To paraphrase Walt Whitman, I hear America shopping.
From door busters to midnight specials, most of us will soon be engaged in our nation’s favorite contact sport, shopping on Black Friday. Everybody wants to know where the best bargain is and I’m going to share that information with you right now.
The best bargain is found by staying home.
And I don’t mean staying home and shopping online. I mean staying home, not shopping and throwing stuff out or giving it away.
Americans love stuff. We are wallowing in it, even drowning in it. We’re up to our ears in clothing we’ve never worn, electronic gadgets we don’t know how to turn on and gym memberships we forgot we signed up for.
Black Friday, by the way, doesn’t mean anything negative. Instead, it’s the day when retail stores traditionally “go into the black” – they make all their profits from the day after Thanksgiving until the day before Christmas. So you might feel that you are not being supportive enough of the consumer economy if you stay home and prepare to recycle all these things to thrift shops and homeless shelters, instead of buying more. Don’t worry – lots of other people will take up the slack.
So what do we do when we have no work, no school, no carpool, no anything? Do we enjoy the things we have already bought? Of course not. We ignore them and go out and buy new things.
Why do we do this? As the expression goes, why do we spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t even like?
And why has Black Friday turned into a day of rampage in our shopping malls, or at least those that are still standing after the advent of online shopping?
I’ll give you one good reason – it’s because as a society, deep down, we aren’t terribly happy. We have everything, and yet, somehow, we feel like nothing. As a society, too many of us live in a spiritual void and we are trying to fill a God-sized hole with stuff.
Ain’t gonna work.
If things made us happy, we would be the happiest people in the world. Every day would be Disneyland. Instead, we don’t even notice the wonderful things, people, events and opportunities that surround us every day. We think we are one new widescreen away from happiness.
I could quote the advice your grandfather wished he had given you – that the easiest way to make money is not to spend it. But it’s not even about the money. It’s about taking a moment to ask ourselves why, as Descartes never put it, I shop, therefore I am.
Laura Carlin and Alison VanHook, authorities on families and de-cluttering, estimate that the average American family has more than 250,000 items in their home. That means we have relationships with and opinions about a quarter of a million things clogging our closets, complicating our kitchens and jamming our garages.
Carlin and VanHook teach that clutter is actually emotionally exhausting. It’s hard to think straight, and it’s even harder for kids to think straight when they are surrounded by stuff. So this Black Friday, maybe the play isn’t to go out and buy more things. Instead, it’s to remain on the gratitude side of the ledger, which is, or at least once was, the message of Thanksgiving. And then the best way to spend the day is to stay home and throw stuff out.
If you haven’t worn or used something in six months to a year, get rid of it. You won’t miss it, and if you donate it, someone else can benefit from it.
Maybe you can’t bear to toss it because of the sentimental value it possesses. Marie Kondo, author of “The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up,” makes a great point – keep the sentiment but chuck the item. You can still feel the love even if someone in a homeless shelter or shopping in a thrift shop is benefiting from the gift itself.
Kondo has an intriguing test for deciding what to keep and what to donate or toss. She invites her readers to hold up each item they own, category by category, and ask themselves, “Does this object or item bring me joy?”
If not, sayonara.
There are not just personal but political and economic reasons to stay on home on Black Friday. Everybody’s upset about our balance of trade with China and other rising manufacturing nations. Guess what? If we buy less stuff, the trade deficit will go down. People are also concerned about the environment, but the less you buy, the less gas you need to drive to the mall, the less packaging material you’ll be sending into landfills and the fewer electronic doodads that will eventually be leaching their batteries into the water table.
So this year, on Black Friday, take a long look at what you already have before you go out and buy still more. Getting rid of extra stuff is liberating not just for the walk-in closet but for the soul.
And then you can do what I do – wait until the day after Christmas, be there when the stores open, and find some really cool bargains with what’s left.