Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Dangerous Season

We've barely squeaked past Halloween and suddenly temptation is everywhere. Almost overnight, the staff of stores across the country made frantic efforts to get the holiday stock out onto the shelves, into the window displays, and, perhaps worst of all, into our mailboxes. Yes, the Crate & Barrel catalogue has arrived. Heaven help me when the Pottery Barn catalogue shows up. I'm only human.

Of course I want the gorgeous stemware. Yes, I want the beautiful candleholders. How quickly can that massive, rustic display cabinet get delivered?

A few deep breaths later, after the covetous attack has lost its grip on my psyche, I calm myself enough to remember that I want stuff to leave the premises, not enter. In fact, I've recently been feeling a powerful urge to let go of yet another layer of my possessions so, thankfully, I'm able to resist the allure of all the fabulous goodies that surround me whenever I venture outside the house -- or open the mail.

But what a challenge this time of year can be. For some retailers, holiday sales make or break their businesses, so they certainly have a vested interest in getting us to buy. For some manufacturers, it's the same situation, just one step back on the chain of distribution. But for some consumers, this season of joy is a dangerous trap that provides little more than an excuse to acquire useless items and incur uncomfortable debt.

If you're already living in a fully-stocked or (more likely) over-stocked home, but you're still absolutely convinced that you simply cannot survive without that charmingly retro fondue pot, or temperature-controlled wine cooler, or complete new set of shiny decorations for the table and tree in this year's fashionable color combination, trust me, please: it's all a trick. You don't need any of it. You may want it, but that's something else entirely. And don't try telling yourself that you're going to give it as a gift to someone else when you're the one you're really trying to satisfy.

And why do you want all those things? Well, many of them are, indeed, lovely and have intrinsic appeal. But never underestimate the power of advertising. How often do we want things because they represent the kind of life we wish we could lead, or believe that we ought to be leading? I'm convinced that far too often we see those happy families or laughing party-goers in cleverly designed, seductive advertisements and think, "Gee, if I only had a living room that looked like that, I'd have those attractive, cool people hanging out at my house." Alas, it's just not true. People who hang out at your house do so because they like you, not your stuff. In fact, if you figure out that they're hanging out at your house because they like your stuff and not you, it's time to find some new people to hang out with!

So, this holiday season, when we're shopping for ourselves or shopping for gifts, let's try to pause, take those few deep breaths and get a grip on our perfectly human urge to reach out and grab the pretty sparkly object. Do we need it or do we want it? If we want it, I'm not suggesting that we deny ourselves or our family and friends for no good reason. Let's just think about it for a minute first before we pull out our wallets. Let's be thoughtful consumers. I know we'll be much happier if we don't let the joyful spirit of the season get lost in a frenzy of mindless shopping.

© 2006 Cynthia Friedlob

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