27 November 2009

Being More, Buying Less this Holiday Season

Today is Black Friday, the day Americans go bezerk and buy all kinds of marked down junk in the name of saving money on Christmas purchases . I'll admit, part of me would love to have gone to Kohl's at 4 am for their Black Friday sale, mostly because I love making the mundane into an Event. And with a friend, a stop for donuts and a thermos of coffee (like the one my dad used when I was a kid) it could have been fun. But you, my reader, know sleep is a precious commodity these days.

It's just as well, really. Because in my heart of hearts I know better. Our days of shopping as national past time are (for the time being anyway) drawing to a close. In fact, I celebrate the downsizing of the what had become a Roman orgy of conspicuous consumption, the zenith - or nadir, really - of which was the appalling death by stampede at a Wal-Mart last Black Friday.

Snowy Ponderosa pines courtesy sfu.ca

My motto? Create more, consume less. My policy regarding holiday decorations, for instance, has long been "Only the Ephemeral". To avoid A) spending tons and B)stuffing my house full of unnecessary plastic, decorations must either be used up - candles, decorated sugar cookies - or tossed out. That means pine branches, mistletoe and holly sprigs at Christmas. If I get really ambitious, I might make my own menorah out of some natural material. What could be more appropriate at Halloween and Thanksgiving than pumpkins and gourds? Or lilies, tulips and dyed eggs at Easter? I've always been happier focusing on the seasonal element of the holidays. We don't get much of that here in perma-sunny Southern California, so I have to do what I can to make the most of what little seasonal variation we get. Most of the ephemeral elements are the most ancient anyway; what our progenitors would have used long ago to mark special occasions. Call me old fashioned, but I'm kinda into that.

Don't get me wrong - I'd love to be able to buy two for one cashmere sweaters or a set of vintage light-up snowmen for the front lawn. I'm in a constant battle to fight my own acquisitive nature. (It really is an affliction, this love of pretty, pretty things.) But when money is tight, not buying is the only choice. Even in good economic times, making instead of buying makes sense. The best birthday I gave Mr. S was the year he woke up to find eucalytpus branches (his favorite smell) garlanded around our four-poster bed. One Valentines Day I created a tent on our side porch out of thrift-store-found sheets dyed pink. I hung candle-lit lanterns we and reclined on a bed of cushions, where I fed him roast lamb while his favorite albums played. Whatever gifts we exchanged those years didn't make it into my permanent memory bank. But the tent and eucalyptus are impossible to forget.

There exists another motivation for this: Be more and buy less. If you saw the recent Oprah episode, you know that the Danes are considered the happiest people on the planet. ("They've got the answers to the things we don't even have questions for yet!" my friend who recently returned form Denmark exclaimed.) People in Denmark, it seems, chose professions not by the corresponding status or income, but by what work will bring them satisfaction. They may be taxed a lot more, but with their health care and education provided for by the state, they needn't worry. They may make less, but they don't need as much as we seem to. As a result, they tend to have less junk in their homes (and lives) to manage. And more time to do whatever brings them joy - like spend time with family, or create art.

All the more reason why this year, now that we're a single income family, Mr. Sybarite may not be getting the latest piece of electronic wizardry, as in years past (sorry, honey.) Instead, I've got a little something homemade up my sleeve I think might please him just as much. Stay tuned - I'll tell later but don't want to spoil the surprise for him yet!

Perhaps the pendulum has finally, happily, swung: from our rampant collective case of affluenza to an appreciation of the simple, the homemade, the smart and resourceful. I kinda wish I could take a Home Ec class to learn the basics every household once utilized - like how to freeze, can, and other old-fashioned methods to create more and consume less. Or how about a handy person course, where I could learn my way around a saw, a drill and other basic tools? Why shouldn't our status be measured by how self-sufficient we can be, instead of by what sits in our driveway?

Now that I've got a daughter, I'm trying to make the conscious choice to make the holidays meaningful. I endeavor to teach her that Christmas is not about Stuff, either buying it, or getting it (Season's Greedings!) Instead I look forward to creating our own family traditions revolving around food (my own personal national past time) and the people we love. I'd like to teach her that people matter more than things, a lesson I'm still learning myself.


  1. So this does mean you will learn how to make apple mac electronic products :-)

  2. I love this.
    Commercials where mothers refer to the "best part of the holidays" as "watching their child unwrap EVERYTHING they wanted" make my skin crawl.
    Your sentiments are beautiful in both idea and writing-style.
    I can't wait to celebrate more holidays with you and the rest of the family!
    Love, Sylv