Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Reflection on The True Meaning of Christmas (Shopping)

Oh wow, Blogger's new layout is CLEAN!

K, now that I've said that, here's the update for which you've been waiting breathlessly: I got a promotion!'s more like a "promotion". My hours are cut but my commission goes up by a whole fat 1%. I'm off the 'flex team' and on as a part-time permanent position in Men's Fragrances. I have a home department! I don't have to worry about picking up hours... mostly because I'm going to be scheduled a paltry 25-28 hours a week (if that!). Hopefully though, it'll pick up a little around Xmas.

And here's some reflection:

For retailers, the next 3.5 months (October through December) are expected to be the busiest of the year. Christmas housewares are already on display; ornaments are being set out and the holiday fragrance gift sets are coming in. We get more every day. And people are already buying them, even if they cost more than they want to spend, because it's a "gift set", and we tell them it's a "good deal". Funny how people will buy something bigger to save a little bit more.

Funny how people will buy a lot of things, really. I've heard hundreds of shoppers declining to use credit cards and paying in cash instead: "I'm dangerous with a credit card". "If I shop with a card, my accountant yells at me". "I closed all my cards". Our credit crisis clearly hit home. The on-again-off-again (if you listened to the 'experts' anyway) recession lowered consumer spending except in the upper-middle-class and upper-class markets. And yet, we all shop! I still go shopping, and I'm on a budget! I have more clothes to wear to work than one person really needs but I'm always looking for another cute, warm sweater - especially if it's on sale!

Why do we buy? Giving gifts is a social contract thing, yadda yadda... but why do we feel compelled to go out and spend thousands of dollars? (and I've SEEN the evidence of that spending. Our store's holiday kickback program nets you 10% back on purchases, and after the holidays, people bring in their gift cards with that 10%, and the gift card totals are $300-$400. Which means they spent $3-4,000 in just our store last retail season.)

As much as I appreciate shoppers (since I get commission on what they buy!) I always have to stop and wonder how many people really need what we're selling. Sure, consumer spending drives the economy, and we've all been told that the economy needs to be healthy (lots of spending!) to make us all healthier and happier. What if that's not true? What if cutting our spending and letting capitalism take a hit is actually better for us? Nothing can grow forever. Even the oldest living things on earth (either single plants or plant colonies, depending who you're asking) have experienced die-offs. Ecosystems sometimes require a forest fire or flood to restore balance. Humans have even taken to doing controlled burns in areas where we can't risk the natural wildfire cycle (eg in areas where residential properties have taken over what used to be wildfire zones). So why is a controlled burn in our man-made systems so difficult?

I think it's because even though we are urged to do it in other parts of our lives (tossing old stuff, "de-cluttering" our address books, our desks, and our calendars, letting go of old emotional hang-ups) to make room for growth, no one has ever told us to let go of our consumerism. "Simplify your life!" shouts a guru. "Buy my book!". "De-stress! De-clutter your mind and open yourself to happiness!" advertises a domestic diva. "Pick up my dvd series!".

It's easy to toss out half your closet. There's plenty more clothing available when you want it. It's a lot harder to toss out your spending habits, especially when you "need" the things you buy - toiletries and brand-name foods, gifts for friends and family, clothing for work. We all justify purchases that way. We "need" it. We can't make it at home - we don't have the skills to support us that way.

That's why I'm a proponent of learning basic skills like cooking and sewing - the stuff our great-grandmothers learned as kids because that's what their parents thought an adult should know. Those skills make good sense. I can cut my spending (even if the economists in Washington, D.C. tell me I shouldn't) by making my own frozen stir-fry mix with fresh garden veggies and rice purchased in bulk instead of buying a pre-made single-serving meal at the grocery store. I can make my own gifts for friends, rather than buying them useless trinkets. And I can bake a cake when I get a craving, and know exactly what goes into it. I think we'd all be healthier and happier with more personal growth rather than more economic growth, and I think we know it, inside, but we aren't sure how to start.

Well, here's my suggestion: Learn a skill you've always wanted to learn, and let your interests guide you into a healthier lifestyle. :) I'm working on my kitchen skills, especially bread-making. What about you?

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