Overcoming Consumerism: Alternatives to Gift Giving at Christmas:
I’ve struggled with and suffered from compulsive spending all my life and in that time I’ve learned a thing or two about it. I suspect a few of you reading this struggle with it also, so in the next few posts were going to look at specific tips to overcome compulsive buying and over-spending. If you want to become a vandweller, and adopt a simpler more minimalist lifestyle, I hope we can learn a few things together.
But because it’s Christmas, and many of you are probably struggling more right now than at any other time of the year, I want to offer you some alternatives to Christmas shopping. My goal is to help you avoid going deeper into debt and filling your lives with more stuff you don’t really need and may not really want.
How we’re Brainwashed to Be Addicted to Spending
The majority of Americans struggle with over-spending whether it could be classified as an addiction or just a strong compulsion. I suspect most of you saw the evidence of that when you tried to move into a van. The reason we’ve become a nation of compulsive over-spenders is we’re systematically brainwashed from birth to connect love and things. Whenever I write that, I hear from people who insist that they haven’t been brainwashed. But at Christmas the incredible hold things has over us is so obvious it’s very easy to see. To the American mind, things equal love and so, we give gifts of things to say “I love you.” I think it’s helpful if we understand just how powerful the hold gift-giving has over our national psyche.
1) Cultural traditions.
To understand how we’be been brainwashed by cultural traditions, you have to go back to the first year of a babies life and see that the child is constantly trained that gifts=love and therefore no gifts=no love:
- At birth the baby is brought home and there are all the gifts from the baby shower. The people that love mommy expressed that love with the gift of things. If they love her, they gave her gifts and lots of food. Gifts of Things = Love
- A little while later, it was Valentines day and Daddy and mommy love each other so they celebrate and prove their love by giving each other gifts and food. Gifts of Things = Love
- Next comes Easter and we learn about the ultimate act of love in our societies dominant mythology that god loves us so he gave us a gift. Of course we celebrate the love by giving gifts of little pretty things. Gifts of Things = Love
- In the summer gramma comes to visit and she brings gifts to prove her love. Gifts of Things = Love
- Throughout the year mommy, daddy and babies siblings have birthdays, and each time we celebrate how much we love them by giving them gifts. Gifts of Things = Love
- Later, daddy goes on a trip and when he comes home he needs to prove he still loves baby, so he gives baby some gifts. Gifts of Things = Love
- Then in October we rejoice that god proved his love for us by giving us the gift of a good harvest. We celebrate by giving each other little gift treats of food. Gifts of Things = Love
- Finally comes Christmas and in the dominate religion of our culture we celebrate Love by a gigantic orgy of gifts of things. The more we love, the more we give. We compete with each other to show our great love with greater and greater gifts. Of course quantity is every bit as important as quantity so we go berserk in our giving. Gifts of Things = Love
- A little while later it’s babies birthday so we celebrate and prove our love for baby with a party with lots of food and gifts. Gifts of Things = Love
- Every day baby sees daddy and mommy going to work to get money to buy things. Baby soon learns that money and things are more important than family because they abandon her every day to go get it.
This pattern that began in babies first year will be repeated every year of his or her life. All by itself it’s plenty to make certain that we all grow up addicted to things and are convinced to the core of our being that things mean love and without things we aren’t loved. All any human being really wants is to know he is loved and by totally connecting love with things we are guaranteed to be addicted to things and will crave more and more stuff all our lives.
2) Powerful Stories
But our conditioning to be addicted to things doesn’t stop with just those cultural patterns; as babies mental capacities grow, she/he is subjected to continual electronic brainwashing to love things. Since humans first learned speech, every culture has conveyed their values and history with stories. Storytelling is the oldest and strongest way of conditioning members of a group to conform to the groups traditions, values and ethics. Very soon after birth, baby is sat down in front of a screen to watch stories from TV and videos that convey the deepest American ideals and beliefs. And the one things he sees in all of them is that happy and loved people have stuff and lots of it. And if they don’t have stuff, they are consumed with the effort to get it. Some work hard and devise schemes to get more stuff, others lie, steal and cheat; some even kill to get more stuff. Baby learns that stuff is all important.
Then, during the morality plays on the importance of stuff, commercials come on and they show baby all the happy people with all their happy stuff and every single one of them makes it clear that without stuff, you can’t be happy but with it, life is wonderful!Just like it has for the last million years, the stories work, baby believes that stuff equals love and happiness. Of course before the rise of civilization the message was just the opposite, that things are not important and that people and the tribe is all-important. But stories work just as well for a terrible message as a good one.
Alternatives to Gifts at Christmas:
After a life-time of these powerful brainwashing techniques it’s no surprise that you and your family struggle with being addicted to stuff.When you say to them, “Let’s not give Christmas gifts anymore.” What they hear is “I don’t love you.” They are going to resist giving up gifts because being loved is the most important thing in our lives. It’s worth trying, but if it doesn’t work you can try to slowly wean them away from gifts by offering other alternatives. If you do, hopefully they’ll hear, “I love you, but I want a better way to show it to you.”
- Give to charity instead of each other. Most Christmas traditions have nothing at all to do with being Christian, so offer to get back to the true meaning of the holiday and say instead of giving gifts to each other, you’ll spend the same amount of money but it will go to people in true need to meet basic necessities and not luxuries.
- Set dollar limits on gift spending. In these bad economic times, most people are open to reducing Christmas spending. Negotiate the amount as low as you can and next year try to reduce it even further.
- Get rid of stocking stuffers. Many stocking stuffers are cheap junk that are going straight into the landfill. Try hard to put your foot down and eliminate that very bad habit.
- Homemade gifts. One way to give gifts and still minimize the harmful effects of consumerism is to make it a rule that you only give gifts that each person has made himself. One objection will be that a person isn’t creative and can’t make a gift. For those people you can suggest they give homemade gift cards with services you will render like give a back-rub or do the dishes.
- Buy from a local craftsman. Another way to give gifts and still be green is to make it a rule that every gift must be made by-hand locally. This is a win-win situation for everybody: your friends and family get unique and wonderful gifts, the local economy is enhanced and a local artist is blessed. Eliminating mass-production and transportation makes it much greener.
- Insist on One Quality gift. All too often we get fixated on the number of gifts under the tree and end up buying many cheap gifts that will soon break or wear out. Everybody losses when that happens. Instead, insist on one high quality gift that is going to last for many years. In the long run, everybody wins.
- Make it a “Green” Christmas. Tell everyone that each gift must be green and do the minimum harm to the earth. If they aren’t open to that, take responsibility for yourself and think green before every purchase. Consider all the factors (packaging, transport, durability, recycle ability, etc.) and make the greenest, most environmentally friendly purchase possible.
- Make a list and stick to it. Just going to a store and buying on impulse is a sure way to buy too much and probably something without any emotional impact. Instead, give careful thought to the person you are buying for and give a gift from the heart that will truly express your love for them. Once you’ve figured out what to give to who, make a list and stick to it. Go to the store, buy from that list, and nothing else.
- Restrict gifts to gift cards. If the cards are to practical places that someone was going to shop at anyway (Walmart for example) chances are some of the money will be spent on practical items (like groceries) that the person would have bought anyway. There are numerous advantages to this. First, in these bad economic times, the person might be very grateful for a practical gift. Second, there will be less frivolous luxuries produced, reducing the harm done to the Earth. Third, shopping is a whole lot easier and maybe you can actually enjoy Christmas.
- Buy gifts that are good for the Earth in the long run. For example, if you give a Kindle E-book reader, there will be many less trees cut down to make paper books. Or, give a gift of rechargeable batteries and charger, and many less batteries will end up in the landfill.
- Give used items as gifts. Many products like books, clothes, electronics and furniture hold their value extremely well even when used and could make good gifts. Some of your friends and family may resist this, but try hard to convince them that there is nothing wrong with used gifts, that it’s good for the Earth and does not express less love than a new gift. It’ll help if you use terms like “antique” or “vintage”. This may take some time (maybe even years) so be patient and persistent in explaining it to them.
- Start an alternative tradition. For example, if your family is religious suggest they each volunteer to work for charity instead of giving gifts. Maybe you could say that you will volunteer once a week at your churches soup kitchen for the entire year as a Christmas gift to Jesus. If they aren’t religious suggest they celebrate the Solstice instead. December 21st is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. For many thousands of years native/aboriginal peoples have celebrated the solstice as a magical time of year. Unfortunately, modern people have become so isolated from nature, and our true selves, that we have lost touch with the magic that exists all around us. If need be you can make it clear this is not a religious thing, it’s strictly for the mental and physical health benefits of connecting to nature. Strike a bargain with your family that if you give gifts at Christmas, they should get back to nature with you on the Solstice. That day take time out from the terrible busy-ness of the season and go outside. Find a quiet place in nature, and try to reconnect with it, yourself and your family. Make a commitment to pursue a life filled with nature.
You may want to let your family read this post so that they can see that they have been the victims of brainwashing, and much of what they’ve been doing is not of their free-will. Perhaps then you can all begin to make change at Christmas, and the rest of the year, that will improve every aspect of your lives.