We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving (yet) in Australia, nor do we have Black Friday. This year, more than 154 million Americans shopped either online or in store, according to a National Retail federation survey from CNN, Nov 27 2016. They spent $1.9 billion online on Thanksgiving Day and another $3.3 billion on Friday, according to Adobe. In 2014, total spending for the 4-day Thanksgiving/Black Friday holiday weekend was over $50 billion.
In 1994, I went travelling through Indonesia with a flatmate from Sydney. We went to Sumatra, way off the beaten track then, and got terrible ‘Bali belly’ the day after we landed. It was the morning of an all-day bus ride up the island, and my period arrived too. So there I was, losing all my bodily fluids explosively from all holes, sitting on a crammed bus where we were the only white faces, driving further and further off into the unknown. We literally staggered off the bus that night and collapsed into a small family guesthouse, both of us thinking we may die.
Of course we didn’t, and the owner fed us hard boiled eggs and banana porridge for 3 days till we recovered. We climbed the nearby still-active volcano, trekked through the jungle, ate lots of good cheap food and put weight back on, then three weeks later headed back to Denpasar to fly home. We went into a supermarket to kill time, and I was absolutely delighted by the massive choice of products, the cleanliness, the shininess of the world.
That’s the first time I realized with alarmed clarity how strongly I’d been programmed to buy for comfort.
Watch Black Friday 2015 HERE (1:28 mins)
Of course, for drama’s sake, I’ve picked an extreme example of consumerism, I admit. But still, it’s good to be mindful of how easily Australia can follow yet another American tradition, like Halloween’s Trick or Treat…
So let’s get more casual. In fact, I’m going to change out of this shirt and skirt, and put on my scruffy t-shirt and shorts, both bought in the local op shop for sum total of $7. I’ve always been a fervent second-hand shopper, which continues to this day. When complimented on groovy jeans, unique dress, or overall stylish outfit, I love being able to say it cost me $5 from a garage sale.
Now what do you do with your second hand clothes? Donate them to the charity shop? The amount of clothes Americans actually throw away into the rubbish each year has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons currently, or 36 kilos per person. The EPA estimates that:
“…diverting all of those often-toxic trashed textiles into a recycling program would be the environmental equivalent of taking 7.3 million cars and their carbon dioxide emissions off the road…”
That’s so many cheap t-shirts and leggings! And if they’ve got a mix of manmade fibres in them, they’re going to be around for a very long time:
‘…synthetic fibers, like polyester, nylon and acrylic… are essentially a type of plastic made from petroleum, and will take hundreds of years, if not a thousand, to biodegrade.’
I still garden in a pair of denim cotton Levi red tag jeans I was given when I was 21. They’re stained and torn, but still completely function as trousers. We all need to stop buying CRAP! It’s simple. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Don’t stand in line all night to be the first one in the door at WalMart to buy a new TV; camp in a tent with your children or your neighbours’ children instead, telling stories and making shadows by torchlight on the fabric walls.
As I stood in front of those stocked shelves in Indonesia, finding comfort in my variety of choices, I felt a small piece of me curl up and wither. The part who’d survived the bus ride from hell, and the kindness of a stranger who’d fed me. The part who’d recovered, and climbed a volcano from dawn to dusk, with a small parcel of rice and curry wrapped in a banana leaf, no cutlery needed. The part who’d used sign language and a tatty dictionary to get around, but had still laughed and played with locals in a town square during a wedding celebration. It was my ‘wild woman survivor’ part; the part of me who can recover from illness, chop wood, give birth, move mountains. The part of me who KNOWS what’s good and right in this world, and what’s plain CRAP. We don’t need 15 different types of sugary cereal for breakfast:
‘The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2014-2016.’ [More info on World Hunger facts HERE.]
That simple banana porridge and hard boiled eggs from chickens at the end of the garden were enough. These 2nd hand cotton clothes are enough.
I am enough.
Now Christmas is coming, with temptations for Kris Kringle $20 gift exchanges no one really wants, and of course, incredible pressure to use credit cards and ‘no interest’ purchase plans.
Just say ‘No’. Don’t buy CRAP. Make gifts, swap gifts, or even better, use the cash you would have spent to make a donation to Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Oxfam or whoever you like. Just don’t buy CRAP. You can’t buy family cohesion. You can’t buy your kids love and respect, not really, not deep down. You can’t buy your way out of emptiness, or true soul loneliness. You can’t buy relief from guilt, or an escape from trauma. You may think you can, but that’s a learned behaviour. And I saw mine, reflected back to me in the shiny mirror of an Indonesian supermarket: I was dirty, smelly, skinnier than usual, and looking a bit like a rabbit caught in headlights under the fluorescent tubes. But oh boy did I look happy and pleased with myself. My wild, adventuring, surviving and thriving self, who’d swum way out of her comfort zone, flailed, sunk, flailed, and bobbed back up.
There is incredible power in being a consumer; and thus a non-consumer too.