Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
By Cam Mather
While I have been known to rant about conspicuous consumption, I need to admit that I do buy a few Christmas presents. In my “Thriving During Challenging Times” workshops (which I based my book on), I discuss strategies for getting out of debt. One of the most basic strategies, of course, is to just not buy stuff. I do qualify my advice though and suggest that a few presents on Christmas are OK.
In our family we try to make some of our gifts. My daughter Nicole knitted a beautiful scarf for me from yarn that she bought at Value Village! Double whammy – it’s handmade and the yarn was secondhand! It’s marvelous! My daughter Katie used some of the beautiful photos that she has taken here at Sunflower Farm to put together a calendar at the Apple Store (online). The quality is unbelievable. They were both fantastic gifts.
I made Michelle some certificates. And yes, I sometimes take abuse for giving certificates, but I know how much I hate doing the dishes so I’m sure Michelle must appreciate a few “Cam will do the dishes when it isn’t his turn” coupons. I’m also a little challenged when it comes to wrapping gifts but luckily we use cloth or paper gift bags that can be re-used over and over and over again. I decided to get a bit fancy this year though and I actually wrapped my certificates in spectacular silver wrapping. I made the silver wrapping paper out of potato chip/Sun Chip bags that I had washed and then turned inside out! How Martha Stewart-ish is that?!
If you read any of my blogs from last summer/fall you’ll know that I have become a big fan of combine harvesters. I actually got one for Christmas this year! It’s a John Deere 7720 Titan II Combine! It has both corn and grain heads! The box has a warning that because of small parts it might be a choking hazard for children under 3 years of age. I just turned 51 so I figure I should be okay. I’ll sit it on the windowsill of my office so that I can admire it while I save up for a real one! Best Christmas ever!
By the time Christmas is over I find that I am really burnt out on consumption. Too much stuff! Too many advertising flyers. Too much excess. I start feeling physically ill when I’m near stores after Christmas. I can remember when I lived in the city I would notice that families who regularly put out 2 or 3 bags of garbage a week would have 6 or 8 bags after Christmas. I know this because I’ve never walked past a pile of garbage without checking to see if there is any salvageable. And yes, I’ve often found and removed perfectly good items from the garbage!
In Canada we call December 26th “Boxing Day.” It is celebrated in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand as well as a few other Commonwealth countries. There are a few different theories as to why it is called “Boxing” Day but no one seems to know for sure. It surprises me that Americans don’t celebrate “Boxing Day.” America is the culture that wrote the book on shopping! In Canada we have “Boxing Day Sales!” The very name conjures up merchants boxing up unsold Christmas merchandise and pushing it out the door at unheard of prices.
Normally I avoid shopping after Christmas. In fact I avoid shopping most of the year. But this year I actually purchased something during the Boxing Week sales. I bought a new TV. I just know that this will inspire some comments on this blog... Mr. “Stop Buying Stuff” actually broke down and spent some money. I know. I am disappointed and disgraced with myself.
So here’s my rationalization, and there is nothing worse than the rationalization of an environmentalist caught in blatant hypocrisy. My old TV was 27 years old. The screen, which seemed massive when I bought it, is about 18 inches across. Back then, my 24-year-old eyes were fine with a screen that size. But for 50+ year-old eyes … not so good. The color and picture quality on the old set is still amazing. We’d often admire the color of Brian Williams’ tie on the NBC Nightly News, but the screen size was just too small. And since we use our TV mostly for watching movies on DVD, the small screen just wasn’t cutting it.
So I ventured out into the Boxing Week sales and it actually wasn’t so bad. I went to “Future Shop”, which is like a Canadian version of “Best Buy”. I looked at all the TVs. I checked their power consumption. I realized that a 40” TV would be too big on our existing TV stand, which means that I would probably knock it off, repeatedly, whenever I walked past it, so I went with the 32” Sony. It was $350 ($90 off! Woo Hoo!) I must say that I am in awe of the quality of this picture. And the size! And the sound! I was afraid I was going to be disappointed in the sound quality and want to buy a home theatre system. The sound on this thing is unbelievable. I’ve re-watched the lobby shoot ‘em up scene from The Matrix and the expressway car chase from the Matrix Reloaded. Holy cow! What have I been waiting for?
In the past when I’ve made buying decisions for big-ticket items I have anguished for weeks. Should I pick a resolution of 720i or 1080p? 6 second screen refresh rate? 2 or 4 HDMI ports? But I’m finally at a stage where I just knew that in the 27 years since I bought my last TV, this new one would be a huge leap forward, no matter what. And it is. I have no regrets about all the features that I might have got if I’d shopped around longer.
My old TV uses about 80 Watts and this LCD one uses about 130 Watts. It’s definitely more, but I figure that it’s a good incentive to watch less TV during cloudy times. It’s all solar-powered though, so I’m good with that.
Now I have to deal with the old TV. Neither of my daughters needs one right now, so I’ll hang on to it for a while. It’s not ready for the e-Waste pile yet. Still, I have created another piece of it.
Now all of you who might have felt intimidated by environmentalists can relax. That Mather guy, he just bought a new TV. And he drives way more than he should. And he drinks Dr. Pepper with his pizza on Friday nights. What environmental guidebook did he read that told him he should drink Pepsi products? The good thing is that even though we only go to see a movie at the theatre about twice a year, with this new TV I can see cutting that in half!
Fire up the solar-powered popcorn maker, Matt Damon is in a car chase and it feels like it's right in my living room! Woo hoo!
Photos by Cam Mather.