Article by Sue Torr
It’s starting to look like Christmas. The malls are a maze of merriment and ablaze with bright baubles, and as retailers fall over each other to sell you the fallacious promise that possessions are more valuable than experiences, we – the consumer – are left dazed, confused and all-too-often indebted. As the season of excess approaches and before we fall madly into mayhem in the mall, let’s gift ourselves a moment to plan how to survive the season without entering 2015 debt-laden and depressed. It all starts with going back to basics.
You don’t need to be Christian to appreciate the broader meaning of this season. For many South Africans, December is a time to take leave, spend meaningful moments with family and friends, and unwind. It is a period of rest and rejuvenation. A time of reflection and repose. A season of giving, celebrating and breaking bread together as we feast on fellowship. How this beautiful season became so horrendously hi-jacked by the retail industry is a topic for another discussion, but the challenge this Christmas is for each and every one of us to rediscover the beauty of Christmas free from the pressure to out-purchase the Potgieters.
As much as retailers would have us hang our hopes of happiness on their wares, research into consumer behaviour is unanimous – as humans, we derive more joy from experiences than we do from purchasing material possessions. A lot more. In fact, some research has found that consumers derive three times more pleasure from the anticipation of the purchase than from the actual act of purchasing – not least because they are plagued by buyer’s remorse and gut-wrenching guilt. So, if spending time with loved ones makes us happy, and spending too much money makes us sad, how is it that so many of us opt for the latter to the detriment of the former?
The answer is quite probably that, as consumers, we so easily become victims of over-stimulating retail environments and marketing messages that lead us to desert our very own value systems. We are tempted to accept that in this season of excessive eating, drinking, resting, fun, feasting and fellowship, it is inevitably also a season of excessive spending. And when everybody else is blowing their bonus on this season’s must-have gaming station, the power of the herd mentality is prone to usurp logic. The truth, however, is that December is no extraordinary month. But for the extra bottles of bubbly and tender turkey, the same set of fiscal commitments exist as in any other month – and January brings a whole new set of financial commitments which include potentially high cost items such as school uniforms, school fees, premium increases, to name just a few.
In getting back to basics, we hold within us the power to reclaim Christmas and breathe new life into old adages such as “it’s the thought that counts”. Because it really is. In returning to basics, we provide ourselves the opportunity to teach our children the value of both time and money. Whether we help our children plant herb pots, spray-paint pine cones or sell home-made Christmas cakes, we are gifted not only with precious experiences but with the opportunity to instruct our children in environmental care, the benefits of recycling and the need to support local business. The lessons they will learn in self-empowerment, economics and appreciation of experiential enjoyment will outlast any amount of pleasure gained through the gifting of material possessions.
Before we succumb to mall madness, let’s rediscover the pleasure of Christmas in the simplest of things. Let’s buy local, visit craft markets and support small business. Let’s fortify the art of recycling, re-using and re-purposing goods for the benefit and beauty of all. Let’s relieve each other of the pressure to spend, compete and compare. Let’s rediscover the satisfaction of small gifts given with great love, because in the words of Winnie-the-Pooh, “Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in our hearts”.
By Sue Torr
Crue Consulting (Pty) Ltd