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!