Tag Archives: consumerism

Thankful I’ll be Home on Black Friday

Disclaimer: I begrudge no one the experience of shopping on Black Friday. If that’s your thing or your holiday tradition, go for it. To each his or her own.

I, however, won’t be engaging in any retail recreation or therapy on the day after Thanksgiving for several reasons that range from ethics and justice to simplicity and supporting local businesses. I’m thankful to be able to opt out of the consumer hamster wheel and choose a different way to spend the day. Here are my reasons.

1. Because we keep Christmas giving simple, there is no need to rush out and save a few cents (which is generally what it amounts to once the value of my time and fossil fuel is figured in). I don’t take pleasure in shopping, so there is particular incentive to hold this day sacrosanct for consumer activities. I would much rather stay home and read, write, play games, or watch a movie.

2. I find myself resenting the retail world’s ever-increasing competition to be the first, the earliest, and the most sensational. You can now shop Black Friday deals before the day even officially arrives. I find it equally annoying that the Halloween candy was competing for space with Christmas decorations before the little witches and goblins had a chance to don their costumes.

3. It’s pretty tough to balance giving thanks for abundant blessings one day and then obsessing over wants before the sun rises on a new morning. Whatever happened to being content? Or even simply letting your food settle before thinking about what to consume next? We in North America are incredibly blessed. Why not savor those blessings a little longer?

4. When I do shop, I prefer to do so locally, supporting independent businesses whenever possible. I also like to give gifts that are consumable, practical, or revolve around time and experiences. We make our own jellies and other canned goods to give. Other good options are handmade soaps, candles, plants, and wearable art. Best of all are gifts of time: concert passes, a certificate for dinner and a movie, or a coffee shop gift certificate. My favorite gift last year was a $5 stainless steel serving spoon. Hey, it gets used almost every day, and I get to tell the gifter repeatedly how much I like it!

5. Finally, I’m just stubborn enough and of an un-consumer mindset to resent being told what’s a great deal and what I simply can’t live without. Now that we don’t have television we get to opt out of a lot of the warm, snuggly holiday advertisements. Bah! Humbug! (Note: I direct that last Dickens-esque comment only to the commercial consumption machine and its minions–not to any holiday celebration.)

So, what alternatives exist to falling into the Black Friday black hole?

1. Just don’t do it. Plan a day of leftovers, lounging, sports, hunting, or hiking (if the weather allows). Spend time with family and friends. Give your children or grandchildren an entire day of your time. Take a little time to write letters, Skype, or phone the ones you love who live far from home.

2. Gather a group of friends and family members for a crafting day, bake-a-thon, or craft gift exchange. Make gifts together or barter and exchange for handmade gifts to give. You’ll have a blast, save money, and support one another’s artistic endeavors.

3. Declare a do-nothing pampering day. Take a long bubble bath. Eat fair-trade organic chocolate. Drink good fair trade coffee or tea. Stay in your pajamas all day long. Read that book you’ve been putting off. Give your spouse or significant other a massage. Do whatever brings you bliss. Remember that self-care is important, too. Hey, at least you won’t risk being mowed down in the quest for a limited edition Furby or the latest i-whatever!

4. Give of yourself. Volunteer at your local soup kitchen. Host a coat, glove, and hat drive. Collect non-perishables for the local food bank. Be creative and some way to give to others rather than to consume.

If you must shop on this most unholy of retail days, consider these alternatives:

4. Hit up the local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or consignment shops. See what perfectly wonderful treasures you might find for friends and family who support your un-consumer predilections and who find joy in preventing new additions to the consumer stream.

5. Shop locally. Go to your local farmer’s market, boutiques, or art galleries and support your local economy. Pay particular attention to selecting fairly traded, sustainable, and locally made items. Buy consumables if possible. Refuse to set foot in any big box or chain store for at least this one day.

6. If you simply must shop the major consumer retailers, consider carefully planning only what you need to purchase and make those purchases online. My super-bargainista friend Melissa tells me you can get almost anything at Black Friday prices that way. She would know because she is amazing at finding excellent deals. A major part of the reason she shops like this is to give to those in need and support local charities.

Finally, remember that there are very few real bargains. Somebody pays somewhere along the consumer chain. It may be that underpaid factory worker in China, or it may be the planet from the fossil fuel emissions expended to tote said “bargain” halfway around the world. It may be the big box store employee who gets just enough hours to prevent him or her from qualifying for benefits, or it may be you who supports government subsidies for these workers through your taxes. It might even be the person who receives the gift and finds out that corners were cut in the quality of the item to accommodate the supposed bargain price.

When you must consume, do your best to consumer justly, minimally, wisely, and thoughtfully. Make your precious resources count as best you can. Waste not, want not, and love your neighbor as yourself.

What ideas do you have for countering the Black Friday consumption monster?

Photos by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com, KayOne73. glindsay65, bradley j, and Breibeest. Thanks!

Not-So-Retail Therapy

Most folks who know me well are aware that I do not take much pleasure in shopping–especially the kind of retail shopping that involves plunking down major cash outlays for transitory and often cheaply made consumer goods. In short, I just about have to be dragged to a shopping mall.

That said, I can understand how shopping can be classed as “retail therapy.” There’s the thrill finding that seemingly perfect item to fill a need, or more likely, a want in a person’s life. I’ve been there and done that and have come to find the outcome severely lacking.

Now I practice “not-so-retail” therapy. Let me explain. As a member of The Compact, I avoid buying new items that contribute to an ever-growing waste stream and violate principles of justice and equity that I hold important.

My latest “not-so-retail” therapy sessions involved Goodwill, Staples, and Dollar Tree. Here’s the story.

I’ve been looking for a basic black wool winter coat since moving back north of the Mason/Dixon line (great match for clergy clothes), so I stopped in at my local Goodwill to check out what might be available. Sure enough I found a gorgeous classic style from a New York custom tailor for $12. Awesome! Then I found a pair of black Ann Taylor dress pants that fit perfectly for $4. Nice! Finally, I found a name brand long mock turtle sweater/dress that is perfect for tights or skinny jeans and boots for $3. Score! To make it even better, the nice lady at the cash register took an additional $2 off  the price of the pants because they were missing a button. Wow!

So for $17 I got three wonderful articles of clothing that are useful, in great condition, and didn’t put anything new into the consumer stream. Plus, these items helped me to get closer to my black/white and shots of bright color basic wardrobe that I’ve been aiming for as clothes wear out. My deal is that when three things come in three things go out, so three summer shirts went bye-bye.

A few days later, after considerable research (assisted by my more tech-savvy spouse), I headed over to Staples armed with a 20% off coupon to purchase a new projector for the congregation I serve. I came out with a fine model that has everything we need along with a set of nice speakers (40% off) for a total ticket of considerably under $500. Being a good steward of the congregation’s money is important. Could I have found one used? Possibly. In this case, I decided to make the purchase new to balance value, need, and time constraints.

Finally, the lure of The Dollar Tree next to Staples was too much to resist, and $13 and change later I emerged with 10 cans of Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes, two jars of an upstate New York regional pasta sauce (great ingredient list), and a box of organic peanut butter chip granola bars. I couldn’t have been happier had you set me loose in Macy’s the day after Thanksgiving with a $1000 gift card.

You probably understand the search for a good value on the projector, but you may be shaking your head and wondering how I can get so excited about dollar store diced tomatoes and secondhand clothing. It is, after all, counter to everything our culture tries to sell us about what it means to be a consumer. That’s the point. I no longer need to be told, sold, or “guilted” into consuming beyond my needs.

As part of a culture that takes way more than its share of the world’s resources, I feel a responsibility to weigh each purchase carefully. I prefer to buy local or regional brands (often dumped at dollar or outlet stores) to avoid supporting agri-giants. I buy used clothing whenever possible and try to avoid big box stores in favor of locally owned businesses.

It’s a constant effort to be an un-consumer in a consumer culture, and I fail miserably from time to time. But I believe it is the effort and thought that count. If all of us would simply begin to weigh our purchases more carefully in terms of justice, environmental impact, and impact on the local economy and our neighbors, I think we’d see a huge difference. At least that’s my hope, prayer, and dream. In the meantime, I’m content to engage in not-so-retail therapy whenever I must consume. Sure is a lot easier on the bank account, too!

How about you? What are your tips for being a more thoughtful consumer? Do you engage in no-so-retail therapy, too?

Photos by sylar_major,  informiorium, TAKA@P.P.R.S., and TownePost Network. Thanks!