What do you really need this Christmas?

Hi everybody,

In the lead up to Christmas I have been pondering the question of “what do you really need?” The answer, of course, is very little. I love the saying that all you need is “someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to”. I guess there are a few other things you need, as well – something to eat, something to drink, shelter from the elements, etc. – but none of us really needs very much and I suspect that everyone reading this has most, if not all, of what is really necessary in life.

I can understand as much as anyone the desire for more. I’ve recently moved to a warm climate and I have been having fun buying new dresses and summer clothes. Luckily, though, I have learned to recognise when I become enchanted with the idea of a possession that costs money, contributes to clutter, and won’t really enrich my life. Last June I made an effort to not buy a single item (aside from the necessary groceries and toiletries) for the entire month. It was a great exercise and I definitely saved money but the big take home was I realised that if I could just resist leaving an item momentarily and walk out of that part of the store, the desire for the item would leave almost instantly.

It’s easy to see how constant consumerism can drain your personal finances and make your house a cluttered nightmare but when you start thinking about it from a global perspective it starts to become really frightening. In essentially every moment of our lives we are influencing the lives of people all over the world – not to mention the world, itself! I was saying to a friend this afternoon that even if you so much as use a public toilet and wash your hands you have to wonder about who made the soap and what the working conditions where like, what was in the soap and where will it end up after it goes down the drain, how did it get here and how much carbon was released in the process, etc. When you think about everything in this way you start to realise how dangerous our culture’s incessant consumerism is – and I know I am fearful of what the future effects of it will be.

I don’t want to go all negative-town on you guys but I was just curious about if any of you keep this sort of stuff in mind when it comes to your holiday giving and receiving? A few years ago my brother gave me a Kiva gift card which was really awesome. With Kiva you loan money to people in under-developed countries for entrepreneurial endeavours. I loaned my money to this old man who wanted to buy some ladders to pick coconuts. As Kiva gives out loans, not grants, I did get the money back eventually and when I got the email saying that my loan had been repaid I was actually in a tight money sitch and so it was a super awesome moment! I’m sure it was awesome for him, too, when he got the loan and was able to buy his ladders! Lately I’ve also been giving out gift cards for movies, restaurants, etc. a fair bit. People are always stoked about them and they don’t contribute to material consumerism or clutter which is exciting to me. Gift cards are also super cheap to send (esp. if you have relatives overseas like I do) which makes it doubly awesome!

My month of not buying crap – end of month review

Well I have completed my month without buying crap!! It was mostly successful. I did channel my shopping energy into doing all of my Christmas shopping but that doesn’t count against my challenge because the deal was to not buy anything for myself. The challenge also excluded food, misc. consumables like shampoo and cleaning products, and the purchase of experiences. Confession time, though. The three items I was planning to buy at the end of the challenge I actually bought on the last day of the month (yesterday). Doh!! I threw my back out last week and haven’t been able to drive because of the Codeine pain pills I’m been on. My friend offered to take me out yesterday, though, and we ended up going over to Target. I guess that means I failed but oh well, I’m still really proud of what I achieved. I’m planning to do another month without buying crap in August so I’ll have a chance to redeem myself.

I also saw on the news that there is an official “buy nothing new month” movement happening in Australia where you’re encouraged to buy nothing new for the entire month of October. I’ll most definitely be participating so for 2012 I’ll be doing three buy nothing new challenges. The movement has been getting a lot of slack in the media because of the way it essentially encourages people to boycott retailers for a month. I think this is ridiculous, though, because honestly, most Australians aren’t going to be taking part in the challenge and so the retailers are going to be just fine. It brings up a few important issues, though, that are worth talking about.

1. Everything we buy is made from natural resources and has to be disposed of somewhere

We need to remember that the crap we buy and the packaging all that crap comes in doesn’t just magically manifest in the universe and then magically disappear after we’re finished with it. It all comes from natural resources in one way or another. And it all has to go somewhere in the end. It’s worth reminding ourselves that when we put something in the trash can, it doesn’t just disappear into the ether. Scientists estimate that plastic takes between 500 and 1000 years to break down. Plastic has only been around for about 50 years which means that every piece of plastic that has ever been thrown away is still just sitting there, in the land fill or the ocean or wherever the hell it landed. Every diaper, every plastic McDonalds straw, every piece of plastic packaging that ever came into your life or your parents life is still around. It’s pretty disgusting when you actually sit back and think about it.

2. We need to learn that we can’t spend our way out of our problems

How much debt is the United States in? Well, as of 5AM PST on the July 1, 2012, it’s $56,925,015,397,300. We’re broke. In fact we’re so far beyond broke that if we were just broke we’d be really freaking excited. And yet the government still has the nerve to try to tell us what we should be doing with our money?! Like they know what they’re talking about or something?! It’s just stupid. And a lot of us have bought into the bullshit idea that spending your way into debt is a matter of patriotism. DUMB! In life if you want to experience financial peace, you have to stop buying stupid crap you don’t need. Congress would do well to work this out and put an end to their debt crisis. Honestly people, debt never helps anything.

In terms of my challenge, though, and everyone else involved the bigger campaign, we’re just trying to do our part to help the planet a little. I don’t beleive that by setting out on a challenge like this that we’re harming the economy because nothing about this challenge says you can’t spend money on going out to eat, going to movies, or doing other things that cost money but that don’t encourage excessive consumerism. And even if this challenge was taken on by so many people that the retailers did feel it, the future of our forests and oceans is always going to be more important to me than they are. I’m sorry but I just can’t apologise for that.

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