“…the annual feeding frenzy in which shoppers queue all night, then stampede into the shops, elbow, trample and sometimes fight to be the first to carry off some designer junk which will go into landfill before the sales next year. The madder the orgy, the greater the triumph of economic management.”
– George Monbiot in Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning (2006).
Today’s image: the shopping.
I am a materialist. There. That’s out there and up front. If this post seems a bit preachy or judgy, then please know that I love having stuff, nice things, that I covet, that I enjoy giving and receiving presents – and that there will be plenty of gift-giving going on in my house this season.
I also confess, however, to hating mainstream shopping. There is another quote that I cannot find the origin of, but which sums it up for me: This year I plan to start putting off my Christmas shopping early. Me, I don’t begin it until December. If you’re organised, that’s plenty of time. Saw an article the other day recommending ‘last-minute stocking fillers’. Last-minute? That means 24th, doesn’t it? It was only 14th!
The only things that are stopping me from ordering everything online are: a. desire to support local shops, particularly this year, and b. because of the ridiculous packaging almost all online purchases come swathed in. The annual sales around this time of year (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Boxing Day, January…) I avoid. The only sorts of shopping I enjoy consist of poking around in markets or in second-hand and thrift places.
Those times I do disappear down a black hole of online shopping, I realise only too well how easy it is to get carried away. To desperately, if temporarily, want every item you see, without stopping to think: Do I really need that? Do I want it that much?
I do, though, plead for a more thoughtful approach to buying.
‘Environmentally-friendly’ often means more expensive, at least in the short term, I get that. As that domestic goddess Marge Simpson counselled her family during one shopping expedition: ‘we can’t afford to shop at any store that has a philosophy’, prompting the brood to drive onward to a discount store. Been there.
With eco and ethical products, gone are the cheap materials and mass production, replaced by sustainable and more organic materials, along with, one hopes, fairer wages and improved working conditions.
But ethically manufactured products are generally made to last. If you can manage to afford the up-front cost, the quality tends to be better value in the long run. And there are ways to do it more cheaply. As mentioned above, this includes buying second-hand and, in terms of food, buying in season. It also means thinking of alternatives, such as swapping items with others.
To some, the thought of buying something second-hand as a gift will be an abhorrence. For me, it depends what it is. If it’s something chosen with thought and care, which could not otherwise have been afforded, then why not? Anyone who knows me and love of thrifting recognises I’d rather have a lovely, high-quality used item than one new but inferior, and a lot of other people, perhaps increasingly, feel the same.
My son, as a young person, is strictly principled about being a sustainable consumer. Far less materialistic than me, I know the gifts I have chosen for him will, whilst more expensive than non-sustainable items, will last him for ages. And they’re all practical items. Nothing “designer”: He’s indifferent to, even annoyed by, ‘labels’. He is, we can hope, the future.
The Monbiot quote at the top of the page sums it up: buy less, buy to last you, buy to spare the planet.