is that my children, upon being freed of so much clutter, reacted with glee. They reveled in the freedom of space and the stuff they had took on more importance. When they saw the stuff I took out, they wanted some of it back of course, but they didn’t get it unless they could give me good reasons why 😉
We have all heard of the push to have a “recycled Christmas” or whatnot. That is easy for someone like me who makes things but not necessarily practical for others. Instead I think we just need to practice restraint. Consider consumption and addiction and that before we get our fix we need to be sure it is worth it because each purchase contains responsibility – the responsibility to pay for it and to use it, to value it. If we buy simply because it seems necessary but we can’t figure out why, then just wait.