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The Politics of Buying

I waited impatiently for the Christmas Holidays in 2016. After such a big year, I needed breathing space and thinking space. I wanted to read books, watch movies and go for long walks in the mountains and spend time with loved ones eating delicious Christmas food.

My first holiday task was gift shopping. I headed to the south side high street in Dublin and I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the amount of people and stuff. Luckily my mission was an easy one: Secret Santa Gift for my boyfriend’s dad. I was in and out of town with a navy wooly jumper in less than 30 minutes.

The whole experience of being in the high street 2 days before Christmas made me think deeply about Capitalism and our behaviour as consumers.

We are drowning in our possessions, and we keep buying more.

While our houses fill up with more things, we believe the best way to fix our problem is to become more organised. We buy bigger apartments and more efficient storage, but the sad reality is that those are all temporary solutions, because the root of the problem lays not on what we buy but on why we buy and how we buy.

The advertising industry has done its job beautifully and created a rinse and repeat process of convincing us that we need all those new clothes, cars and electronics to be happy, but research shows us the opposite. There are purchases that increase our quality of life tremendously, like a washing machine, a good computer for work, good quality food etc. Those types of purchases make us happier and our lives easier.

But when you look at today’s purchasing behaviour under a magnifying glass, you can spot the high volume of compulsive buying. Those purchases create spikes of happiness that quickly fade away.

Humans are equipped with an instinct that helps us keep nurtured and ultimately alive, it is the one of “craving”. It is what makes you crave oranges when your body needs Vitamin C, or carbohydrates when you need energy. This impulse is also what gets us addicted to things that feel good, even if only for a little while.

In such internal and external conditions, the awareness of “WHY?” you buy is a hard one to develop, but it is one worth pursuing.

Another type of irresponsible consumption that is easy to see at Christmas time, is the one of children’s toys. Growing up I was lucky to be the only child of middle-class parents, it meant I got to go to a private school, travelled twice every year and enrolled in classes outside school. Although my parents lived a comfortable life, my father came from a poor background, and really made me understand the value of things. Gifts came with special occasions. Santa Claus would bring me one gift for Christmas and my godmother another one. For my birthday I would always get a gift from my parents and perhaps from a close friend or two, every toy meant the world to me and I cared for them.

This year I watched my friends’ children unwrap 16 different toys on Instagram and at my boyfriend’s house we had to breakdown gift giving into 3 days so his nephews wouldn’t go into gift overload as every adult in the family got them gifts. I can’t help to feel like we are sending the wrong message to the next generation.

I am not, in any way, advocating for never buying a pair of shoes or toys for your kids ever again. I advocate for the exercise of developing awareness of your real needs and wants versus compulsive consumption, and the understanding that all your shopping won’t make you or your kids a happier.

The second question to ponder is “HOW?”, and this one relates to the quality of the products you purchase. It looks at the socio-environmental impact of your purchases and why buying the $5 H&M T-shirt is harming the planet and the people that live here.

With little consideration to the impact that it has on the environment and on other people’s lives, we want to buy more, better and cheaper. Experts say that we are able to drive prices down because of free market, but this race to the bottom comes with a price tag. Starts with deforestation and bad farming practices that is increasingly damaging our soil and water, moves to the exploitation of people in third world countries that have little choice other than working under inhumane conditions and finishes at hundreds of acres of wasteland and dumps around the world, filled with things that we don’t want or like anymore.

Understanding your impact in the world around you is both powerful and scary. It places great responsibility on how we behave as individuals and it means that we can not longer consume in the same way we did and feel guilt-free.

So after a week of watching documentaries, reading, introspective thinking and connecting dots, I decided that in 2017, I want to be more aware and conscious of why I buy, how I buy and what I buy and I would like to invite you to start this too.

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