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Opinion

As holidays near, consumers buy junk

Kirsten Blake

December 3, 2009

It’s the holiday season – the time for giving, receiving and buying stuff for yourself. My question to you is, how much more do you want?

The American consumer isn’t smart. We are a culture of disposables—paper plates because we are too lazy to wash real ones. We wipe excrement from our anuses with virgin paper because for those seconds that it takes to get the job done, we need to feel like we’re wiping our bums with the Cottonelle puppy himself.

Our consumption habits are sucking up our petroleum and energy resources, destroying forests in the Amazon, causing the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs keeled over, and are contributing to the destruction of the polar ice caps.

Just because we can afford to buy disposables, sparkly pens from the dollar store, bottled water, an extra garage, platform flip-flops and a Snuggie doesn’t mean we should.

For example, the acrylic plastic dish sets at the ends of the isles in department stores decorated with holiday characters and cute little snowflakes have no purpose.

Let me tell you something: those acrylic Santa Clause/snowman dish sets are not cute. They aren’t adorable. They are not funny and just because they cost $3.67 per set and come with a curly straw and hot cocoa mix does not mean you are justified in purchasing them.

They will last until you die but you will only like them for about a year. By next December you’ll be saying, “Look at these silly plates I got a long time ago. That was a stupid purchase,” and instead of showing them off to your roommates as your latest impulse purchase, you’re going to put the cat’s food in the bowl that now has flecks of some food stuck on it from when you put it in the microwave. When you carve a pumpkin you’ll put its guts on the plate and you’ll clean out your paint brushes in the stained cup.

Meanwhile, old Kris Kringle’s rosy cheeks are flecking off into your mac’n cheese ending up stuck in your bowels next to the piece of gum you swallowed in the seventh grade.

The piles of crap we buy at Target and Wally World lose value to us within a year because they’re no longer new. We aren’t in love with our possessions, we’re in love with the idea of buying stuff. Getting stuff makes us feel good despite the quality of the product.

This applies to more than impulse buys. It goes to everything we buy. Clothes. Beauty products. Furniture. Are you buying it because it’s a good investment and something you need or just because you feel like you want to buy something? If you didn’t see it while you were shopping, or even know it existed, would you still seek it out?

America is in debt, has the most crap out of any nation, rents storage spaces for the treadmills and downhill skis we don’t use, owns the biggest houses with the emptiest rooms and yet people can be unhappy.

It’s the moral of every holiday story: more is not always better. You can’t buy happiness.  Maybe instead of trying to buy happiness, we can reconnect this holiday season with the reason we are working so hard. Instead of buying a candy cane for everyone in your hall and calling it good, maybe you can actually be a good person and try reestablish a sense of community, learn something about your neighbor and help each other out.

Fair-weather friends give you candy canes, real friends give you time.

Remember the coupon books you made for your parents as a child? “Coupon good for washing dishes,” “one hug,” “breakfast in bed,” “raking the leaves.” Those were good ideas because as a kid you didn’t have any money, but you did have time and you had your services.

Once again, we’re in a spot where we don’t have any money. So if you are down on cash like I am, feeling isolated, homesick or you haven’t seen your friends in awhile, instead of buying yet another lotion set to give them, try giving gifts like “movie night,” “two hours of you-and-me time, like it used to be,” “snowball fight,” “a walk,” or “a trip to PetCo just to look at the animals.”

Kirsten Blake is an alumna of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.