Doesn’t that sound just so pessimistic? But really it’s not. Well, not completely.
See, yesterday was “Black Friday”, so named because retailers generally get out of “the red” for the year as shoppers get busy fulfilling their Christmas wish-lists. Some of my friends went shopping Thanksgiving night (one of them was out until 3 am! Silly girl…) and others went out at the crack of dawn yesterday to shop. I have nothing against that. At all. I may think they’re a little crazy to go stand outside in the cold to do so but if you enjoy it and you aren’t taking time away from other important things, then why not? I really don’t think it’s the huge moral issue everyone seems to be making of it. Facebook has been bombarded by memes proudly claiming that the person positing the meme will not be shopping on Thanksgiving Day. Good for them. I didn’t go shopping that day either because I was too busy with dinner and my family and friends. But if my 17 year old didn’t go to Philly for a field hockey tournament that night I might have ventured out with her after everyone left and the littles were going to bed, just to see what it’s like and hang out with my daughter. I’m positive that there is no mention in the bible of “thou shalt not shop on Thanksgiving day.” At least the bible I read. I think we need to stop getting so hung up on these pseudo-sacred things and go enjoy this crazy life we live. Sunday/the Sabbath is Holy. Go to church. Take communion. Celebrate feast days and rest in the Lord. Follow the commandments. Yes, yes, yes. But all this other stuff? Don’t fret so much about it. God didn’t create us to be legalistic and dour. Enjoy the bounty we’ve been blessed with. And BE GRATEFUL. Isn’t GRATEFULNESS what it’s all about?
At the end of the day, isn’t that what we are trying to convey? Those who balk against shopping on Thanksgiving day or even on “Black Friday” or buying things we don’t absolutely need any other time seem to be balking at the blind consumerism and reaching for “things” to make us happy and to please those on our lists, to fulfill expectations or status. I think that’s great. A worthy cause. But perhaps we go about it the wrong way. We don’t have to post memes and make other people feel bad because they wanted to go out and have some (crazy 😉 ) fun on Thanksgiving night. All we need to do is encourage people to consider what their purchases mean. Get them to start thinking. Because “stuff” is amoral (even $1650 handbags, ahem), but it’s our attitude about the stuff and our idolization of stuff that is the problem. Not the stuff itself.
This probably seems a little contradictory coming from someone who is continually striving to downsize their stuff but even that can be done with wrong intentions and attitudes. We can be just as legalistic about getting rid of stuff as we can about acquiring it. We set rules for what to keep and what to toss and then judge others for not following “the rules.” Well good grief, get over it and make your own rules for yourself that work for YOU and leave everyone else alone. On this journey to simplifying and making our lives more meaningFULL, there are no hard and fast rules. My general guiding factor, is to decide what is “enough” and then, do I “love” it? If I don’t love it, it’s not coming home with me. This can even apply to appliances and other things that are necessary but which we don’t usually fall in love with. Who says that you have to own strictly functional items? There is nothing wrong with wanting pretty appliances. Surround yourself with beauty. God did.
Yesterday I went shopping on Black Friday with a friend. We went to a women’s consignment store that was having a “Pink Friday” sale. It was like our own private fashion show and we had a lot of fun. We shopped local and I only bought what I absolutely loved and knew would fit in with my life and my current wardrobe. Now that I have (sort of) developed a “style” or uniform of colors and styles, shopping for clothing is becoming much easier. That is simplifying my purchases and also getting dressed everyday. I shopped “locally” at a small business and helped support my community.
In the evening I went to a large mall to pick up some items at Sephora that I can’t buy locally or locally made. I also bought a top on clearance at Banana Republic for $13. I spent about 1 1/2 hours walking around and browsing. Call it exercise. Call it retail therapy. Call it whatever, but it wasn’t a sin. Even if some would consider it so because I didn’t grind my own berries to make into lipstick or squeeze my own Argan oil and I dared shop in a bright shiny store full of bright shiny things (that, honestly, is a bit overwhelming to me). I am helped by the fact that I can’t even touch a lot of it because of my gluten issues, so regardless of cost, it’s not worth even looking at stuff I can’t use. Having allergies is apparently helpful when trying to minimize acquisitions. Aren’t I lucky? :/
What about the next 5 weeks? Or is it 4 weeks? Most of my shopping will be done online. In fact my Amazon cart has been sitting full for weeks and yesterday many of the prices had dropped so I hit the checkout button and in one fell swoop completed Christmas shopping for my little girls. Easy. And I could see it all there, what it would cost (no surprises or head calculations of the sale price that I always get wrong anyway) and when it would arrive. I know I can afford it and the numbers are right there in black and white. There is danger in just going out shopping without a plan and a calculator. I, for one, always end up spending more that way. Maybe you are better than I am in that area. You should teach a class.
I also like online shopping because I don’t have to deal with the “pitch” you often get in a store. Instead I can check out other people’s reviews and compare prices. I can shop second hand on eBay. I can fill up my cart and walk away to think about it and it will still be there when I come back hours or days later. Often that delay tactic ends up in eliminating a few time that I realize we didn’t need in the first place. For me, at least, it helps with impulse shopping. I have to know what I want to look for in order to find it and I don’t have to walk past ten thousand other things that might distract me from what I actually came for. Am I the only one who has gone into a store for one item and left with ten other things and completely forget the ONE thing I came for? Anyone?
I suggest that although you should have a plan, you should not allow your children to have one too. I have never encouraged my children to write a list for “Santa” to fulfill and so far no one has written one. My older children literally never asked for anything and when asked, they would say that it was ok, because they don’t need anything. Ugh. Well that made it a little bit challenging. So I do talk to my younger ones a little bit about what they might like as a gift but I try to avoid setting up expectations about specific items. I think a surprise is much more fun! I am the one spending the money and I am the one who has to listen to the noise of said item or step on it accidentally later on. So I get to pick what I have to subject myself to. That being said this year is big on wooden blocks, castles and royal families and books. No noise other than their imaginations and wood is a lot softer than Legos.
If other people are buying your children gifts, give them specific ideas. Grandma was given a Nova Naturals toy catalog and a link to a soft baby doll on Amazon. No more plastic microphones, thank you very much. The adults in our family have decided to minimize or eliminate exchanging gifts and focus on the kids. None of us actually need anything. I only buy things for my parents that I find really meaningful if I buy anything at all. Usually I end up making a donation in my mom’s name to a charity we both like to support. We have given my brother toys for his dogs and my dad usually gets candy (that he says he likes but never eats so we aren’t do that this year). My dad is the one person that you never know what to get because, like me, if he wants something he goes and gets it and doesn’t wait for anyone else to decide to gift him with it. One year I gave him a roll of quarters because he likes to go to the casino. Consumable, versatile and something I know he enjoys. The perfect gift! Think about what someone would really enjoy and then think outside the box. Literally.
What ever you do this season and however you do it, the key to avoiding mindless shopping and gathering is to consider what you are doing and why you are doing it. Who are you helping and who are you hurting? What will really bring joy into your life? Is what you are doing supporting that? What are you celebrating? If you are celebrating the birth of Jesus, then perhaps you will want to step away from the madness and focus on that. Celebrating Advent and reflecting on the meaning of the season can help break the spell of the shopping beast and soothe the anxieties of the season. Last year, the greatest gift I gave myself was literally “The Greatest Gift*” by Ann Voskamp. Reading it through Advent and beyond helped more than anything else in my journey out of the darkness of what I call “Seasonal anxiety disorder” that seems to strike around the holidays and makes me want to stick my head under a pillow until mid-January. It helped give me focus and brought my attention back to what really matters. The effect has lasted and this year I am looking forward to this season.
On that note, I’m off to help decorate the tree! I hope you have a blessed, peaceful holiday.
Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!