You can step off the merry-go-round of holiday shopping and spending
October 26, 2005
If your household is like mine, you are once again experiencing that sense of Shock and Awe at the intensity of the annual pre-emptive strikes on your holiday-spending budget.The catalogs arrive by the bushel-basket full. Advertisers pick away at your sense of self-worth by reminding you that everyone else is buying their loved ones luxury cars, jewelry, cruises, iPods and plasma TV’s. The holiday displays are reminders that nothing says “I Love You” like going into debt.Then there are all the special new ways to make your holiday a “Testament to Tackiness.” Surely you can’t do without that mechanical moose wearing the red and green sombrero that spews forth a tinny version of “Feliz Navidad” every time someone walks by. (Where is that singing Big Mouth Bass from a few years back?)You may find this hard to believe, but all of this is truly optional. You can elect to step off the insane merry-go-round of holiday shopping and spending. It’s easier than you might think. Really.My husband and I made that decision several years back. It all started with one of those pre-holiday conversations we are all familiar with: “So, what do you want for Christmas?” “I dunno. What do you want?” “I dunno.” We realized, to our surprise, that neither of us really wanted anything all that much – at least nothing that was worth heating up the credit cards for. We live a simple, contented life, and more “stuff” just didn’t seem to matter very much. Besides, in a 900-square-foot house with two people, two dogs and one very noisy bird – we don’t have room for any more stuff. We made the mutual decision to make donations to our favorite charities instead, in whatever cash amounts we could afford.Now, I’ll admit straight out, this decision was infinitely easier since we have no children. I know that the choice my husband and I made is not appropriate for every family. I am not saying that anyone should deny their children (or themselves) the magic of the holiday season, and I can only guess at the pressure exerted on the parental psyche by kids who have been conditioned from birth to want – to need – whatever they think everyone else is getting.However, this annual spending frenzy does seem counter-productive at best, a bizarre addiction at worst, and it certainly has eliminated most of the “magic” from holidays of the 21st Century. There isn’t much “magic” in rampant materialism and conspicuous consumption, in needing the newest, and biggest Widget-of-the-Week or risk being uncool. That’s just selfish, insecure ego-gratification at its most vulgar extreme. We aren’t teaching our children (or ourselves) any lessons about joy or personal depth or spiritual growth by that.In the book “Born to Buy,” author Juliet B. Schor notes studies which show that “High consumer involvement is a significant cause of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and psychosomatic complaints. Psychologically healthy children will be made worse off if they become more enmeshed in the culture of getting and spending”. Such people are “. . . less likely to experience positive emotions, such as happiness and joy”.For us, opting out of the get-and-spend culture made our holidays much brighter, much lighter, much more joyful. We have realized that even the $5 or $10 or $20 spent on some stocking stuffer carries a lot more mileage at the local food bank or animal shelter than it does on something that ends up in the junk drawer. Without the pressure to fight the traffic and crowds, to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need, we have found the magic again. We enjoy time with family and friends, rather than haunting the mall in a stressed-out daze. We can watch the beauty of a Christmas Eve snowfall without worrying about the post-New Years fallout of bills. And we now look forward to writing those holiday checks, rather than dreading it. Years ago, I came across something that really hit home with me. It was the observation that in Western culture, success is usually defined as the ability to acquire more and more. I think we all feel the constant pressure of this mind-set. In Eastern approaches, however, success is often defined by the ability to be happy with less and less. By this equation, how many of us can truly call ourselves successful?In the past year, we have seen far too many disasters, both natural and man-made. We have seen our brothers and sisters, many of whom had precious little to begin with, now with everything stripped away. We have come to the realization that there are not enough resources to help everyone who needs it. And yet, we are being told 24/7 that we should expect more. We even hear from some quarters that it would be unpatriotic, un-American, not to expect more. In the face of tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes and wars, what is really capable of giving us joy? For us, the knowledge that we are consuming less and giving more is the most joyous gift we could ever receive.Loré McLaren is a Truckee resident.