Friday, November 25, 2011

The Day Of Lost Souls ...

Is "curmudgeon" gender-neutral?

I may be old.

I don't do Black Friday. Ever. And the more insane it's become, the more I sit, smugly satisfied, in my home. Right now, the coffee has just finished brewing and there is sun on my face. I am not cursing at a driver who just took my parking space. And I am not standing at a register in front of a tired worker who had to sacrifice part of his or her Thanksgiving so I could save an extra 20 percent.

I did not set my alarm for 2 a.m. so I could head out into a dark, cold November morning to claim a door-buster deal at 3. And I sure as hell did not camp out.

But this morning, as I was making my usual Internet rounds, I saw these, featured on a blog that I read, touting yet another "deal" site. And I just about lost my cool.

Cupcake stands?! Are you kidding me with this?!

And here's the sales copy from the site (to which I am not linking, intentionally):

We are extremely excited about our gorgeous deal today… Are you ready?

These cupcake stands make sweet cupcakes even sweeter. Yummy :o) They were featured in Brides Magazine this last August and they caused a huge buzz. So Cuuuuute!

A set of six, if you're wondering, costs $34.50 + $5 shipping.

So, $40. Not including any applicable tax.

Forty bucks. For six ceramic cupcake stands. Because ... why?

Do you know how many people are hovering just above the poverty line in this country?

Now, I get it: People are entitled to spend their money on whatever they want, right?


But we all know that a lot of the spending that goes on in this country is credit. I'm guilty of it, too. More so than many. Not having a job from time to time will bring about the need to put plastic into play.

But cupcake stands? Cupcake stands, people. I have to draw the line at cupcake stands.

A plate will no longer do? Your grandmother's cake stand? Perhaps a pretty silver tray?

Stop it. For the love of God, stop it.

John Pinette does a great riff on needless gifts. "Oh, a panini maker! How did you know?!"

My mom makes paninis. They're delicious. You know what she uses to press them? Bricks wrapped in aluminum foil.

Bricks are heavy. They press those suckers right down.

I'm sorry to be the one to have to tell you this, but no, you don't need a chocolate fountain just because you can buy one at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Mankind has existed for millennia without owning chocolate fountains. I'm quite confident that not only can we endure without them, we should.

I understand that I am coming at this from the perspective of an adult, an adult who has a lot and doesn't want any more. And I understand that Christmas – commercial Christmas, that is – is for kids.

I remember the excitement of Christmas morning, running into the living room and seeing it laden with presents. (I grew up in the time of bean-bag chairs. Those puppies came in huge boxes and took up a lot of visual space.) My father used to fire up the Super 8 camera with the light as bright as the sun and film us opening our gifts.

You should see the dance I did one year when I realized that my new panda bear had a radio in its back!

Thinking back on it, I wonder if Dad had sped up the camera or if I was just frantically happy.

I think I was just that happy. If I tried to move like that first thing in the morning now, I'd pull something.

But as I was saying: Yes. Christmas. Kids. Excitement. Sweet.

My concern is that from the youngest of ages, we're grooming them to go for quantity, not quality. I knew a kid some years ago who would tear into a gift, barely glance at the contents, and then dive into the pile for the next present to unwrap. It wasn't about the gifts in that moment, it was about "more." And his little dervish self would rip everything open in about a minute or two, and then sit there, surrounded by new loot, disappointed that there wasn't more to open.

The gifts didn't seem to matter to him. That he had new things to play with was lost.

Sad, isn't it?

On the other side of that spectrum, a woman whose blog I read allows each of her children to choose three things each year.


I love that. Because since they will only be getting three things each year, they really think about what they want. And they dream up really fascinating ideas. And their mom, in turn, fulfills their wishes.

Now, granted, they have a fascinating mom who has created a beautiful, interesting home, and instilled in them appreciation and value for well-made things.

This woman, I am sure, would share my disgust at the notion of cupcake stands. I love that she thinks through how gifts would be wrapped, coming from the North Pole. Wooden boxes filled with reindeer moss for cushion and tied with real ribbon. Plush friends perched under the tree, waiting to be greeted, not suffocated in a cardboard box. I adore the thought and care she puts into the holidays to make them real and magical.

All of which is somewhat idealized, I know. I know that there are families who struggle, who want to give their kids something for Christmas and some things can be had very cheaply at big-box and dollar stores. But that's become almost our entire consumer culture: lots of stuff, for cheap.

The aforementioned mom rails against that mentality. She loves thrift stores and she has an amazing eye. She also reports that a lot of stuff ends up in thrift stores in its original packaging expressly because people simply have too much stuff and they jettison it in huge quantities. I admire her efforts to get folks off the more-more-more merry-go-round and put more thought into gifts, and save money, and save the planet.

These days, I only want practical things. For my birthday, I asked for rubber spatulas.

Consumable things are nice, too. I would happily receive a bottle of wine to share with someone over dinner.

(I'm just remembering that we used to visit my dad's mom on Christmas and take her a box of groceries. She was thrilled with canisters of coffee and the like. When anyone dared buy her actual gifts, even practical things like sheets or towels, she got angry. When she died, my parents found a lot of those items, still in their original gift boxes. She never used them. To her, what she had been using was still good. Even if it wasn't. One year, someone sent a pretty Christmas arrangement of flowers. She was annoyed that she'd have to add water to them from time to time. Message received, grandma. So we gave up on buying "things" and bought her food. I do believe I'm turning into my paternal grandmother. But I still like fluffy towels. Fluffy towels would be OK with me.)

All of which is to say, I would like for the holidays to be about people, about the spirit of giving in meaningful ways: spending time together, helping those in need, cooking for those we love, appreciating all that we have.

That's what I want more of in my life, anyway. Not a Lexus in the driveway with a giant red bow.

So instead of buying something for someone for the sake of buying them something, make this the year you put that money to better use.

Help someone.

Feed someone.

Provide someone with clean water on the other side of the world.

Loan $25 to an entrepreneur and then, when the loan is repaid, loan it again.

Buy a family a goat.

There are many, many ways to do good in the world.

And that is money well spent.


Blogger Douglas Arnold said...

Simplicity is no longer a virtue. Snuggies are valued over handmade Afghans. Chia Pets in a box trump a pretty houseplant grown from a cutting. Consumerism is surpassing materialism as our national cult -- just buying for buying's sake. From pet rocks to singing bass wall trophies, we are a society of endless consumption. Visit any flea market and see the spent shells of crap manufactured, distributed and sold to satisfy our insanity.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Hear hear, Doug!

One year for Christmas, I received an afghan that my mom asked my Aunt Daisy to make for me. (It was one of the ways my mom was able to give Daisy money while letting Daisy give in return.) It is one of my favorite things. Simple off-white, pretty and warm, with a ruffled edge. Many, many naps have occurred under that afghan. And it's nice to think about how it must have covered Daisy's lap as she worked on it. I miss her.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

First our culture taught us to judge ourselves by what we owned.

Then it taught us not to judge ourselves at all.

Human cultures throughout history have ended up in downward spirals. Sadly American culture will be no different. I wish it were otherwise.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Bella said...

I have a similar distaste for consumerism, treasuring all things hand made, time spent with family. Love what you've written. As a humorous aside, since I abhor "Black Friday" shopping, (ALL shopping, in general), after I ranted about consumerism yesterday, I went on a hike, slipped on ice, ended up in ER with a concussion. Hope it wasn't karma! :-)

12:06 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

@Dave: I hope we can, collectively, come to our senses.

@Bella: Oh no! See? This is why it never pays to exercise! :o ) Hope you're feeling better.

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Morgan said...

We also only do 3 presents, they get 1 from Santa, and 2 from us, (one of their presents from us is pajamas they open the night before), and their stockings (which have cute little things, hair bands and clips for the girls, match box cars for our son, a new toothbrush with their favorite character, etc). My children are very thankful and appreciative.

I've actually spent the last 10 years trying to convince my in-laws not to go crazy on Christmas. I don't want my kids to be THOSE kids, who just think about all the loot they can get, and not the spirit of the holidays.

We don't have a lot of extra money, but we always donate at least one brand new toy to Toys for Tots run by the Marine Corps. And we go through the kids' toys and donate all of their still nice toys that they don't use anymore to local homeless shelters.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I applaud you on every level, Morgan.

My nephews and niece have two sets of grandparents and many aunts and uncles buying for them, and while they, too, are very appreciative, there's only so much stuff their lives can contain. Their mom has a fair number of garage sales. :o ) Though they're now at the age where they mostly want gift cards and cash.

1:13 PM  
Anonymous hjwh said...

Beth, you are so right. My husband John and I are giving ourselves two big gifts this year, refinishing our wood floors and utterly cleaning out the house so that the floors can be done--the house has to be stripped naked. We are getting rid of years of clutter, years of saving things because someone might find them useful. I do not want more. I want less. Less is more. Amen.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Hear hear, Mrs. h.

Many of us have so much. I may scale my life back into a studio apartment one of these days.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

I absolutely don't mean to sound like one of the 1%ers but a few years ago I sold three places on the east coast and brought everything together in one house in Santa Fe. It was like a rebirth. Not only creatively - I started writing again like crazy - but personally too. Much happier. Less is indeed more.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I don't begrudge people their good fortune, of course, especially those who are good-hearted and generous souls. It's the excess for excess's sake I can't abide. I don't get how people can be that unaware and unfeeling. I'm glad you've pared your life back to a place that brings you joy and fuels your creativity.

9:35 PM  

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