December 30, 2008

Holiday madness

Talking to friends lately, I feel like everyone I know is having a similar urge to simplify. Especially around the holidays, most people want to spend less time and money shopping, and have more time for meaningful experiences with their family and friends. I've had many conversations with people who feel like they spent more than they could afford, and for things they weren't even sure the recipient was going to like or appreciate. This is especially true in large extended families. More of them are talking about picking names so that you only buy for one person, but some family members are resistant to the idea. I'm also finding that a lot of people prefer an outing or an experience to receiving more stuff, which most of us just don't need. About five years ago I told my mom I was taking her to lunch in San Juan Capistrano, which is halfway between where I live and where she lives, and enclosed a train ticket in the card. That outing was a big success and so since then my brothers and I have tried to buy my parents experiences rather than things. We've taken them to concerts or given them tickets, sent them for dance lessons, and my brother even got my mom out for a bike ride on the beach. These gifts have been more rewarding for all of us than one more thing to gather dust in the house. I'm sure many families would have a similar experience.

December 26, 2008

Exceptions, or "You Can't Buy ANYTHING?"

Of course there are exceptions to the rule of not buying anything new: most significantly food, underwear, and hygiene products. So you can still buy groceries, go out to restaurants, and buy lotions and toothpaste. I'm going to put bras in the category of underwear, but I'm already wondering about things like athletic shoes. Whether you call them sneakers, tennis shoes, walking shoes, or running shoes, you can't very well buy them used. And I often need new ones more than once a year. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. And I'll find out more about the exceptions to the rule when I actually join the group on January 1st.

It's Boxing Day, and I'd say we had a fairly modest Christmas in terms of spending and gifts. My husband bought me a fabulous All-Clad pan, the nicest kitchen gadget I've ever owned, and I plan on cooking lots of yummy vegetables in it. We also exchanged and received plenty of books, music, and chocolate, all of which we love. We gave our friends and family mostly books and music, along with a gift certificate to my favorite new charity Global Giving. Check it out, it's fabulous. For just ten dollars, you can provide a family in Mali with a malaria net, buy books for a schoolgirl in Afghanistan, or choose from hundreds of other grassroots projects.

Next year I won't be able to buy any gifts so I'll have to be very creative. I doubt if I'm ever going to be as crafty as I was when I was ten, so I figure I'll make mix CDs, order used books, and dig up some old photos to frame. I'll probably also be baking more than ever, which I love.

December 25, 2008

Less than a week until I take the Oath...

When I read about a group called The Compact, I knew immediately I wanted to join. Sunset magazine did a profile of a family who lived the group's non-materialistic worldview during a Christmas season. Even with two young sons, they created a meaningful holiday without spending any money on brand-new toys or gadgets.

The San Francisco-based group was started in 2004 by a group of friends who believed that recycling could only go so far to halt the overwhelming commercialism of our modern culture. The group now has almost 10,000 members from all over the world. On their Yahoo Group home page, they list the following aims:
1. To go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of disposable consumer culture and to support local businesses, farms, etc.
2. To reduce clutter and waste in our homes, and
3. To simplify our lives.
When you join the group, you agree not to buy new products of any kind, and to borrow, barter, or buy used instead. This sounded like the perfect philosophy for me at this point in my life and I had a feeling that not buying anything new would let me focus more on things like reading and writing and spending time with friends.

I was thrilled about the money I would save, and even more thrilled about having more time to do the things I loved. But my elation was short-lived and followed almost immediately by the realization that I couldn't go another year wearing my ratty old jeans. And so my resolve to join the Compact paradoxically set off a panicked shopping spree. Truthfully, I didn't end up buying more than a few much-needed pillows, but the seed was planted, and became an obsession.
And now on Christmas Day 2008, the clock is ticking. I have less than a week to find the perfect pair of jeans.