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Home > Blog > I Shop Therefore I Am
Out of Our Minds
Monday, November 28, 2005 8:54 AM
I Shop Therefore I Am
Kevin Salwen on Culture

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I ate a 9 a.m. breakfast at a hotel with my family. That might have been my first mistake: I wasn't shopping.

As the lobby TVs offered up the news of the day, I began to realize how out of step I am with the rest of America. According to CNN and the Today Show (on different TVs providing the 'news' of the morning), the top 4 stories were each about, you guessed it, shopping. There were discounts. There were people waiting overnight. There were sleepy-eyed people finding 'just the right bargains.' There were amazing new inventions for the season -- a video version of an old board game, remarkable! As if this were anything remotely close to news.

What the hell is going on here? I know that the week after Thanksgiving has long been about merchandising. I know that FDR once was convinced by merchants to move up Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November so that the Christmas selling season could be a week longer (he put it back after an outcry). I know that retailers get half their profits in this single 4-week stretch. I know, I know.

But the obsession with shopping seems nuts to me. We now have names for all this: Black Friday for the day after Thanksgiving (the day that helps retailers get into the black) and now today is being dubbed Cyber Monday because it's when people return to their T-1 equipped offices to shop online. Is this all people think about? Is this recreation? Is this what has become normal? It seems absolutely damned crazy and trite. I am alone?


12 comments

Monica Ricci - 5/11/2006 8:56:05 PM
As you might imagine, given what I do for a living, I am the anti-shopper. I counsel my clients to begin transitioning their famiy and friends into drastically reducing gift giving at birthdays and holidays. This includes weaning people off giving THINGS and toward giving EXPERIENCES. Tickets to a sporting event, a play, a museum, an exhibit, etc. are great experience gifts and guess what? You usually don't go to those things alone, which means you get the added bonus gift of spending time with someone you actually like. What a concept. I've successfully gotten the vast majority of people in my life to stop giving me gifts, which is so wonderful. I encourage everyone to begin that process and liberate yourself of a stressful holiday season beginning this year! Livin' la vida clutterfree....Monica
Shonnie - 12/2/2005 5:16:07 PM
As I read your post Kevin, I wondered if your other family members could/would identify what they like about the gift giving. A person in my Toastmasters club recently gave a speech on how to prepare for Christmas gift giving and I could tell that for her, it was truly a pleasure to think of people throughout the year and give them something that she believed or knew they would love to own. So maybe it's selfish of us to attempt to make others not gift us if that's what they love to do. I think part of my not wanting to be gifted is to make it easier for me not to give a personal gift to others (i.e., a book or clothing instead of making a donation to charity). So perhaps that's another aspect for me (and maybe others) to consider.

I do know that when I left my corporate job at the end of 2004, I asked my boss to sponsor animals at a local no-kill shelter and I felt (and still get emotional typing this now) that this was one of the best gifts I was ever a part of because it helped create the world I truly want to see -- and if that's not a great gift, I don't know what is.

One final thought. Do you think your kids would be on board with giving some of their less-loved possessions away to make room for the new gifts they're expecting? Maybe that would be a subtle way to help them experience a difference this Christmas.
Kevin - 12/2/2005 1:00:29 PM
Interesting way of phrasing all this, Shonnie. I have been trying to convince my family members that I ain't kiddin', I really don't want anything. I've even said: I know you love me; don't give me more stuff. But in a family that is accustomed to a ritualized, multi-generational present opening on Christmas Eve, that's hard stuff.

Maybe I have to start asking for wrapped up love notes or poems or kids' art or something.

For the record, my kids have made it clear that they want no part of this lack of purchasing. The Playstations and Abercrombie gift certificates are very much on the front of their minds and top of their lists.
Shonnie - 12/2/2005 11:29:47 AM
I'm glad to see so much interest in these ideas and knowing that many of you are finding other ways to 'give' this holiday season. We change the world by our actions and choices, so bravo!!

My question for all of us is this, however: Are YOU so different from the THEM you see as addicted to stuff?

For me, I know this. As my husband and I have simplified our holidays (and other typical gifting times), we are still challenged by our own accumulation desires. For instance, I know I don't need more shoes, yet when I see a lovely pair I might fold the catalog page, or put it on my wish list (like I do with books at amazon), or I tell someone else that they'd be a great gift if they need any ideas. So who is addicted here? The person I've told to go buy me the shoes or me?

I believe it's up to each of us to curb our own 'gimme gimme' cravings and consistently practice other ways to give and receive love and acknowledgement (Those are the emotions I think we're actually hoping to experience through getting a gift or giving one.) Thorough this new way of being, we can change the world. That's my challenge this Christmas, and I can use all the buddies I can get to face the challenge well. Want to play?
Shonnie - 12/2/2005 11:28:30 AM
I'm glad to see so much interest in these ideas and knowing that many of you are finding other ways to 'give' this holiday season. We change the world by our actions and choices, so bravo!!

My question for all of us is this, however: Are YOU so different from the THEM you see as addicted to stuff?

For me, I know this. As my husband and I have simplified our holidays (and other typical gifting times), we are still challenged by our own accumulation desires. For instance, I know I don't need more shoes, yet when I see a lovely pair I might fold the catalog page, or put it on my wish list (like I do with books at amazon), or I tell someone else that they'd be a great gift if they need any ideas. So who is addicted here? The person I've told to go buy me the shoes or me?

I believe it's up to each of us to curb our own 'gimme gimme' cravings and consistently practice other ways to give and receive love and acknowledgement (Those are the emotions I think we're actually hoping to experience through getting a gift or giving one.) Thorough this new way of being, we can change the world. That's my challenge this Christmas, and I can use all the buddies I can get to face the challenge well. Want to play?
Janet Auty-Carlisle - 11/28/2005 5:11:50 PM
I know this is definitely not an American thing it is a north American thing. The same happens up my way too. Here's something I thought about a few years ago which still rings true today....Can you imagine if a bunch of people from outer space arrived here and witnessed the phenomenon of Christmas shopping? The acquistion of stuff to make us feel better? Would they stay? Would they zoom back to whence they had come and wonder what the hell was wrong with these people? And then, of course, we have all of the 'third world' countries producing this crap for us in their sweat shop surroundings, enslaved and beholden to a merciless employer. Give me a break. Here's what we do at Christmas in my house. I don't ask for anything and I really mean I don't need anything. I ask, if people want to spend money on me, to instead, donate to a charity of my choice, or theirs. My favourites are women and children shelters, sexual abuse programs, street kids and homeless shelters, and, of course Parkinson's because of my mis-diagnosis of it....(Thanks again for including that Kevin)
When I go off to my next world I want to be remembered for the things I did, not the stuff I had. The phrase, you can't take it with you, is still one of truth today. Here's a call to action all you Worthwhiler's....Order subscriptions to Worthwhile for all your friends and then, have them all donate to your favourite charity! I guarantee you it will make you feel better.....Living la vida fearless, Jan www.tobeyourbest.net
Grant Henninger - 11/28/2005 5:04:01 PM
I had friends that went out 8pm on Thanksgiving to get in line at CompUSA to try and get an item they saw advertised. Of course, CompUSA only had five of them and they were gone by the time my friends got to them. And they were surprised.

I didn't understand any of this, isn't is more cost effective to just work for the same amount of time you will be standing in line and buy whatever it is that's on sale at full price? And the fact that my friends were surprised that the store didn't have hundreds of these items they are sure to loose money on astounded me. Of course stores will advertise stuff they can't deliver (in large quantities), their goal is to get us into the stores and then buy more expensive things.

Lucky for me, I don't have the money to buy anybody anything this year. People will be getting home-made cards and I will probably do something nice for them. That's what the holiday season should be about anyways, not buying yourself stuff at the cheapest prices possible, but spending time with loved ones and making sure they know you care about them.
Coley - 11/28/2005 3:39:20 PM
Kevin!

Talk about hitting the nail on the head. And did you notice that the holiday season seems to move up every year as well? I was shopping to Christmas Carols before I dressed up as a goblin for Halloween... now I'm all about celebrations, but as usual, we American's are taking things TOO FAR.

It's the Monday after Thanksgiving and I already want to pull my hair out because I'm so sick of seeing red and green everywhere. My dreams are even in red and green (well the nightmares anyways). In the past I'd have had at least another two weeks of sanity before the holiday spirit made me want move to Antartica.
dillan - 11/28/2005 2:07:46 PM
I agree 100%, this whole holiday shopping thing is a complete trainwreck. Knocking people down for a DVD player at wal-mart? The media frenzy that follows this disaster is a mess as well. We promote, discount, market to this so called addiction. You may be right, people seem to want to fill up their houses with junk. I too hope the season is a bust and people put their time, energy and money to better use. The holiday season is now all about marketing and spin and nothing but greed, its honestly all very disappointing. I may sound like an old sarcastic, cynical person but 'is this what its come to?'

I feel a backlash should be around the corner but I don't see it showing up in the registers of the retailers and the media and the rest of the fill up your life with 'stuff' felling of it all. Its always, bigger, better, more, faster and it shows up in the size of the mc-mansions, the size of our waistlines, the hospitals, the prisons. Not sure when you look at all your 'stuff' and figure out that none of that 'stuff' is not adding value to your life. I think the people of worthwhile magazine and other media outlets need to continue to strive and help people get to a more sensible place in their lives.
Kevin - 11/28/2005 12:04:04 PM
Douglas, Your word 'addiction' occurred to me too. My sentence to my wife was 'What the hell is the matter with these people?' Maybe addiction is the answer.

Terrell, Your point is a great one. Not to mention, you already can tell the news directors what stories they'll be covering next month. Sheesh.
Terrell Johnson - 11/28/2005 11:31:34 AM
I had the same thought when I was watching similar news stories over the weekend. Something occurred to me that was a little counterintuitive, but something I thought worth bringing up: with the savings rate of the vast majority of Americans below zero, maybe it would be better if this year's holiday shopping season was a bust? After all, in January we're likely to see a number of stories about the shopping binges consumers went on in December, and how over-extended (particularly on credit card debt) they're likely to be in January, and the drag that will be on their wallets and the economy as a whole. So maybe it would be better in the long run if consumers reined in their Christmas spending in a big way... though of course that's difficult to do now.
Douglas Welch - 11/28/2005 11:22:46 AM
No, Kevin, You are not alone. After seeing all the stories this weekend I realize that as a culture we have moved well in to the realm of consumer addiction. When people are trampling each other for cheap goods from China at WalMart something serious has gone wrong. I think think this year has been far worse than any in my memory, too.

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