Chris Meadows wrote about Black Friday the same day my local paper ran a commentary in the vein of “doth protest too much” about how excited Canadian retailers are for Black Friday. Really they are, it’s not dead yet…
BF’s decline is partly due to the ease of online shopping. Many shoppers feel the same way as Chris’s parents. He says they hate fighting crowds and haven’t “set foot in a store on Black Friday in a good many years.” But effortless click-and-buy isn’t the only reason. More than a few space-crimped people are revolting against “too much stuff.”
My dad just joined Amazon Prime, and he lives right up the street from me. He has cheerfully offered to order anything I want. My baby can’t go on public transit until he has had his immunizations, and I am limited to places I can walk with him, so, of course, the offer appealed to me. Still, my place can hold only so much.
The popularity of Marie Kondo, the decluttering guru based in Japan, where homes are tiny and space is at a premium, is one symptom of this growing sentiment. In my own Canadian city, the average home price now exceeds $500,000. I can’t afford to store a lot of stuff. That was the big hook for me and ebooks—all the books I could possibly want, and they take up no space in my house.
So I have learned to buy less, to want less and to use less. There is something freeing about having less stuff to take care of. And I think that buying what I want, when I want it—sale or no sale—is actually cheaper than going out on a day like Black Friday and buying everything under the sun.
I’m also plugged into some local Mommy groups on Facebook and Kijiji, and the sheer quantity of second-hand goods is mind-boggling. There is so much of it that often you can’t even give it away. We swapped some surplus Lego sets with a woman who was about to leave for Africa with the dentist equivalent of Doctors Without Borders. We got a baby seat, some toys and a box of board books. A week later, she texted me. Her plane was going to depart on Sunday and she will be gone for two years. Her parents have told her she cannot leave her stuff at their house anymore. Can she just give it to us? My husband went back over there and returned with four boxes of clothes, toys and gear.
Our baby is one month old now, and between new-baby gifts and the deluge of second-hand donations (my mother has a lot of friends with grandchildren who have outgrown things), the only non-consumables we actually have bought for our baby have been a few newborn sleepers, when he was born too small to fit the clothes we had already, and…actually, books! I went to the once-a-year library sale with my cousin and found a few picture books for 10 cents each. And while the freebie board books have been plentiful and easy to come by, as a good swap group trading currency, I do shop at times for a specific title. On his first bookstore visit, I plan to buy him The Very Hungry Caterpillar, for instance. It was the first book I ever bought his brother, and I want him to have his own copy.
It’s interesting times for retailers, and if they were smart, they would play to their strengths. A board book for a baby simply can’t be replicated electronically, so I do have some of those sitting on an Amazon wishlist for people who ask me what the baby wants for Christmas. But I continue to read ebooks for myself, and I would never buy new clothes for a child under the age of 3 now that I know I can get very gently used items for free or nearly free. There is just so much stuff out there. It seems almost wrong to waste money and buy it new.
Funny time to post about “too much stuff.”
Down here in the USA, today is our Thanksgiving celebration—and as I just noted on Twitter, this is the time when we feel it most unfair that, while our plates can hold so much more than they ever did when we were a kid, our bellies can hold so much less. 🙂
I know how you feel Joanna. We can end up enslaved by the things we own. Digital gadgetry is a particular pain. Batteries need to be kept charged. Operating systems and apps need to be kept up to date.
At the same time that my house is filling up, I’ve developed a longing to do again what I once did, spend a year roaming Europe and the Middle East, living out of a backpack, staying in hostels and sleeping on hillsides. Some of the clutter I’ve purchased is for just that purpose. Yes, the inconsistency of buying more in order to get by at some future date with less.
In high school, one of my friends had rich parents. Visiting his home, I was amazed at how uncluttered it was. I imagined two explanations:
1. Their huge home offered lots of out-of-sight storage space.
2. Being rich meant that they didn’t need to keep something they didn’t need at present. They could toss it out or give it away. If the needed it again, they’d simply buy it again. Yeah, and some rich people aren’t like that. Hillary-like, the want inflated tax deductions on even their old underwear.
Ordinary folk can’t acquire huge homes, but we could encourage what you describe. That is a culture where, if you don’t need something, you give it away or sell it cheap with the assumption that at some future date, if you need that thing again, you’ll quickly be able to pick it up equally free or cheap.
Used clothing and toy sales for small children are a good illustration. They grow up so fast, nothing is useful for long. When I lived in Seattle, the community center where I worked had two such sales each year. More communities need to do that, paying particular attention to the often stressed out newly married and newly parented.
Thrift stores help somewhat. Every Saturday, I make a tour of five of them, looking for something I need or might need. The only downside is that you have to buy something when it is available. If you only buy when you need it, it’s likely to not be there. But keeping that in mind, you can save a lot. In my state that’s helped by the fact that thrift stores that sell mostly used stuff don’t have to charge sales tax.
You might want to lobby for a similar law in your state. Sales tax tends to be very regressive, hitting the poor, who spend the biggest slice of their income locally, the hardest. It also helps to counter a market advantage that Bully and Greedy Inc. (also known as Amazon) has with not having to charge sales tax in states where they don’t have a warehouse.
And your closing remarks about “there is just so much stuff out there” is quite true. One reason I dislike liberalism is that its rhetoric suggests liberalism, outside a few of the more serious think tanks, who are rarely in the news, hasn’t done any thinking since the Great Depression. Most give no evidence of even knowing someone poor. No, the real poverty in this country isn’t in the stuff that people lacked in the 1930s, such as warm clothing or household goods. You can get that for free or cheaply, although a bit out of style and battered. Even food isn’t an issue. It’s the poor that are more likely to be overweight.
The real poverty lies in relationships. In the 1950s, in the last years of segregation, less that 20% of black boys grew up in homes without fathers. Now it’s over 70%, and the result is that they turn to gangs, drugs and crime. Pouring more money into welfare, the typical liberal fix, only increases the number of fatherless homes by rendering the father unnecessary. Calling cops racists is also bad. Remove their heavy hand off slums, and the black-on-black murder rate goes up, as indeed it has.
And in my wiser moments, I suspect that rising inner city murder rate is, for many liberals, a feature not a bug. No liberal, faced with rising crime in his neighborhood, would called for fewer or less aggressive police patrols. That’s only for the poor and particularly the black poor.
Those dysfunctional families have terrible consequencies. When I worked at Seattle Children’s Hospital, I cared for three children who were dying of cancer with no family even visiting much less staying. Less than 5% of our patients were black children, but two of those three children were black. What was happening, I asked myself?
When white children came from dysfunctional nuclear families, there was almost always a grandmother, married and able to get free, who could take over. In contrast, black family distress, in place since the 1960s, so so deeply embedded that their were no intact and stable parents or grandparents to take time off for the child. The kids were simply abandoned to us. The issue wasn’t things. The issue was what kids need most especially when sick. That’s strong, stable adult relationships.
That was some thirty years ago. What we’re seeing now is what Charles Murray describes in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2005. It’s that same destructive pathology spreading to whites made poor in part by the loss of jobs that do not require a college degree, particularly in the Rust Belt. Correcting that explains Trump’s success far better than any nonsense about racism that you’ll read in the NY Times. Indeed, blacks who migrated North to work in those factories are impacted far worse by those changes than are whites.
@Mike: Happy Thanksgiving, and also thanks for the thrift-related observations. In the interest of time, I won’t reply to everything, but I hope you’ll reconsider this statement: “Even food isn’t an issue. It’s the poor that are more likely to be overweight.” The poor are often overweight because junk food is so much easier to find than good food, especially when the supermarkets in the poorer parts of town may play down salads, fruits and other healthful offerings. Not to mention all the junk at convenience stores! Another reasons is that, just as the poor may not grow up exposed to books, they may not be exposed to the right kinds of foods. What’s more, they may lack time to exercise or not even be able to because of health issues that better medical care could address. Simply put, food is very much an issue. For more, please check out: http://frac.org/initiatives/hunger-and-obesity/why-are-low-income-and-food-insecure-people-vulnerable-to-obesity/ . – David