Saturday, November 22, 2008

Affluena: Never before has so much meant so little, to so many

Advent Conspiracy is an international movement restoring the scandal of Christmas by substituting compassion for consumption.

Affluena, this possibly is my new favorite word. I got an email forward in my inbox recently that reminded me of it. I had seen a documentary years ago about it and the topic seemed especially appropriate considering that we are about to enter the holiday shopping season. **warning** this is a long winded post.

Affluenza: A painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from dogged pursuit of more, Because clearly what you have is never enough. Otherwise known as "keeping up with the Joneses".

Before we had kids, both Brian and I were definitely not consumers. We have always tended to value intellectual pursuits, or ideas about things. We are SOOO nerdy that way, which is probably why we have 7 bookshelves that are bursting with books. We were pretty simple people, and we lived a pretty simple life.

But enter kids into the picture and we found ourselves having different feelings, we wanted to give our children EVERYTHING and it made us feel like such good parents. I mean sure, for those five seconds when they were "so happy" we all got some immediate gratification. But later, those same toys were forgotten, and months later I was trying to figure out where to store them. And all the time I spent shopping, really, could have been spent in a better way. Well and factor in that our family is mixed religiously, and we have Hanukkah to negotiate too.

I realized that with our lavish generosity, we were breeding greed and unfullfillment in our kids. We were robbing them of a sense of purpose, meaning, and contentment. What we were doing, if we had kept it up, was damaging to them. We were teaching them how to be bottomless pits that were always waiting for the next great thing to be dumped in their laps. In a way, we were teaching them to never be content, to never be satisfied, that it was quantity that counted. Plus, we were giving up our power to the "Joneses" whomever they are, and we are just too stubborn to do that.

I also have found that when I am most susceptible to this Affluenza, its when I feel the least confident, and the least grounded (like as a new Mom). Sometimes, when we are the most insecure, we need to surround ourselves with swirling chaos and materialism in an effort to find something outside of ourselves that will satisfy ourselves. It seems like people are a little terrified sometimes of being quiet and slowing down, of getting to know themselves and who they really are, what they really want.

As someone who has recovered from Affluenza, I can tell you that we are MUCH happier (but not in the transient way, in the content way), we have a much better quality of life since we have embraced a simpler, slower way of life. Our family has never been so close, or so perfectly content.

When I decided enough was enough (which was about a year ago), I sat down and made a list of priorities for our family based on what I wanted to teach my children, the values that we as a family would hold to. I didn't count anyone else's opinion (well, other than Brian's) and I have found that this had trickled right into every other area of our life, Especially how we spend our time. We are a little more jealous of our time together. We also turned off the TV, and we stayed out of the malls and shops, we started being very conscious of shopping locally.

Here are some interesting facts.....

  • On average, we shop an average of 6 hours a week and play with our children only 40 minutes a week. (and for those of us stay at home moms who think we are off the hook, this is quality time, playing time not just being in the same vicinity time).
  • In 1998, more than 1.3 million Americans declared bankruptcy, more than graduated from college.
  • We work more hours than we have ever worked in our history on average, so we see our families and spouses less in order to fund a more materialistic lifestyle... it really is no wonder that so many families have "grown apart"
  • In 90% of divorce cases, arguments about money play a prominent role.
  • The number of "very happy" people peaked in 1957, and has remained fairly stable or declined ever since. Even though we consume twice as much as we did in the 1950s, people were just as happy when they had less.
  • The most affluent countries are the same ones that are experiencing the most stress.
  • In a society that values people based on what they own, is it any wonder that self esteem is at an all time low?
So as we enter the holiday season, what are our family's plans??? How on earth will our children survive without scads of presents everywhere??? Just like last year, we will choose a few (we are doing three, like the gifts of the magi) bought gifts and the rest we will sneak around hiding and making. We will celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, spending time volunteering our time to others who need it while we remember the story of compassion that Christmas is. We will take the time to read stories and drink hot chocolate, to play board games as a family, watch Christmas specials snuggled up in the living room, attend Christmas plays and the ballet, and hang out with family and friends who are dear to us. Somehow it never winds up feeling as though we missed anything.


Carrie Thompson said...

Very good post. We started doing the 3 presents a few year ago when i saw the light about the Christmas season with children! I love the three gift rule. Now last year I fudged on it the rule because what I did was tell myself that a "set" of toys did not count but as one gift it it was all the same stuff. i.e. pollys 7 packs of polly's do not count as one gift! Maybe 2 possible three but not 7! so I must work on this but we are doing something totally different for Chirstmas this year anyway. so no worries about my over indulgence.

question... do you believe the amount of money spent is important and should be kept to a bare minimum or just the amount of stuff??? I saw a blog about this and wanted to blog on it to but am still thinking it out.

Jennifer said...

For me, its about the meaning of the gift. I don't think I would want to do the "bare minimum" always, although I have considered what experimenting one year with having all our gifts be handmade or recycled. I want it to be purposefully bought and meaningful to the recipient. For us this christmas the price would be a factor if we were going beyond our means to pay for it, or if it was outrageous for any child to have an item of that value.

We are doing one gift that you want (a toy), one gift that you need (like clothes), and one gift to grow your brain (like a book, or boardgame). So since we are only doing one gift that is a toy, I would rather purchase one quality gift that is sturdy and will last(and get the best deal I can).

Like last year, the girls wanted a barbie house. And I could have bought a knock off, or one of the plastic ones cheaply and easily. Instead I started shopping early for one of the larger wooden ones, they generally retail for about $120. I was prepared to pay that if I had to, but I decided to research it. I found one on ebay (so it was previously used, but it was in pristine condition) for $30. Now I had to stalk ebay for weeks to get that price. My dad went and picked it up for me and added a wooden support system/cabinet for it. It has been wonderful and was a wise purchase for us.

So for me the purposeful part is where we listen to the "want" evaluate our budget, and try to score the best deal.

However, I do not think that you have to spend the same amount of money on each kid. At least at this time in my kid's lives, if I make their gifts meaningful to them, then the dollar amount doesn't matter to them. This year, Emma has asked for things that are less expensive than what chloe and john want, but she doesn't seem to care what it costs, just what it means to her.

Rob said...

Bravo! Really good book .. post :) Seriously kid, liked that one a lot. I've been thinking along these same lines so this was a timely little writing by you (I needed to hears it). Thanks again!