Thursday, December 04, 2008

notes from a church of shopping

I'm not much of a shopper. I love to buy beautiful clothes, pick out the perfect gift for friends and family, and get nice things for my house, but I'm not someone who shops for the simple pleasure of shopping, or as therapy. I always shop on the fly: when I happen to be out, and I see something I want, I buy it. If I know exactly what I want and where to get it, I order it online. That's it. I can no more imagine a day at the mall than I can imagine stabbing my own self in the eye.

Last year the holiday shopping season took on a whole new life for me. My shop on Etsy put me out there in the bigger shopping world than I had previously been, and I was slammed. In my Etsy shop alone, I sold 48 separate items. That, combined with my Open Studio, and normal call and walk-in sales, made it an insanely busy month. While I really enjoyed it, I was left feeling sort of beached at the end of December: exhausted, picked-over, and unable to swim another stroke. I also considered for the first time that a business that depends on those end-of-the-year sales is not a sustainable business, that it was really important for me to build up my own business to a point where Holiday Sales was a nice bump, but I didn't have to depend on it.

And more: if we've learned anything in the past couple of months, we've learned that spending and buying is what our economy is totally dependent on. No matter what is happening in the world, in our economy, we are told to buy, and to shop by the people "in charge". It bothers me. It's like we are all children who can only find comfort in things. We can be distracted by our toys, and ignore what ails the planet, and the people on it. Isn't that what the word "retail therapy" means? I listened yesterday to a wonderful and dark essay by Andrei Codrescu that totally mirrored my feelings about the religion of shopping. And I don't think I'm overstating it by calling it a religion.

As someone who makes things and depends on people buying them so I can continue to make more, I know I'm in a tricky position here. If shopping is a religion, then there can be no doubt I run one of its chapels, and I love me a large congregation, tithing on a regular basis. So what am I saying? That we should all stop buying stuff right now? Of course not. You should buy stuff, and you should buy it from me. All I want for Christmas is some more thought about what we purchase, where we purchase, and why we purchase it. More reflection about these things will probably not do much to pull us out of recession anytime soon, but maybe it could be one, tiny little baby step to making a more sustainable economy for ourselves. And if that meant that I had to lose some sales this season, I'm okay with that, because I do feel as if I'm participating in a group psychosis this time of year. And I really prefer to be psychotic on my own. What do you all think?