Friday, November 30, 2007

Do it Yourself

I've ben struck, lately, by the mindset of Americans, in which we will "shop till we drop" to find "what we're looking for" at the "right price".

How many hours and days are spent in the pursuit of things we don't really need, at the expense of those we do?

In particular, I'm talking about shopping as a substitute for real time and attention, love and affection, quality AND quantity.  Things you can't buy at the Mega-Mart.

How many times have you bought something to make you feel better?  Whether it be a candy bar, new clothing, make-up, shoes, toys, books, etc., we've been raised with the mentality that the "economy" and "commercialism" are the answer to everything.

Did you know that advertising as we know it was invented less than 100 years ago, in response to workers from the Industrial Revolution wanting fewer work hours because they had "enough"?  They knew when was "enough".  Do we?

Back in the day, when the workers started asking for a 20-30 hour work week, Industrialists started to panic.   What would they do?  Who would make their products?  Who would buy their products?  How would they keep their newfound wealth?  So they sat down to a meeting and decided to convince the comfortable public, pleased and content in the homes they afforded through working and saving (don't forget, there weren't mortgages yet!), happy with the possessions they'd acquired that made life easier and comfortable, to convince them they weren't really happy yet.  There was more they needed to buy to be happy.  These Industrialists sat down, and actually decided to create the myth we've come to believe as truth: that we wouldn't be happy until we had bought more things, and that the things they had at home weren't nearly as good as those that could be purchased with the cash-money they would (have) to earn through working in the factories.

Sound familiar?

Homemade clothes weren't nearly as "good" as store-bought.
Brand names count more than quality.
Only "poor" people made their own bread, canned their own food, and grew gardens (exception to this: WWII)
Handknit socks were not nearly as "nice" as store-bought.
Grandma's knit hat/sweater was an embarassment to be forced to wear.
School couldn't start in the fall until you had been to the back-to-school sales.

It continues today:

To diet, you have to eat pre-packaged, store-bought food.
Homemade clothes are "cheap".
Spinning yarn is "silly" since you can buy it in the store.
No one appreciates you, you "deserve" to be treated to that purchase.
Show her you love her - buy her a diamond.  (What?  Telling her doesn't work anymore??)
Driving a new car is a status symbol.

I think you get the picture.

My point is that somewhere between there and here, we've lost the basic ability to recognize and decide when is "enough".  When it's time to quit running around, trying to buy more Things when what we really want and need is what those factory workers wanted 100 years ago:  to stay home with our families and enjoy what we worked to achieve.  Do we really need to continue to go for more?  To buy more?  Are we substituting Things for love, time, affection, and friendship?

Think about it: if we were to stop shopping for store-bought gifts for people, would the world come to an end?  Would the almighty Economy collapse? (That's a different post - when did we start serving the Economy that was supposed to serve us?)

What would REALLY happen if we were to give handmade gifts this year?  Or gifts of time, such as tickets to local musical productions, art galleries, museums, or live theatres? The local economy would benefit, along with other local institutions that are always in need of support, you would get to spend quality time with someone you love, and you would be sharing an experience that lasts longer in life and in memory than the ripping of more disposable paper ever would.

I started thinking about this over the summer.

I'm only buying gifts for one person this year, and that's only because he has absolutely no appreciation for handmade.  Everything else is handmade.

Before I go, there's one more thing to think about, especially if you don't believe me: there's an entire industry built up around the Do It Yourself concept for home repair.  All they really want is for you to buy their products.

I have a better idea.
Don't buy into it.


Renee said...

Sing it sister! You are 100% correct.

Julie said...

Amen and halleluhjah.

Those "Tell her you love her by spending three months' salary on a big, useless ROCK" commercials drive me UTTERLY INSANE!!!

Kate A. said...

I, too, couldn't agree more.

I think part of the problem is that during the industrial revolution people went to work in factories in effect lowered the prices for machine-made commercial goods (by making them so efficiently) and simultaneously lost the time and skills required to make them at home. this started to drive things in this direction before the advertising boom even began. But I wouldn't go back in time because factory work is what brought working-class women outside of the home. NOT that factory work was an improvement, but it did begin the long, slow process of putting women in the public world and men getting used to the idea that that didn't make the world come to an end.

I think it's like how in Russia, since the market was legalized, all these people started buying LIPTON @$#%@#$% tea instead of the really good full-leaf tea you could get anywhere far cheaper, directly from China and India, because the fancy packaging was an end in itself, and because people assumed it had to actually be better because the price was higher. This principle was true all over, although I think in some small ways it's beginning to even out and people are *beginning* to be wiser consumers (after a whole lot of bad experiences).

I'm babbling, but I think what I wanted to say is that I wouldn't want to go back in time - there were issues with even pre-industrial commercial values and the social costs in economic systems that I wouldn't want to have back for anything - but I do think we have the opportunity *now* to make better choices than we've ever made before. I find the popularity of knitting incredibly encouraging in so many ways. And the internet, which reinforces knitting and all DIY by disseminating information, and also allows us to cut ourselves off from advertising if we really want to. Awesome.

But dammit, you're ahead of me on the blogging again. Must go blog!