My family doesn't exchange Christmas gifts anymore. A few years ago, we decided to stop the madness -- shopping cost too much, took up too much time and didn't seem to serve anyone in a positive way. I've never been much of a gifter to begin with, partially because I don't have a lot of money, but also because buying my loved ones things they will probably hate/throw in the trash/never take out of the package seems dumb and wasteful.
But we live in a culture of stuff, adorning ourselves with things that are supposed to express who we are and tell the world how much money we make (and in turn, tell the world what we think other people think we are worth). Our stuff-obsessed culture is just as much about buying stuff as it is about having stuff -- the deal or discount or sale through which we acquired the gift item is just as important as the gift itself. Between the day after Halloween and Christmas Eve, our stuff-buying is at a twitchy, addictive high -- we are buying, buying, buying with no end in sight. And often, we are buying stuff for ourselves in a strange phenomenon that has been coined "self-gifting."
When I heard the term "self-gifting" last week on NPR, I almost spit my coffee all over my steering wheel. We're really to a point now where buying things for ourselves -- especially during the "gift-giving" holiday season -- has its own term? Shouldn't it just be called "I'm so selfish I had to take advantage of this discount on a thing I didn't need because I wanted to buy myself more crap?"
I know, I'm being unfairly negative toward this lovingly embraced lifestyle of consumption: Just because I had a personal revelation about how I didn't need or want all of my "stuff" anymore doesn't mean the rest of the world has changed its view. But why should we be buying ourselves things during this time of the year at all?
Black Friday used to describe the day when companies hoped to make a profit through a bump in early holiday shopping. But now it feels like Black Friday has become an obligation for consumers: We are supposed to live for this day of deals, stay up all night preparing to shop until we puke, and feel every emotion associated with shopping until we can't feel anymore. In turn, our insane shopping habits are then to blame for making salespeople leave family gatherings on Thanksgiving, all so they could and sell us stuff before the official Black Friday holiday of stuff even began.
At least, that's what this freaky "I live for the insanity of a perceived deal" Kmart commercial said to me last week:
I know. The economy is still in the shitter and we salespeople (I am one too, technically) need all of the hours we can get. We all need work and we all need to get paid, so we can pay our bills and buy groceries. But what if we as consumers just stopped buying all that stuff -- especially for ourselves -- and instead looked at what we really needed, or reexamined what it was we desired? Even as I type this, it seems like a very lofty goal.
I am lucky in that, when I am not selling T-shirts at the mall, I get to write about the world around me. In turn, I get to go places, see concerts and shows and do fun stuff as a part of this job -- and often, I have the opportunity to take someone with me. Those experiences are the gifts I give to the people I love, not just because I can afford it that way, but because I would rather spend time with someone than give them something. I know, it sounds less cool than buying a loved one a piece of plastic. But trust me, sometimes listening to your friend talk has more value than an ill-fitting sweater.
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So this holiday season, instead of buying friends and family (and yourself) stuff that will at some point end up in the trash, why not make a date to spend time together? I swear, it will make you feel better than the super-cute, super-cheap, door-busting jacket you bought for your sister (and one for yourself) on Black Friday. Just try it.