Black Friday feels like a pretty recent phenomenon here in the UK. It’s traditionally an American thing. Today is Thanksgiving in America and tomorrow is the unofficial first day of the Christmas season. And thanks to capitalism’s greasy little paws what better way to kick off Christmas than to have a great big filthy sale to get everyone completely panicked, I mean, in the festive mood. Oh and what with globalisation and Amazon, we appear to have absorbed Black Friday into our own calenders. I won’t deny it, the offers are very, very tempting. I’ve spent a fair bit of time browsing the internet for deals on items that I probably (definitely) don’t need this week. In my last post I talked about decluttering à la Marie Kondo and I’m nearly through with sorting our stuff out. In fact, I spent another two hours sorting out hidden corners of the house, full of clutter, on Tuesday afternoon. The bench we keep boxes of things in (stationary, cables, brushes, paper, shopping bags etc); and The Big One’s stash of small toys thrown haphazardly into a storage bag and stuffed into her wardrobe hastily before a viewing a couple of months ago. I really thought I’d finished at the weekend, I was totally bemused to turn out yet more stuff. So why have I been browsing sales when I’ve just cleared out bags and bags and bags of unused and unloved stuff? Well my friend, it’s because I’m part of the Big Problem: over consumption. The lure of a bargain. The necessity of things. Our lives seem completely entwined with consuming. Every life occasion, big and small, seems to have accompanying stuff. And don’t get me started on children and their stuff. I’m actually pretty fed up with stuff. But it’s shiny and new and captivating and can seem utterly vital to support a good and happy life. Or just distract us from considering our mortality. That’s probably a bit too bleak but then again, I think that’s probably what this is all about. I don’t actually know anyone who’s managed to get away from over consumption. It’s just part of the fabric of our culture. It’s who we are as a species right now. I’m utterly convinced that we will be immortalised as the Plastic Age. Future generations will laugh at how foolish and feckless we were. Mother Nature is suffering at our own greedy, needy hands. Happy Black Friday, everyone.
I have a long and rambly draft post about hygge and winter comforts saved to my desktop, pretty much ready to go. I was going to finish it off last night. However, I read two articles over lunch yesterday that got me thinking. The first was an article in the Guardian written by George Monbiot, Too right it’s Black Friday, and the second was an excellent blog post about what self care really means by Brianna Wiest. My copy of Fashion Revolution’s Fanzine 002 landed on Saturday, and I’ve managed a cursory skim. Everything I’m choosing to read is telling me to stop buying and to think about the ethical and environmental impacts of my actions and that buying stuff won’t make us any happier. And yet the world around me is full of the opposite. My inbox has been bombarded with Black Friday deals, as I’m writing this at teatime, they’re still coming in thick and fast; our doormat has been spattered daily with dozens of leaflets about Christmas and deals and offers. So many leaflets from companies I’ve never heard of and have never bought from.
Today’s post: mostly brochures and promotional materials. What a waste of resources. I plan to spend January writing to all of these companies asking them to stop sending their junk mail to me.
It’s hard to go against the grain. And sometimes, to put it crudely, even when you think you’re doing your best it feels like pissing in the wind. George Monbiot talks about structural changes to society; Fashion Revolution talk about the Buyerachy of Needs. There are no shortages of ideas about how best to improve the grave situation we find ourselves in. But it’s that old thing of what’s best and am I really going to make a difference. I’ve only bought necessities such as bigger school uniform for The Big One and some bits and bobs for their new rooms in the new house in these sales, my Black Friday hands are not clean.
The Buyerachy of needs: my New Year’s Resolution.
Ultimately, I have absolutely no idea what the answer is and swing between being wildly optimistic about our amazing human endeavours and completely ambivalent and defeatist about the impact of industrialisation on nature and the planet at large.
I felt many pangs of guilt as I read Monbiot’s column yesterday. It was seemingly written to get to people like me: middle-class westerner, ethical consumer, avid recycler. And it got me wondering, how big is my actual carbon footprint. Am I living as lightly as I could be? Or do I have the heaviest print of all? We’ve just bought a brand new car. I sometimes drive the girls around to get them to sleep. We have plastic bags in the house. We eat meat and use the tumble dryer. I occasionally use bleach and limescale remover instead of vinegar and elbow grease. We are no-where near carbon neutral as a family. But I do try and do lots of other things. Bulk buying essentials; buying ethical clothes for all the family (no mean feat); considering the impacts of major purchases and looking for the kindest option; buying energy from an eco supplier. Are any of my kinder ways of living having any impact at all? And I think it was the following paragraph from Monbiot’s article that really walloped me in the face as I sipped virtuously on a vegan smoothie through a reusable straw in our local veggie café:
I know people who recycle meticulously, save their plastic bags, carefully measure the water in their kettles, then take their holidays in the Caribbean, cancelling any environmental savings a hundredfold. I’ve come to believe that the recycling licences their long-haul flights. It persuades people they’ve gone green, enabling them to overlook their greater impacts.
Oh god. He’s talking about me. Not me personally, but my type. Albeit, the me who hasn’t been to the Caribbean this year or in fact for over 10 years. We stayed in the UK for our family trips this year, that’s ok isn’t it? I very rarely buy bottled water these days and only in emergencies if I’ve forgotten my water flask and tap water isn’t an option. I was feeling pretty defensive. The article pushed me into wondering, am I a deluded fool for being such a big proponent of ethical consumption and ethical fashion? Have I got it all wrong? Is there something else I could concentrate my efforts on to make a bigger impact? I feel like perhaps there is but I haven’t figured that one out yet. I need to think about it a little harder and with much more urgency. In the meantime, The Husband and I are not giving each other Christmas presents this year but 10 dates each; we intend to give our families gift vouchers, organic wine or experiences. And we’ve bought fewer but bigger more enduring presents for the girls. I’m thinking about using brown paper hand printed with snowflakes by the girls and some furoshiki cloth for wrapping presents too. However, Christmas is a big celebration in our family, with lots of food, frivolity and presents and it’s fun and wonderful and heartfelt. I again wonder if I’m kidding myself that our small concessions as a family of four will have any impact at all.
And that brings me onto the self care article. Wiest’s article really struck a chord with me. Especially in the long, dark hygge nights where we are weak to the self-care calls of so many companies trying to sell us socks and candles and bath oil and treats.
A world in which self-care has to be such a trendy topic is a world that is sick. Self-care should not be something we resort to because we are so absolutely exhausted that we need some reprieve from our own relentless internal pressure.
True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.
My hygge post mentioned at the beginning of the post includes a bit about salt baths and a maybe even a bit about cake. Oh.
I hadn’t heard of self-care until I had The Little One back in 2015. It’s no secret that I suffered with post-natal depression after she was born. The pressure of two non-sleeping under 2s drove some pretty horrible anxiety feelings and behaviours and I was in a pretty bleak place. I was lucky to be helped by the NHS and two wonderful cognitive behavioural therapists. I was told to look after myself: eat regularly, sleep, shower, exercise, see family and friends, ask for help and get fresh air. I was heavily encouraged to build nourishing activities into my week: coffee with friends, picking up hobbies, going for hair cuts, reading for pleasure, dates with The Husband. These sound like such small things but when you have tiny children to care for and you’re feeling low, it’s actually really hard to even remember to brush your teeth in the morning. More importantly than these acts of self care I talked and talked about what was really going on. I went to post-natal support group meetings and had some one-on-one counselling too. And over several months I started feeling about my life differently and found myself feeling positive. I saw that healthy eating and going to bed early were not just a means of losing weight and reducing eye bags, but key to my physical and mental well-being. I mean, we pester children about eating their greens and all parents fret about bedtimes, nap times and getting enough sleep. But we seldom apply the same reasoning to our own grown-up busy lives. Self-care as Wiest points out is self-parenting otherwise known as being a grown up. Making some space and time for myself was vital to my recovery, but cake, baths and trashy magazines were never going to pull me out of the black hole. Since 2015 I’ve heard loads about self care, mostly on social media, and a lot of it really does seem to revolve around buying stuff or spending money or booking spa days or drinking cocktails or looking good in those little squares on Instagram. And there is nothing wrong with any of these things, they are very much a part of the rich tapestry that is my life but if you don’t address what’s really going on or make changes for a happier life, you’re merely papering over the cracks with very expensive or unnecessary wallpaper. Self care is so much more than wallpaper. It’s about preparing the wall and sorting out those cracks first. And then maintaining them, rigourously.
After reading the article, I realised that things had slipped in my self care routine. I’ve made some changes and tweaks this week. Earlier nights and less alcohol. Healthier meals cooked from scratch and more vegetables. Fewer biscuits and bread based snacks. More fresh air and a little more exercise. I really do need to work on getting more exercise. The school run at a 4 year old’s snails pace is not enough for me. I’m working on my confidence and trying to be more playful with the girls. I will probably treat myself to time in the bath this weekend, a good book and a few drinks. A little bit of what you like is a great thing. A lot of love for your self is life changing. And remember, money can’t buy you love. Cheesy, but true. And love doesn’t kill the planet either.
So, instead of a Black Friday spent on the internet consuming cheap stuff, I intend to have a Black Friday spending my time well, enriching my life with family and friends, and undertaking some of those nourishing activities too. Christmas is all about the people around you, not the stuff around you. So I intend to kick off the Season of Goodwill with just that love and goodwill. No discount code required.