Today I’m blogging in concert with Carole Jane Treggett, Kathy Sprinkle and Sue Mitchell, on the topic of holiday consumerism. We’ve all got a different take on the subject so you’ll want to visit their posts as well.
Why does my stomach hurt? Why is my head pounding? Must be time to reach for my favorite natural remedies… No wait! I’m not coming down with something – this is happening because December has arrived and once again I’ve barely got a grip on my holiday gift strategy.
Sure, I’ve been posting some fun and easy homemade gift recipes here – I’ll be getting going on some of those really soon. And I hope you’ve got some creative gift-making plans in the works too. That should do something to reduce these anxiety symptoms.
But there’s always those few people, those few items, that force me to venture out of my own kitchen in a quest for gifts. Time to head to the Mall I guess, right?
Usually I write here about wellness on an individual level. Today I’m stretching a little beyond these parameters. I want to talk about the wellness of your community.
Think about it for a minute: what’s your favorite brick & mortar business? How do you feel when you walk in? Does the shopkeeper greet you by name? Do you know exactly where to go to find your favorite items? Perhaps your chosen community business is like my herb shop was to some folks. They just felt good when they walked in. And they felt even better when they walked out.
But back to YOUR favorite place to shop or visit in your town. Now imagine how you might feel if you walked up to that building only to find the doors locked with a “Gone out of Business” sign on the front window. Could it happen? Maybe.
December Debt Frenzy
This is a crazy month here in the U.S. and across the Western world. (If you are lucky enough to live in a culture or country that ignores this winter holiday gift-giving custom than you can safely skip this post.) It’s a time when many of us throw the previous 11 months of careful spending and budgeting out the window. We whip out our Visa cards and head to the nearest big box store to get the best deals.
Last week, on “Black Friday,” thousands of people lined up outside stores like Wal-Mart and Target in the middle of the night. They were there to take advantage of sales on throw-away items, probably manufactured by children working in sweatshops, and many of which will fall apart within a year’s time.
Somehow we’ve let these corporations – and their smart marketing strategies – convince us that we need to buy these things – for ourselves, for our families, our friends, whoever.
Here in California the Black Friday frenzy reached a crescendo of violence this year, with angry customers pulling out pepper spray and other weapons to fend off competing buyers of their coveted toys.
This. Has. Got. To. Stop.
I mean, where are we going, and why are we in this hand basket?
All the sacred texts, all the gurus, the self-help theorists, meditation experts – you name it – they all say the same thing: happiness is cultivated from within. All the toys and gifts that money can buy can still leave you empty.
Most of us grasp this concept intellectually.
But when these winter holidays approach, that fear seizes us again. How can we possibly afford to buy everyone the gifts they are expecting, that they NEED? Those things we want to give so we can feel like we are good enough, well off enough, a real friend, a good parent.
Unfortunately the only way to afford an excess of gifts and stuff is to buy cheap crap that is manufactured in sweatshops and sold in big box stores that care nothing for you, for your community, or anything really – except their bottom line.
And even then, many of us spend far more than our income allows – throwing us into a cycle of debt that it takes all year to climb out of.
If we want to cultivate wellness within, we also need to look outside of ourselves, to our neighbors and to our community.
Less Is More
I have to ‘fess up here: as much as I despise this winter holiday push to consume, consume, consume, I was forced to embrace it for many years. Because I owned a brick and mortar shop.
See, as a small independent retailer the livelihood of my entire business depended on holiday sales. All year long we struggled to pay the bills and keep the doors open – until the big December windfall that brought us back into the black again.
And that folks – in case you didn’t know – is why they call it “Black Friday.”
Unfortunately the name has now taken on a darker meaning.
The truth is, your own favorite independent business – whether it is the shop down the street, or an enterprising creative selling her work online – most likely depends on holiday sales to keep afloat.
The other truth is that independent shop or artist cannot offer you the rock bottom prices that chain stores can. They’re too small to get the deals from wholesalers, they’re not raking in those corporate tax breaks, they’re just trying to make ends meet.
And they’re doing it by offering you creative, quirky and useful alternatives to mass-produced goods.
Think about it a minute. You could save $10 by purchasing a gift at a big box chain thereby helping to line corporate coffers with the money you do spend. Or, you could purchase a smaller, less expensive gift from an independent, help your community to thrive and foster creativity and independent entrepeneurship.
Personally, I choose to spend a little more on an individual gift so I can support my community of independents. But instead of buying lots of gifts, I’ll make fewer purchases and instead offer loved ones my homemade creations or a gift of my time.
It’s a cliché, I know, but less really IS more.
Let’s keep it simple this season. Let’s keep it small. You’ll thank yourself when your credit card bill arrives in January. And you can give yourself another pat on the back when you next walk into your favorite community business.
If all of my rambling isn’t enough to steer you away from the nearest Wal-Mart, consider this data supplied by the group Shift Your Shopping.
Numerous studies show that spending in locally owned, independent businesses provides significant economic benefits to a community. For example, a 2008 study of Kent County Michigan by Civic Economics projected shifting 10 percent of the county’s per capita spending from chains to locally-owned independent businesses would create “almost $140 million in new economic activity and 1,600 new jobs for the region.”
Most of the money spent in big boxes leaves the community and goes to corporate headquarters. In contrast, for every $100 spent at a local independent, $25 more stays in the local community and circulates there.
Can’t find what you’re looking for in your own community? You can still support independents when shopping in cyberspace. Sure, it may be cheaper on Amazon – but do you want that to be your only choice in five years time?
Buy books and e-books through independent booksellers online. Indie Bound helps you find the sources to buy books and e-books online from independent booksellers.
Look for local artisans on Etsy. This site features lots of fun handmade and upcycled items for sale online from independent artisans, and you can search by geography. See who’s making and selling cool gifts in your neighborhood.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably with me on this idea of creating a thriving and healthy community by spending our hard-earned dollars with independents. You can find more resources at the American Independent Business Alliance , Shift Your Shopping , and BALLE (Business Alliance For Local Living Economies.)
Meanwhile – don’t forget the best gifts are always those made by you! More recipes coming soon!
Want to consider more angles on consumerism? Visit the bloggers who are joining me in writing on this topic today:
Carole Jane Treggett, Merry Debt-Free Holidays: How to Spend Less and Create More Meaning and Value This Year
Sue Mitchell, 6 ½ Ways Consumerism Impacts Your Creativity
Kathy Sprinkle, The Green Christmas Inquiry – 8 ways to Celebrate with Mother Earth’s Blessing