Archives For consumerism

Post Subtitle: What?!! You mean I can’t keep doing what I’ve always done and expect my life to be different?

Call it what you will—transformation, conversion, renewal—it still only occurs when something unorthodox takes the place of the conventional.

Change can be so difficult though. Especially when my unorthodox seeps out on someone else’s conventional. That can be sticky.

One area of change that intersects tradition and family and expectations is with Christmas gift giving. [gulp.]

Quite slowly we have made changes to our routine. Fewer obligatory gifts. Creative presents. More time instead of more money.

All this is good. But it has been haphazard.

So I want more—more purposeful sacrificing and involvement so that after Christmas I will remember the gifts that I gave because they were so meaningful to the recipient—and to me as well. I want to give as Jesus gives: life, heart, and soul.

Although I have only heard about Advent Conspiracy’s Christmas gift overhaul a few times now, I fully appreciate what I see in this video clip. It calls for a countercultural approach to Christmas gift giving. It embodies all I wish could be true of myself. Check it out . . .

Not only does AC stress the importance of investing time and soul into personal relationships, it also challenges us to reach beyond our culture and care about people who are truly in need. I love AC’s tag line:

[Worship Fully]

[Spend Less]

[Give More]

[Love All]

And with the focus on providing clean water . . . what can I say? It makes me weepy. This is where my heart is. The idea of giving $10 billion to solve the water issue excites me beyond words. A simple reduction in giving to ourselves things that we really don’t need could give the needy what they can’t get on their own . . . wow.

[AC states that we spend $45 billion on gifts each year. Giving away $10 billion of that leaves us with $35 billion to spend. Today’s U.S. population tally is 305,692,690. Split evenly among our own population, that’s still $114 in gifts for each person. It’s amazing how much can be done with our excess.]

Here’s to giving against the grain to celebrate things that last (and things that change).

Coming Clean on Consumption

Monday, April 14, 2008 — Leave a comment

It’s April 14: two weeks into a proposed “nonconsumption month.” Back when I first posted about this press to slow my consumerism mentality, I made mention that I already had several events and commitments in the month that would derail this lofty ideal. I wanted to be committed to this cleansing without being legalistic. I fear I’ve only accomplished the latter half of that . . .

However, not all is lost! Progress has been made in the realm of my choices, even though those choices have resulted in the purchase of several things. Prior to this proposal, I would have shopped with the simple goal of finding and obtaining the item, with little concern about the cost. With these “necessary” purchases over the past two weeks, my goal has been to spend as little as possible for items that would make me equally as happy as the more expensive version. Reason has become a new filter for purchase behavior.

Another plus is that I truly am sick of shopping. (Not sure how long that will last, but it is true right now!) The catalyst for this unusual state is my search for a formal dress for the American Red Cross Evening of the Stars fund-raising event. The dress hunt has been ridiculous. Besides the fact that I am indecisive, I am also picky—neither of these are helpful when it comes to choosing a dress for a special event. Over the course of the last two months, I think I have purchased and returned seven dresses. I have spent hours looking for and trying on dresses, plus the time to return them. I found several dresses I loved, but the prices gave me hives. And I found several dresses for a great price, but the styles just were not “me.” Just last week I found a dress that was solid on both accounts. I am relieved to have my dress; but I am even more relieved to be done with the process. And I feel good that I searched high and low for a good price to make good use of the money.

My desire to consume less remains: I want my heart to be detached from the world’s call to own and possess. Not sure how long it will take for my heart to be weaned, but I think it’s worth the effort.

For those of you who frequent here, maybe you have read about my waning affection for consumerism and my deepening concern about being wasteful. And more than just blabbing on about it . . . some of this wrestling has actually made its way into my daily life!

Just some small things . . . like conserving plastic baggies. I know, that seems really small. But that practice was amounting to a three-baggie-day habit (just to pack a lunch). Now I am using the overabundance of plastic containers that we all seem to accumulate. This may be a small change, but added up over a year’s time, that’s saving more than 600 baggies from the trash heap! whoohoo! (And this act covers both Reduce and Reuse—gotta love that.)

In addition to several small lifestyle changes, I have also been convicted by my heart’s pull toward trinkets and baubles and how easily I am caught up in consuming and owning stuff. This form of waste is more difficult to break. Because I have never been a fan of wandering aimlessly about the mall, this sort of consumerism used to be easier for me to keep in check—if you aren’t out, it’s easy not only to keep from wasting money, but also from having discontent with what you already have. But now that the Internet is my primary mode of shopping, it is too easy to pop out to a site and load up a cart! It’s fast and easy, and then I get the added bonus of awaiting my package’s delivery (LOVE to get mail). Internet shopping has not been good for my contentment meter.

So when I stumbled upon a new-to-me blog yesterday with a post about making April a nonconsumption month, I felt both challenged and curious! Could I possibly make it through an entire month restraining myself from unnecessary spending? I would hope so, but it will require a lifestyle change, even if it will be short-lived. (But I would hope for some long-lived mental shifts in the process!)

One thing I appreciate is the reasonableness of phoenixhopes’s challenge. (By the way, I am torn on the possessive form here . . . “hopes” is plural, which would call for no additional s; but “phoenixhopes” as an entity is singular, which would call for apostrophe + s . . . hmmm—not going to track that right now! but feel free to post your reasoned response to that!) She mentioned that aside from some planned expenses she would hold off on everything else that could wait until May. I needed to hear that, because I can go way overboard on such commitments and feel as if I need to buy up a storm on March 31 so that I am sticking to The Rules throughout April. That flurry of shopping would defeat the purpose of noncomsumption in April; and it’s highly unlikely that I will remember everything that needs to be purchased. I want this to be a weaning, a cleansing of sorts—not a boot camp. I see the point of this challenge as being a way to tend to my heart and break some bad patterns of thinking in regard to purchase behavior and purchase addiction.

So there’s the challenge. Want to join phoenixhopes in a month of nonconsumption? I don’t take this challenge lightly, so I need to think through what this would mean practically speaking. What would that mean for you? Add your two cents worth and let’s hash this out together.

Marketers have long known that consumers are heavily influenced by the experience associated with the purchase of the brand. For example, why is shopping at discount considered chic at Target but not so at Wal-Mart? What is so appealing about meeting friends for a $4 coffee at Starbucks rather than grabbing a $1 coffee at McDonald’s?

Thinking through the why behind the what in purchase behavior is fascinating (something I enjoyed studying in grad school), but it does deflate the excitement of the purchase experience in real time. Who wants to over-analyze the simple joys of a yummy coffee or strolling around Target? As consumers and friends, we connect in such behavior.

NPR’s Talk of the Nation program titled “Forecasting Trends: Who Defines the ‘New Black’?” interviewed Douglas Rushkoff who proposes that our identities and interconnectedness have become almost synonymous with the things that we consume. He notes that prior to World War II, community was built as people joined together to “produce” and “work hard”—connecting on the basis of becoming responsible adults who were committed to providing and caring for their families and those around them. It was expected that young people would transition into adulthood by joining this same cause (including the components of work, marriage, and children). After the war, however, consumption and consumerism was encouraged nationwide to boost our deflated economy. Consumption then became the connectedness of community, and it has stuck.

I believe our consumption mentality touches all aspects of life—what we eat, read, watch, participate in. Consumption itself is the basis of our sharing, our socializing, and our entertaining. And that takes me back to the “consumption” of blogging mentioned in my first post in this series—do I blog because I want to write and connect and share or do I blog because I want to be part of (or be known as part of) this community? Because if I do not participate and consume, I won’t be accepted; I will be the odd one out.

What this boils down to is the use of external props to define and shape one’s persona. I must admit that these surface elements are quick and easy measures of one’s personality and values. But I also think that snap judgments based on a conglomeration of products and brands is shallow at best. People are more than what they consume. If we dig just a bit deeper, at least we might uncover the motivation for choosing certain brands or activities or interests—motives would at least expose a bit of the human heart, with all its insecurities.

Is there any way to push back against this “community by consumption”? Probably not on a global level. But individually, I think this can happen, as we seek to know people’s hearts. We’ll have to cut through the consumerism, but to know another person on a heart-level makes the effort worth it.

This is the third in a series of posts on how we attempt to define and shape ourselves.