“Scared for health, afraid of death, bored, dissatisfied, vengeful, greedy, ignorant, and gullible—these are the qualities of the ideal consumer.
—Wendell Berry, from Our Only World
My wife and I spent much of a recent weekend going through boxes with the goal of reducing the pile down to a point we can actually use our garage for our cars rather than storing stuff. We had really good intentions to have this done before we moved. But you know about that particular road to hell and the intentions with which it’s paved. So the boxes were stacked high. They are filled with things we at some time or another felt we would need or use again. To be fair, much of the contents are sentimental…things to remind us of days gone by when children were babies and family members were still living.
However, if I dig a bit deeper into the archeology of our little garage excavation project, I come to the striking realization that there was a point in time that someone was faced with a decision: Do I buy this particular item or not? Every single item now cluttering my brand new garage and now taking up my precious day off…EVERY ITEM…was the result of someone answering that question with a “YES”.
Wendell Berry’s sobering description of the “ideal consumer” is a mirror that provides clear and precise reflection of our affliction. We, western consumers, are easily manipulated. That, and we’re addicted to the purchase.
I’d like to challenge you to a little experiment. Take the Wendell Berry quote with you and go pick up something you’ve purchased recently. Touch it. Handle it. What was the motivation for buying that? Does it spark joy? How long before this item finds itself in a box in your garage? Go to your garage and look at the things you have stored there. Do you remember why you bought them?
I realize I’m getting a bit preachy. So I’ll stop. However, today is “Black Friday Eve.” Black Friday to me is the most vulgar of our American Holidays. It’s unbridled and unapologetic consumption. The picture above was taken at our local Kmart. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, taking up huge amounts of valuable shelf space in the “holiday section” are rows and stacks of storage bins. The irony is obvious. Lets buy some bins to store the crap we bought before so we can make room for some new crap that we’ll need to store next year to make room for still more crap. I’ve heard so many people complaining about the stores decorating for Christmas before Halloween, completely skipping Thanksgiving. I don’t think retailers do this is because they are evil people with a corrupted agenda. It seems that we all are skipping Thanksgiving. The stores are only giving us what we think we want.
Today is actually Thanksgiving. A day we’ve set aside for giving thanks. Gratitude. I’m particularly thankful for family today. My gang all slept under my roof last night. Other extended family are here for the holiday weekend to share food and memories and create new ones. Others extended family members will be gathering around other tables doing the same. There is much to be thankful for. I wish all of you a joyous and very Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you will be able to spend it with people you love.
And about this Black Friday thing looming tomorrow. Skip it. Extend your Thanksgiving. And when you do go out shopping this Christmas, enjoy it! (But stick a copy of that Wendell Berry quote in your pocket before you go…and maybe a picture of your garage.)