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Blog: Can We Have Some Order Here?
Is It "Black Friday" Or "Buy Nothing Day"?

The fourth Friday of November is host to two polar-opposite holidays -- you can choose to join the mobs of shoppers hitting the Black Friday sales, or make a statement against crazed over-the-top consumerism by celebrating Buy Nothing Day. Where does the truth lie? As always, probably somewhere in between -- and while it may sound impossible, Matt and I have found an interesting way to bring the two together in harmony.

Save Money At The Black Friday Sales

Near the end of the last quarter, retailers traditionally begin to worry that they might finish the year in the red -- and what better way to boost a sagging balance sheet before January 1st than with a mark-down? Starting in the 1960's, stores started offering special one-day sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving (when they knew that the majority of Americans would have the whole day off to roam the malls, in a festive shopping kind of mood!) The term was partly positive (describing the financial shift into the "black" that retailers hoped to experience) and partly derogatory (describing the headaches caused by crowds of lunatic shoppers let loose on an unsuspecting populace). But most importantly, Black Friday used to signal the official start of the holiday season -- that is, until competition amongst the big box stores caused them to begin their sales before the turkey was even out of the oven!

It's one of those traditions that the "simple living" side of me desperately wants to hate, but I just can't quite manage to fully despise Black Friday -- "repellent, yet strangely attractive!" WinkHowever, a fun little way to save some cash as you shopped for gifts has grown more and more insane over the years -- with "doorbuster" specials starting as early as midnight on Thanksgiving day, riots over hot ticket items, and people being trampled to death by the rampaging mobs. And the shops themselves seem to want to feed the frenzy -- offering only limited numbers of the most popular items, while at the same time encouraging people to start camping out and forming huge lines days in advance to get the really good sales.

Discounts aside, I actually love to wander through the crowds on the day after Thanksgiving -- enjoying the decorations, music, fakey Santas, and festive atmosphere. It's funny, because I can't stand shopping any other time of the year. Matt and I usually avoid the mall like the plague -- but on that one special day, we head out before the sun comes up to join the masses. We've discovered that the three keys to a sane Black Friday experience are a lot of patience, a sense of humor, and a bit of perspective -- we only buy what we actually need (fortunately, there's very little in life we really NEED right now), and we have no expectations  about anything but having a good time. We usually have only one purchase in mind (this year, it was a new computer for me because my 10-year-old laptop is on its last legs, gasping and wheezing and shorting out when I plug in my mouse) -- and the rest of the day is just for people-watching and sipping cocoa and listening to the first batch of Christmas carols. That's how it should be.

We spent last Black Friday in Berkeley -- where we discovered that the hippies love to shop just as much as the 'burbanites (they just buy incense and hemp clothing rather than big-screen televisions!) However, some group of consumer terrorists had come along early on Friday morning and squirted super glue in all the door locks of the stores in this quaint little neighborhood near the university. This seemed entirely counterproductive to me. If you want to protest the evils of consumerism, don't attack those local retailers  that actually support the community -- go after the obnoxious mega-chains like Wal-Mart and the Gap and the Pottery Barn who are driving the mom-and-pop places out of business. Protest has its place, but this was a might misguided -- and that's a perfect segue into our other holiday option on the last Friday of November.

Then Buy Nothing The Rest Of The Year!

The purpose of Buy Nothing Day is to make people more conscious of how their shopping habits affect the earth and all of its inhabitants (even those who will never own a credit card and are lucky to simply have a plate of food at the end of the day). We are killing ourselves as a species with unsustainable consumption -- manufacturing processes that create pollution and use up non-renewable natural resources at an alarming rate -- a warped sense of values that encourages us to acquire debt we couldn't possibly hope to pay off in order to impress others with our possessions -- a gross overuse of packaging combined with a severe lack of effective recycling programs for some of the most commonly discarded materials -- and a "disposable" mindset that causes still-useful items to end up in a landfill simply because a new style or an upgraded model has taken over the limelight. And buy choosing not to shop on "Black Friday," people are saying that they've had enough!

In a society where shopping has become the number one leisure activity, the symbolic act of taking a single day off from any kind of consumption -- especially a day in which the rest of the world will be frantically pulling out the charge cards -- is a noble one. The AdBusters request is simple: "Take just one small step toward a more just and sustainable future. Make a pact with yourself: go on a consumer fast. Lock up your credit cards, put away your cash and opt out of the capitalist spectacle. You may find that it's harder than you think, that the impulse to buy is more ingrained in you than you ever realized. But you will persist and you will transcend -- perhaps reaching the kind of epiphany that can change the world." However, my question is, why only one day? Why not the whole year? Are we so addicted to shopping that we can't quit, cold turkey, if we decide to?

So Matt and I are actually trying a new twist on Buy Nothing Day and doing the reverse. We shopped on Black Friday (being quite consciously careful to avoid stores like Wal-Mart who are abusers of their consumers, their employees, and the communities in which they park their fat asses -- it's been years since I set foot in a Wal-Mart, and I don't care if they are giving away a free new car to every customer, I refuse to ever patronize them again!) We took advantage of the bargains in order to restock some "essentials" that we needed for day-to-day life (things like printer ink and dish soap and vitamins). I got a computer to replace the one that keeps telling me, "I'm not dead yet," as it's coughing up blood (the old one will be donated to a nonprofit that can rebuild the machine and use it to offer developmentally delayed adults job training). Matt's mom took him clothes shopping to stock up for next year. And after that little burst of consumerism, we're going to attempt an experiment -- we plan to avoid buying anything non-consumable for 12 full months.

Of course, we will continue to shower and have electric lights and fill our vehicle with gas. We don't plan to stop brushing our teeth or start dumpster-diving for meals -- so that means we can buy food, hygiene products, cleaning items, and purchases related to home or vehicle repairs. And I consider "experiential" purchases to be consumable -- an evening at the theater or admission to a botanical gardens or an event at a museum. But if we want to read a book or watch a DVD (or in Matt's case, play a video game) that we don't already own, we'll either borrow it from the library or use trade credit or do without. We will get by on what we have, put any new "wants" on a list, and learn how to savor the anticipation of waiting for our next spree. And we're going to see just how difficult it is in a consumer-driven society like this to avoid shopping for a full year.

I don't actually expect that it will be that difficult -- we've already reduced our belongings to a minimalist level, we don't have a lot of material desires as it is, and we no longer have the space to store a lot of extraneous crap that we don't need (in our 29-foot Airstream travel trailer!) The trick is going to be avoiding shopping areas in the first place. I've noticed that, no matter how disciplined you are, the minute you set foot in a mall (or funky boutique or thrift store or whatever your tastes lead you toward), you're going to discover something that you didn't want until you stepped through the door -- but now you just HAVE to have. So I probably won't be doing any more than window-shopping (that seems safe enough) until next November. Anyone want to join me? Who's in? Big smile

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posted on: 11/25/2010 11:30:00 AM by Ramona Creel
category: General Organizing Tips

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Can We Have Some Order Here?

by Ramona Creel

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About Ramona:

I have been a Professional Organizer for more than 10 years, I am a NAPO Golden Circle member, and I was the original founder of OnlineOrganizing. I have worked one-on-one with scores of clients and have trained dozens of newbie organizers as they got started in the industry. I provide both hands-on and virtual coaching to help clients improve their organizing skills and simplify their lives. I invite you to visit my website at http://www.RamonaCreel.com, and I challenge you to find one new idea that you can put into practice in your life, to help you become better organized, starting TODAY! I am passionate about coaching folks toward a more balanced, productive, and enjoyable life -- and I firmly believe that if I can do it, so can you!

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