On Thinking Before Buying

Now that it’s November, it’s important to go right out this second and buy as many holiday/Christmas gifts as you can and cannot afford. Don’t wait for the big Thanksgiving sales. Don’t wait for the weekend. Don’t even wait until you’ve read the rest of this article. Go out, right this instant, and buy things! Because if you don’t buy things, it means you don’t love people enough, and everyone will know that you don’t really care about them. Don’t think; just buy! Happy holidays!

Are you a little, or more than a little, tired of that particular set of messages? Are you tired, too, of having the same conversation every year with salespeople, about how it seems like the ‘holiday shopping season’ comes earlier every year? Or of reading human interest stories about intense shopping experiences each year in your local paper? If so, this article’s for you. If not, well, I probably sound like a bit of a Grinch.

But isn’t that kind of funny in itself? Somehow, weariness of the consumer folderol that surrounds the winter holidays gets equated with being a Grinch. Well, don’t worry; I don’t intend to steal Christmas. (Though wasn’t the moral of that story that Christmas isn’t about the presents? That’s at least how the story gets presented, though one might well wonder if we, as consumers-viewers-readers, would find it quite so satisfying if, at the end, the Grinch didn’t bring back all the presents.) Instead, I just want to ask you to think for a moment about buying things. Not about which things you’ll buy and for whom, but about the process of buying things itself.

Spend ten or fifteen minutes really thinking about holiday gift-buying: why you do it, when, and so forth. If you’re feeling hardcore, actually sit down and write about it. And if you’re having difficulty (or even if you’re not), try answering some or all the following questions.

– When you buy someone a gift, why do you do so?
– If you feel anxious about finding the ‘right’ gift, why is that?
– What do you think may happen if you get the ‘wrong’ gift?
– When do you buy your gifts for the holidays? Why at that time?
– How would it change your experience of the whole process if you bought all your holiday gifts in June?
– Why don’t you buy gifts in June (unless, of course, you do)?
– How do you decide which people you’ll buy gifts for and which you won’t?
– How do you feel when people you haven’t given anything to buy gifts for you? Why? How do you react?
– How much money do you think is appropriate or necessary to spend on a gift (think about different categories: for a workmate, for your lover, for your parents, etc.)? Why?
– What factors in your own life influence how much money you think should be spent on gifts?
– What do you think would happen if you bought no gifts at all?
– What do you think would happen if you bought something, however small, for every single person you know?
– What’s your opinion on home-made gifts? Why?
– What factors in your own life might have influenced that perspective?

Like I said before, I don’t aim to steal Christmas. This isn’t an article that’s trying to get you not to buy gifts for anybody. It’s not even trying to get you to complain to your local store manager about the Christmas tree that’s going up in the window on November 2nd. In fact, this article is not trying to get you to do anything. Anything but think, that is. Where thinking about buying gifts takes you afterwards is entirely your business. Now, though, I’ve got to go; I’m going to sit down and think about this a little more myself. Luckily, there’s a handy list of questions to help me do so right at hand.

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