Christmas Consumerism

Today is “Cyber Monday.”  We are being barraged with specials, sales, offers, and other ways to save money.  The ads everywhere we see them are immediate and urgent.  We have just survived “Black Friday,” the day where so many sacrificed Thanksgiving with their families, the hands-on version of the retailer’s dream.  Supposedly, we are tired enough to want to stay home and shop online, or have been forced to return to work after a respite.  Now that the workers are back, they are shopping on the office computers on company time.  What could be better?

Nobody is more frugal than I am.  I very rarely purchase anything at full price.  Now that I’m living poor on social security, I’m not buying much.  I have seen nothing that I need, nothing that I want.  I’ve seen lots of flashy things, lots of bling; lots of solutions for problems that I don’t have.

An old friend who did missionary work in Brazil once told me that the people with whom she worked didn’t realize they were “poor” until they got American television.  This simple statement took me aback and made me think about how consumerism affects our lives.  There are legions of people whose jobs are to analyze us and market to us.  Sight, sound, touch, scent, taste are all wrapped into a psychological profile.

When I was growing up, my dad worked and my mom stayed home, though she did tailoring to supplement the family income.  My folks raised five kids, sending them to Catholic school on dad’s salary from the post office.  We had one car and lived close to the post office so dad walked to work.  We rarely used the car anyway.  We lived in town where we could walk to the grocery store, the movies, and to school.  The high school did not have a parking lot.  There was no cable TV and there were no cell phones or internet.  The hardware store in our town had a toy section on the third floor (no elevator) and mom put things on lay-a-way in the weeks before Christmas.  No interest.  The local stores were glad to have her business.  In our stockings, we received, as had generations before us even back to the “old country,” a huge orange, a huge apple, and some nuts and candy.  photo (23)

Agreed, the times have changed and in many ways for the better.  We have luxuries we never had before available to everyone except the poor.  Even the poor can have a basic cell phone through services such as Safe Link, which is a great thing.  Cable companies (e.g., Comcast) will help families with children obtain computers and basic connections.

I’m not saying we should go back to the 1950s or the 1960s, but I think we should put more thought into what we buy.  So often, we buy meaningless things that waste our precious resources.  It’s not necessary to buy gifts for everyone we can think of.  Often, people feel the need to reciprocate when it is difficult for them to do so.  I have learned that if I receive something unexpectedly, a simple heartfelt “thank you”  and a smile is really all that’s necessary.  I love to pick little things up throughout the year that I know someone will love and save them for the holidays:  little Lalaloopsy dolls for my granddaughters, a baking set for my chef-to-be grandson.  Sometimes, I knit them sweaters or scarves and remind them that these are “hugs” from grandma each time they put them on.

When my own kids were small, they’d get new socks and underwear every year so there would be extra boxes to open.  In their 30s now, they expect it and would be disappointed if I forgot.  After all, what feels better than a brand-new pair of socks?

I won’t be shopping this Cyber Monday, but I’ll start looking for some great underwear sales soon.

(The photograph in this post is the Thursday – Thanksgiving Day – Chicago Tribune.  We only get the paper on Sunday so this one was a surprise “gift” paper.  The small 1/2″ section in the front is the actual news part and the larger 4″ section in the back is the Black Friday ads.)