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November 25, 2019

A Holiday Letter from a Former Materialist

What we take for granted in life eventually comes to find us, and forgives us.

With exactly one month to go until Christmas Day, I thought I would challenge the readers on here to engage in “conscious consumerism” as the refraining of buying anything unnecessary for the next month, in favor of fixing something, DIYing gifts, or giving someone the gift of knowledge in the form of a book.

I always do my best to plan ahead and make my gifts from scratch, the result of a limited exposure to media and advertisement. There is nobody around to encourage participation in an unbeatable system, so I was inspired to see if there is a place to go to volunteer, to give some of my time to someone who needs a reminder of how special they are.

Above-and-beyond everything and anything I could have ever imagined, we (my sisters and I) always got what we wanted for Christmas.

One year it was a cat, another year it was a dog, a few years ago it was another dog.

This year, I have nothing to ask for. There is nothing I could possibly want or need.

As much as Siddhartha relinquished his throne for the Bodhi tree, I released the confines of chasing a materialistic life in favor of the path tread with lightness and wonder. “What happens if I don’t buy this?” or “Do I really need it?”

So far, it has been liberating.

Certainly, I never fully understood what materialism was when I was young. I assumed that everybody got what they wanted for Christmas, and that of course there was a Santa Claus who tumbled down the chimney in the middle of the night and granted a wish for every little boy and girl (if they’ve been good!).

The other day, I washed the soot off of a beautiful mug that had been long-abandoned and read “since 1907”.

That’s is an awfully long time to exist, and also the point. When things are cared for with genuine want for what they offer in a life well-lived, suddenly the things we surround ourselves with hold truer meaning. Would a terra-cotta pot be more precious if it were the only place we had to grow a plant? Would our pens be laid to rest with care each day if we knew that refilling them with ink meant sustaining the flow of our thoughts and ideas? What if we only had one jacket, or one hat, or one pair of gloves knit with care? Do we pay more attention while handling a handmade set of dishes than a store-bought, mass-produced variety?

I would gather that yes, we do.

Humans inherently appreciate beauty, in all of its myriad forms, the arranged pre-Raphaelite structures as well as the more organic, textural flavor of a rib stitch, or the color of sun-bleached and well-worn denim. As hard as we try to replicate the feel of possessions that earn their patina with time, the appreciation phase of their acquirement goes missing; the sentiments we have about a brand-new, name-brand pair of jeans with “distressed” whiskering will not be the same as a pair worn-in by the trials of life, through all of the times we fell and got back up again. An acrylic sweater we found on Amazon will sit in a landfill in a few years, hardly comparable to the hand knit fair isle style we might inherit from our grandmother’s upbringing in Norway. When we take care of our stuff, it becomes something more altogether, something… Meaningful. Intentional. Cherished and adored. Mended with time and love and care.

Investment in genuinely valuable material goods, ones that improve over time, becomes a lost art in an age when it seems every possible moment to disconnect from ourselves involves a trip to an online shopping cart to fill up with something new.

When when the boxes arrive, they are nearly and neatly forgotten.

Regarding equality, consumerism, and caring for each other this Holiday season: what this has always entailed for me is a special touch of the eco-conscious, a desire to keep things simple, elegant, and meaningful. A continuance of the “handmade crusade”.

Upon realizing that I already have everything I could ever want, I understand that there are others who will be buying material items in order to experience one another’s love, and I have also accepted that I, too, will have certain moments in my life where I come bearing bags full of gifts. Filling myself up with stuff is about balance. This is why there is so much enjoyment in the act of giving back.

I think of my grandmother, who taught me how to knit, crochet, and sew. I think of my Mom, who selflessly gave us everything. I think of my Dad, who works for UPS, and who has worked so hard his entire life to make sure everyone gets their gifts on time. I guess in a way, he is Santa Claus.

I am grateful.

Traveling outside of the United States has also allowed me to fully accept just how fortunate so many Americans are.

It has made me more willing to stop, pause, and help; to try to make sure that everybody has a fair chance at giving their sons and daughters what they wish for.

Christmas, more than any other time of the year, reminds me how extraordinarily blessed I am to have two loving parents who bestowed upon me a strong sense of unity. “Family first” was always our mantra. I also think about the classic school-age adage “No child left behind.” No matter what happens, may we always choose love.

This year, I have grown to include every single breathing human on Earth in my quest for “peace be with you.”

We are all fortunate.

What we already have enough of makes everyone feel welcome. We realize throughout all of our time here on Earth that all everyone really wants to feel safe, accepted, and loved, and we don’t need a new sweater to prove we deserve that.

By giving generously, we also accept that those who are continually looking for more will always find a way to get it, but by being happier with less, suddenly the true meaning of gift-giving occurs to me… One magical gift will out-shine even a thousand less-thoughtful bundles nestled under a tree. As for the tree, I would also prefer to leave him be, in the soft earth, where he shelters squirrels and rabbits and birds away for the long Winter season. Does it really matter if a few trees are lost on a farm designed to chop ‘n grow? Some might argue no, it does not. Some days, I’ll go and spend $$$$ on vintage books that have come from trees, and send my sister a care package of poetry. I trust that she will recycle the box, and send the parcel anyway, dropping the coins from my change into the Salvation Army cup that is jingling on my way outside.

As soon as we all stop thinking that the courageous act of giving everything away is somehow martyrdom, or that we “need” to give back as some pseudo-kindness that serves to paint our character in good light, we remember what is to gain by doing things for others, which is that it simply feels really nice to make someone else happy. This happens with the same balance and care of sometimes putting ourselves first too. A lifetime of acting with love and investing in meaningful belongings is a time-honed and honorable pursuit, one to be passed-down through generations of meaning. It is not splurging impulsively and then regretting it with shame, fear, and disconnection. Throughout the course of a generous life, we often forget sometimes the best gifts we can offer are those of our time.

In kindness and courage!

Happy Holidays.


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