Shop until you drop (further into debt).
That joyful season is upon us again; the one that seems to come around every year about this time. The season, where rampant consumerism disguised as a time to show others how we feel about them through a transactional exchange of material goods, otherwise known as Christmas.
Now I’m not going to get all preachy about the real reason for the season, because if I did I’d tell you about the early Roman and Pagan origins of Christmas and how December 25th is no where near the historical Jesus’ birthday (who was likely born in spring or summer), no, I wouldn’t do that. No, this is not an essay to validate or negate anyone’s belief system. Faith of the religious sort is just that, a set of convictions that an individual has about their God, gods, or not-god, as the case may be. Anyway, as I so often do, I digress…
Likely you are familiar with Buy Nothing Day, the campaign that Adbusters , the notorious band of self-proclaimed culture jammers and the magazine that bears the same name, started twenty (yes, twenty!) years ago. For those who are not familiar, perhaps because you have been in a coma for the last two decades, here’s a brief description from their website :
Historically, Buy Nothing Day has been about fasting from hyper consumerism – a break from the cash register and reflecting on how dependent we really are on conspicuous consumption.
While many people get this idea on a conceptual level, most are reluctant to adopt Buy Nothing Day, even for one season. Over the years I have heard many excuses from a variety of individuals as to why they can’t do this, or how it’s not possible, etc. I think the level of excuse-making is indicative of just how deeply embedded is our perceived need to consume and our serious attachment to stuff.
Aside from my feelings about over-consumption of material goods and my affinity for this movement, I do recognize that people are going to continue to shop and drop deeper into debt, often purchasing items out of a sense of obligation, and perpetuating the burgeoning waste stream that finds its way to our landfills. And I am not spotless when it comes to no shopping or gifting during the holidays, but I typically make 80 percent of the gifts I give, or purchase from local merchants. Many of the few gifts I give are small in size and cost; you’ll get no 46” vibrating plasma robot from me!
For the most part, we all have too much stuff. Yes, even your four-year-old nephew does. Your husband, he’ll be fine this year if you don’t give him the latest 348-blade fishing knife. Wherever you stand on the consumer continuum, I have a proposition for you:
Take five minutes out of your busy day and sit quietly. No television, radio, or Internet for distraction. Close your eyes and breathe deeply and fully, noticing how you feel. Meditate for a few minutes on why you give, maybe why you feel compelled to give, and if there is anything you can change in the way you approach this season (or any time you give during the year).
Now, I’d like to ask you to consider a twist to your giving routine: give the gift of your time. Crazy idea, I know, but with so many people in financial crisis, it makes sense to give where it won’t necessarily impact your wallet, but will bring much-needed connection to someone you love (or just like a lot). If you are game to give it a try, even for a few of the people on Santa’s, I mean, your, list, here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Gardening or yard care for an elder friend or family member;
- Walk a busy friend’s dog;
- Wash your mother’s car;
- Bake or cook a meal for a family in need;
- Tutor a friend’s child;
- Volunteer to read out-loud to someone with limited sight;
- Record yourself reading your favorite stories or poems, and give to the word-lover in your life;
- Ask your friends how they’d like to share time with you.
These are just a few ideas to get you started—most have minimal to no cash outlay and pay huge dividends—for both the giver and the receiver. Now I’d like to hear from you—what ideas do you have to give the gift of time? What will you do this year? Will you honor Buy Nothing Day?