I have great affection for America. I spent a year living in California as a child and it proved to be a very formative experience. In fact, I credit my time there with being at least partly responsible for some of my “out there” personality traits. I also spent a summer working in Michigan on the beautiful Mackinac Island. I adored every second of it, and treasure the memories made there.
I also love Americana. Diners, coke floats, Thanks Giving Parades, you name it. One thing, we Europeans seem to have adopted from our cousins across the pond, which I don’t love, however, is excessive consumerism. This is prevalent all year round, but of course, never more so than on the run up to “The Holidays.” It is the middle of November and I have lost count of the number of emails I have received from retailers, telling me about their Black Friday Week sales.
There is so much wrong with this, I almost don’t know where to begin. Firstly, to state the obvious, Friday is a day NOT a week, so can we please just nip that in the bud? Secondly, can we at least acknowledge that this is utter nonsense. All these retailers want to do is clear their old stock and extend the festive spending period for another week or so. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bargain as much as the next girl, but we have to draw the line somewhere. Don’t we?
Over the last week or so, I have been literally one click away (several times) from spending hundreds of euros, I don’t have, on stuff I don’t need. We get swept away with it all. “Oh, that coat would be lovely for Christmas morning,” or “my mother would love that bag.” All it takes is a momentary lapse of will and they have you. Hook, line and sinker.
I have spoken on the blog before about seasonal overspend. This year my family have decided to do a Secret Santa, and on the face of it, it should solve a lot of problems. Each person only has to buy one gift. There is a spending limit in place, and each person should receive one nice, well thought out gift, instead of lots of little things. Perfect! Except, ironically, it almost seems as though the stress of not spending is worse than the stress of spending.
I worry about the gift I am going to buy. Will the person like it? They better had, as it will be the only one they receive. Can I really arrive on Christmas morning with only one gift? Is that going to be weird? Yes, it probably will feel strange at first. But if anything, it will mean that we can take the emphasis off the gift giving, and put it on to spending time together, and the food of course!
It is no secret that marketing companies are designed to make us feel inadequate. They make money by making us feel that we are lacking something, and that their product can fix it. It is absolutely everywhere and I fear we women can even more easily fall victim to it.
I recently attended a beauty workshop hosted by Suzanne Jackson. Anyone who knows me could tell you this isn’t really my bag, by my pal asked me to go with her, and the promise of afternoon tea proved too tempting to resist. The day was essentially an advertisement. Hour after hour spent listening to which products we simply cannot do without. I left the event feeling very peculiar. I mean, if I don’t use 200 make-up products, fake lashes and fake tan, am I even a proper woman? If my wardrobe lacks designer labels, am I just not doing it right?
It would have been so easy to get sucked into it. I was on the brink of booking myself onto a make-up course and learning how to contour for once and for all, God damn it! Hair extensions were being ordered and I was trying really hard to figure out how I was going to fit all this crap into my tiny bathroom! Then the word Botox started being bandied around, and it finally brought me back to earth. I looked at my friend and we both just laughed. It is another world, and one which will have to do without me as a citizen!
As some of you may know, my mother and sister do a lot of work with Dublin’s homeless community. (Check them out on Facebook A Welcome Place.) They run a weekly soup kitchen and work tirelessly in the background to make sure they have all they need, to feed those less fortunate. I am incredibly proud of the work they do. They stand on Grafton Street, in often hideous weather conditions, every Thursday night, putting the needs of others before their own.
Having spent an evening or two working with them, I feel like I have some understanding of what goes into it, and how much it takes out of them. It is utterly appalling to see people trying to survive on the streets. It is difficult to imagine having nothing and nowhere to call you own. So yes, I am so very proud, but I will admit that it also makes me feel guilty and conflicted.
How can I even consider buying another pair of shoes, when there are people whose whole lives fit into a rucksack? How can I, in good conscience, spend €75 to listen to some chick tell me about lipstick, when there are people without facilities for basic hygiene? I am really struggling to reconcile this. Is it selfish of me to want nice things? I want a comfortable home and a reliable car. I am not prepared to sacrifice these things for others, yet their suffering deeply troubles me.
I have no idea what the answer to this is. I can, however, think of a few things I can do. I can stop buying into Black Friday and all the other consumer concepts. I can stop fueling my own feelings of inadequacy, while lining the pockets of big business. I can commit to spend less and save more, so that I might someday be in a position to actually help someone. I can give thanks for all that I have, which is what this week in November is supposed to be about after all. Be well xxx