Yesterday my mother and I spent the day doing our Christmas shopping. As someone who rarely ever sets foot in a mall, does not participate in “recreational shopping”, and is trying to stick to a budget, I found the experience bewildering to say the least. At times I felt like I was an alien visiting from another world, seeing things through new eyes. Malls are filled with just such an enormous amount of things that nobody would ever truly need, such – in my eyes – inordinate wastes of money, it was hard to fathom.
It’s not like I wasn’t your basic Western consumer up until a few years ago. But even before I discovered the concept of Simple Living I had figured out that when I didn’t go to malls, I didn’t buy much. Still now, after a year of resolve to rid myself of the influence of consumerism and marketing, I found myself tempted in the stores. I suppose that’s nothing to be ashamed of given how hard retailers have worked over the last few decades to study the psychology of your average shopper and design an entire environment – complete with sights, sounds, and smells – that is geared directly toward stimulating that impulse to acquire shiny, new Stuff.
But every time I passed a store whose windows were laden with overpriced clothing (most likely made by workers being paid a pittance), or sparkly baubles, or unimaginative plastic toys…all I could think of was how most people in this part of the world don’t even have a savings account (my province, British Columbia, actually has a negative savings rate). People complain about having no time and no money but look at what we choose to spend it on! And it made me rather sick to think about how much of the Earth’s resources had gone into this massive temple of mass production.
I had resolved to keep the gift spending down this year (more on my homemade gift baskets will be posted soon), yet even so with each swipe of the credit card I winced (and not because I was putting myself in debt: we are devout pay-off-the-balance-each-month folks, but it does make it easier to track extraneous spending). There were those one-or-two gifts that come more out of a sense of obligation than desire to do something special, and those are the kind that hurt the most at the checkout counter. At least most of my gifts this year will be more heartfelt.
The nicest part of the day was getting to spend time with my Mum, and to wander through stores without young children in tow. We ended up having dinner together, warming up on an unusually cold evening with some spicy Szechuan cuisine.
The downside was my aching feet, my growing stack of receipts (though we came away with not a single disposable bag, having brought sufficient reusable ones with us), and a cold, harsh look at a world I try to stay away from most of the time – teenagers strolling through the mall wearing too much makeup and showing too much skin, spending money without a thought to saving for the future, all in a desperate and misguided attempt to find themselves; middle-aged women trying to hide themselves (or, more accurately, hide their age) under layers of goopey makeup, with hair unnaturally dyed and coiffed, squeezed into clothes designed for a younger, tighter figure; men and women lining up at the cosmetic counter to spend ridiculous amounts of money on fancy bottles of smelly chemicals, potions, lotions, and cremes to hide their scent, their face, their colouring. So much escapism…so much fear of just being oneself. It was all really rather sad.
I wish I could say I’m done for the year but the one stop I was most looking forward to proved the most fruitless. We went out of our way to a natural toy store where I was hoping to find some quality, non-plastic, imaginative toys for my kids priced under $50. Fully half the store was devoted to dolls and their accessories (my girl has no interest in such things), another good chunk were puzzles (we have tons, and guess who has to pick up all the pieces), and the few toys I thought they might like were well over my price limit. And so I’ll have to venture out into that strange world once more before the season is over. Meanwhile, I’ll sit here and stare out the window at the falling snow and the winter wonderland that greeted us this morning. Now THAT is my idea of beauty!