Shop til you drop? Is dropping … good?

Zenta 2013

‘Tis the season we’re asked incessantly “are you done your Christmas shopping yet?” My unintentionally sanctimonious answer is I’m not doing Christmas shopping this year. I’m somewhat opting out of a holiday I’ve never particularly loved and love less now, but I’m also making my one obligatory present a Christmasy holiday trip.

I have nothing against presents. If you want to send me a gift I am all for that. No need to wait until Christmas, in fact. But as I get older I need and want fewer things — and if I need or want it badly enough I’ll generally buy it myself. As I develop even greater appreciation for experiential or token gifts of meaning, I’m trying to give them more.

Why don’t we use the language of “need” and “deserve” for being debt free, or having time for a walk in the woods instead of the mall, or feeling good about a donation to a charity?

It doesn’t always land well. I once gave a friend a Kiva gift certificate after we had a discussion about making a difference in the world; she reacted like I’d handed her a plate of spinach and never used it.

On the other hand my track record of giving great material gifts is no better. I’ve never actually given spinach, but those hand-painted flower pots were probably close enough. At least this way, as Metro Vancouver would say, I’m creating memories, not garbage. See, there’s the sanctimony.

Last Friday was both Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day and while I appreciate the “think about your consumer habits” symbolism I hate the literal “don’t buy anything TODAY” symbol. Choosing one day not to shop delays a purchase, it doesn’t halt rampant consumerism or the sometimes-sickening displays of holiday commercialism and greed. Yeah, yeah, they know that and the purpose is to raise awareness. But awareness and action are two different things.

If we decided to reduce our holiday expectations, if we were more attuned to being pawns in giant corporations’ marketing game, if we all committed to stop using the cutesy “retail therapy” to describe a very un-cute phenomenon, or if we’d stop saying we “deserve” things we can’t afford, more of us might be able to shift our buy-more mentality.

Why don’t we use the language of “need” and “deserve” for being debt free, or having time for a walk in the woods instead of the mall, or feeling good about a donation to a charity?

Literally not buying anything one day accomplishes nothing unless we’re open to changing our behaviour year-round. And it’s such an individual choice, made with such individual determinism. Taking great steps towards minimalism isn’t something we can be hectored into — unemployed into, yes, hectored, no.

Some of us deliberately inch away from consumerism for various reasons, but many of us inch towards it as our salaries increase through the years. What I consider essential now, idealistic 20-year-old me would smack me for even wanting.

Having just bought a SodaStream I can’t claim to be a minimalist, though I have some of the tendencies and at points in my life lived with very little — sharing a barely furnished apartment with friends after high school, living temporarily in New Brunswick and Mexico, moving back to Canada. I could totally quit my stuff anytime I wanted to.

But I love that SodaStream, bestower of a constant supply of the fizziest of fizzy water. I deserve that SodaStream. I need that SodaStream. You will pry that SodaStream from my cold dead hands.

Yup, changing attitudes and language takes time, and changing behaviour takes even longer.

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