Step Away from the Store

It probably won’t surprise any of our readers to know that I don’t consider myself a “consumer,” as business pundits refer to people residing in capitalist societies. I buy stuff, but as little and as seldomly as possible, and only stuff I really, really need. If you follow the blog and have seen the state of my clothing in photographs, well … let’s just say that thrift stores are my happy place.

Last week I needed a part for a machine, and Michelle was busy on Thursday and Friday, so Saturday was the first day we could head off to our nearest large city. Last Thursday of course was American Thanksgiving and Friday, well, it was a ‘black’ day as it were.

A few years ago this wouldn’t have been a big deal for a Canadian, because we Canadians didn’t celebrate “Black Friday.” Our Thanksgiving is in October (where it should be, well away from Christmas) and retailers were smart, they didn’t really offer discounts until “Boxing Day”on December 26th. Now from a business perspective think about how illogical Black Friday is. You take the one time of the year where (most) people feel they have to buy stuff (presents) and you offer massive discounts. Huh? People are going to spend money anyway. Why would you discount at a time when people are forced to spend? It’s so weird.

Now though, Canadian retailers have been sucked into the “Black Friday” vortex because so many of us would head to the U.S. to take advantage of the sales. For many years this was a good thing because with our strong Canadian “petro” dollar meant it made sense to spend the money on the gas to get there. But now our Canadian dollar is worth about 75¢ U.S. so the sales would have to be massive to make it worthwhile. And Canadian retailers now start discounting to compete with the U.S. and of course “Cyber Monday” allows you to take advantage of sales anywhere you live.

Sorry for the digression, but anyway, I found myself at “Canadian Tire” (how Canadian is that?) on the Saturday after Black Friday and I realized as I approached the parking lot that I’d made a huge mistake. And low and behold, I had only been in the store for about 10 seconds when I told Michelle I was “SO’d” (shopped out) and needed to go home.

I did persevere long enough to get the part that I needed, and we even hit a nearby thrift shop that was very, very quiet, presumably because everybody else was shopping at regular retail stores looking for the bargains.

This disdain for shopping started when I lived in the city. Well it was actually suburbia and 20 years ago it seemed to me that was what people did in suburbia, they shopped. That was how they defined themselves, by what they bought. And many seemed to hate their jobs and spent their weekends buying ‘stuff’ as a reward for putting up with a job.

When we moved to our little piece of paradise I have to admit I did ramp up my consuming for a while as we upgraded, well, just about every system in our off-grid home. And when you put up a wind turbine it turned out that it helps to have some specialized tools, and when you learn to do your own plumbing you need some tools. So Canadian Tire did become my happy place for a while. I was lucky enough to be able to learn what I needed and I often borrow tools from my neighbor Ken, but you get to a point where once you’ve borrowed something often enough, you realize it wouldn’t hurt to own it the next time something breaks, so I would wait for it to go on sale before I bought it. It’s part of  the ‘independent’ mindset that starts to creep in when you’re off grid and start looking at the big picture state of the world.

But now I seem to have just about every tool I need. And I still have the “Ken Tool Lending Library” just down the road if I’m desperate. And I seem pretty set on clothes … for… like…ever. Canadian Tire came out with some new fiberglass handled shovels a few years ago and I tried one and liked it (because it is easier on my rapidly ageing elbows). So when they went on super sale I bought a couple so I can have one in various locations. At my age the 7 minute walk back from the “old wind turbine/potato garden” to the tool shed to get a shovel and the 7 minute walk turns out to be 15 minutes and “X” number of calories that are not well invested. Jasper the Wonder Dog loves the walk, or in his case full throttle sprint, back and forth, but me, not so much.

So I will now stay out of retail stores for the next 6 weeks or so. They are crazy places at this time of year, and I feel this immense cloud of depression come over me as soon as I walk in. Where did all this “stuff” come from? From the ground, from trees, from stuff that was mined, plastic from oil … and how soon before it all ends up I a landfill? I’m just better to not see it at all.

I’ve read a few reports that suggest that the holiday frenzy was not up to previous year’s madness. It could be that the middle class has been so hosed over the past decade they just don’t have the money or available credit to keep up the pace. In Canada a whack of people spend so much on their housing with our on-going housing bubble that they just don’t have as much money or credit left over to jump into the feeding frenzy contact sport that has become holiday shopping.

Or maybe, just maybe, more people are starting to clue in that ‘buying stuff’ is kind of a shallow way to try and fill up your life with meaning. There is more out there and the best stuff doesn’t necessarily come from a store. I can dream can’t I?

In the meantime, if I get one of those “let’s go shopping” moments in the next few weeks I will either try and distract myself working on next year’s firewood, or hit a thrift shop which seems to be a much quieter place at this time of year. Do you think my new grandson will notice if that toy isn’t in a shiny new box?


5 Responses to “Step Away from the Store”

  • Wendi:

    I guess, life is a series of choices that have consequences. Many of us lemmings find it difficult to resist the pull of marketing and herd mentality. It’s nice to know someone else can.

  • j:

    But cam, without the consumerism thing the economy would crash. the banks need people borrowing money all the time to keep the fractional reserve, compound interest banking scam going, the former middle class need their minimum wage walmart jobs (’cause all the manufacturing jobs are gone) to not end up on the street, the slaves in china manufacturing the crap need their sub $1 day slave jobs, the politicians and businessmen need everyone distracted and happy so they don’t think about things like peak cheap oil or pollution, people retiring need the their big box store and big bank stock investments to do well.

    Everybody wins, for now – who cares about the next generation.

  • I was surprised by that line too Ron! Why do I get the feeling that in the not-too-distant future Cam will be telling me about a new tool he just has to have for his next project?!

  • It’s hard dealing with family who doesn’t understand the ‘not buy anything’ idea. My daughter is an only grandchild and the presents roll in (and get donated or thrown away as quick as humanly possible). I get depressed as well when I see aisles of ‘things’, and all the packaging and where it will end up, with more behind it. Society really has no idea of the extremes we live in. Boo!

  • “But now I seem to have just about every tool I need”

    Does … not … compute

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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