I used to work in a department store, where I had a fairly close-knit group of co-workers. One night we were inventing witty alternative movie titles for porn films (you know, like Good Will Humping and Star Whores) and came up with an idea for a skin flick set in a department store. We decided that this miracle of cinematic art should be called Retail Therapy.
I think that turning retail therapy into porn, essentially another mass-produced, unrealistic and exploitative phenomenon, was a concept with a much greater significance than we realised at the time.
So often we buy simply for the sake of buying. For the feel-good buzz of bringing home and unpacking new stuff.
But then afterwards maybe we feel a bit dirty. We wonder if perhaps the money could have been better spent elsewhere.
Don’t get me wrong, I love getting new stuff. Some nice fluffy slippers for winter. A kitchen gadget that revolutionises my cooking. Even a nice new top that makes me feel good when I go out.
When I worked in retail I was put at the head of the Christmas crew. We sold pallets and pallets of cheap, nasty, plastic stuff. Things that people could absolutely do without. All of it optional. All. Of. It. Most of it pointless and disposable. It polarised my view of consumerism and changed how I look at Christmas.
I introduced my concept of a ‘Militant Hippie Christmas’, where every gift was from a sustainable source or created something useful and ongoing. Pots of herbs, hand-made stuffed animal kits. It got a few people thinking.
These days I buy for my close family only. I make home-made hampers for extended family, to a varied reception. I use Christmas as an opportunity to buy something significant and wanted for my partner and children. I probably spend the same amount of money as I used to, but less of what I buy ends up in the bin before the next Christmas.
As a neo-pagan, I make Christmas palatable as a celebration of family and abundance. This keeps things easy for me in a society that pretty much revolves around a Christian festival and gives me a bit of a platform to comment on the inherent consumerism.
I’m not saying don’t buy stuff. People buying stuff is what makes the world go ’round. Just don’t be a slave to it. It is much easier to appreciate something that will keep on giving, and you will find more value in something useful. This value will be greater still in an item that you get a lot of use and enjoyment from.
Take time to find the right product at the right price. When I needed new ugg boots I waited and looked at my options. I could have lashed out and spent a lot on top-of-the-range slippers, or spent $10 on an imported pair from a discount store. In the end I bought an Australian brand at a great price.
I am not a spender by any means, but I will consider a small purchase to the same level that I will consider a large one. I’ll weigh up the difference between two brands of corn chips in the same way that I will deliberate between two lounge suites. I don’t dismiss the importance of a purchase just because it is only a few dollars.
If you think before you spend, it you ask yourself what value a purchase will have to you, you take a bit of power back from the advertisers who are telling you what to buy. Don’t let advertising sell you things you don’t need. Seek out your own information and learn the difference between being a purchaser and a consumer. Commercialism makes money out of making people think they need stuff. This is unethical. Don’t be one of advertising’s little bitches.
When I gave up commercial TV, I took myself out of reach of the media. I have no idea about current trends. I don’t receive junk mail. I think that disconnecting from the media drip-feed is starting to alter the way I think. It has created a space to identify my own desires and requirements. It has allowed me to differentiate what I actually want and need from what we are told to want and need.