A few years ago, when I was living in a tiny apartment, I declared a stuff boycott. Since moving into my house I’ve relaxed the rules a bit, though I still don’t like buying things that seem unnecessary. But every Christmas season I start scouring websites for gift ideas to buy those tricky relatives who don’t want or need anything useful that you could possibly buy them. Sure, they might actually need a new dishwasher but it’s not like you’re really going to buy that for your aunt or uncle…
With my friends I can get away with making donations in their names (Heifer.org is my favorite), but my family is a little Christmas Crazy. For years I’ve been trying to get them to agree to Secret Santa or a grab bag, but so far I haven’t been successful. So…I continue to troll the internet looking for not completely horrible gift ideas for people who don’t need anything. I often make them something and then just go get gift certificates for manicures or what have you.
But as I sort through the incredible amount of crap that’s out there to buy — and I wonder why anyone would buy it — I realize that our entire economy is basically built on people’s willingness to buy stuff they don’t need. Just the other day I was window shopping for a new laptop. Mine is probably at least 4 years old, some of the keys are starting to stick, and I’ve heard some not great noises coming from it but to say I “need” one would be a stretch. Part of me knows I should make the switch before this one actually dies, but a much bigger part of me says, “You don’t need it now!” But as I’ve chatted with friends about this new shopping conundrum of mine it’s clear that they think I should just go ahead and do it already, whether I really need it or not. (There have been some good deals on refurbished MacBooks, so it’s been a real struggle to keep myself from the impulse-buy.) And if it weren’t for people like those friends of mine, buying gadgets they don’t really need, where the heck would our economy be? And more importantly, can we really sustain growth on that kind of mentality?
I think the answer is, obviously, NOOOOOOOO!
Whether it’s a new iPhone case or a new iPhone, we let marketing trick us into buying things that just aren’t necessary. And we’ve been conditioned to give gifts for freaking everything! Think about “hostess gifts!” Every time you have a few friends over you end up with a stack of candles and wine, and all you wanted was to try out a new recipe and hang out with some friends.
I’m torn about all of this. Lately I’ve been looking for some sort of extra storage for my kitchen, like an island or a sideboard. My instinct is to buy a nice, older piece of furniture from Craigslist or a consignment store. It’s the greener, cheaper thing to do, but I’m also keenly aware that if we all started shopping this way, a lot of people would be out of jobs.
I hate that our economy is built on this kind of blind consumerism, but it seems impossible to change… Providing jobs means buying stuff, and it hurts my head.
3 thoughts on “An Economy Built on Crap”
Sometimes I wonder why people don’t gift really, really useful things like toilet paper, subway tokens and bottles of Advil. But those things don’t look nice wrapped up and they’re unromantic so we give candle holders and bath bubbles.
Buying stuff keeps people employed and employed people buy stuff. Consumerism is a vicious cycle and it does terrible things to our psyche and our environment. But who are we kidding, we’ve never been more comfortable.
In my family we do gift those useful things, usually as stocking stuffers. I went years without having to buy deodorant or toothpaste. But then there’s also the 100th pair of pajama pants…
Yes I agree we should do more to save the environment and consume less. Useful presents would be, well, more useful. A laptop is useful but you’re not likely to receive one of those as a present. However, you really should make sure you have a backup of your data before your laptop breaks. Then you can use it until it is completely broken and buy a new one. You could even sell your broken laptop and put the money towards the new one.