The holiday season is officially upon us and with it comes celebrations of friendships, family, and beliefs. But the holidays also bring additional baggage—some of it literal. I’m talking about holiday shopping and unless you live in a bag, you’ve probably been inundated with ads, spam, commercials, and messages Everywhere. You. Go. reminding you to get your shopping on.
It’s so easy to get pulled into the shopping frenzy that comes with the holidays. Marketers know how to hook us and drag us in by playing on our guilt, our good intentions, and our desire to express care to those we love. But if we’re not careful, instead of actually expressing care to those we love, we end up stressing ourselves out trying to get the perfect gifts for everyone on our lists and are left broke and exhausted by the time the holidays arrive. If we’re not careful, buying becomes a substitute for the hard work of connecting and loving those around us.
Consumerism—“a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods”—has become a status symbol we use to prove to ourselves and others that we are good enough. Through buying goods we communicate our value and through buying things for those we love we communicate love. Matt Walsh recently discussed this in his blog, and I think his commentary is spot on.
“That’s our entire economic system: buy things. Everybody buy. It doesn’t matter what you buy. Just buy. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have money. Just buy. Our entire civilization now rests on the assumption that, no matter what else happens, we will all continue to buy lots and lots of things. Buy, buy, buy, buy, buy. And then buy a little more. Don’t create, or produce, or discover — just buy. Never save, never invest, never cut back — just buy. Buy what you don’t need with money you don’t have. Buy when you’re happy. Buy when you’re sad. Buy when you’re hungry. Buy when you want to lose weight. Buy an iPhone. Six months have passed, here, buy another iPhone. Go online and buy things. Go to the mall and buy things. On your way, stop and buy some more things. Buy things for every occasion. Buy things to celebrate. Buy things to mourn. Buy things to keep up with the trends. Buy things while you’re buying things, and then buy a couple more things after you’re done buying things. If you want it — buy it. If you don’t want it — buy it. Don’t make it — buy it. Don’t grow it — buy it. Don’t cultivate it — buy it. We need you to buy. We don’t need you to be a human, we don’t need you to be a citizen, we don’t need you to be a capitalist, we just need you to be a consumer, a buyer. If you are alive you must buy. Buy like you breathe, only more frequently.”
Consumerism is Mindless
It’s not grounded, it’s not centered. Consumerism doesn’t care what your bank balance looks like, it doesn’t care that your closets are full, and that your children don’t need one more video game. Consumerism is mindlessness personified, and yet it comes with real consequences.
Besides the financial consequences of over-spending and accruing debt, consumerism contributes to mindless living. Rather than saving for things that are personally meaningful, we buy to soothe and comfort. Consumerism feeds competition. It leads to needless comparisons and efforts to keep up with those around us. It leads us to looking outside of ourselves for value rather than grounding ourselves internally.
Consumerism takes us further from our values. Instead of asking the question “what do I believe?” we are busy answering the question “do I fit in?” to which consumerism can answer “No, but I can help you. Buy this.” We all know actions speak louder than words. What do our actions say about us? If someone were to look at your bank account, what would they conclude about you? “She loved Amazon.”
I have a dear friend who spends her holidays building homes for those who can’t afford them. She’s not a carpenter, she’s not particularly skilled with a hammer. But she values service and she wants her children to value it as well. She wants her children to know the satisfaction that comes from thinking less of themselves and thinking more of others—in all the best ways. I love this friend for her goodness and her values personified.
I’m also not against having nice things. I enjoy a lovely gift and love giving thoughtful gifts to those I love. I just don’t want to get lost in the frenzy to buy and miss the heart of the matter, which for me is all about connecting to my values through my connections with others. This year for the holidays we are buying a new couch—a ginormous couch that can fit the whole family on it. It’s called The Cuddler and I’m so excited to cuddle with my not-so-little ones on this behemoth couch this Christmas.
So, while I see lots of dangers of consumerism, I’m also not advocating a total rejection of holiday traditions of gift-giving. These traditions are important as well. I’m simply requesting that we be mindful about our gift-giving and mindful about how we spend our time and energies this holiday season. Is your time best spent in a line at Toys R Us? For me, no. But perhaps yes for you.
I don’t want you to feel guilty with every purchase you make—really, I don’t! I just want you to be mindful about your holiday celebrations and make sure your values are driving the bus this holiday season and that you’re not distracted by the billboards on your route.
To that end, I’ve included a gift giving guide for thoughtful and personal gifts this holiday season. It’s a group effort based on discussions in our Facebook Group, Embodied Living, plus ideas I’ve garnered from various places. Take what may fit for you, and leave the rest. May your holidays be filled with the people and experiences that bring you joy!