Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On Shopping Uniquely

It seems that nowadays we live in a throwaway world. Stores sell products so cheaply that we are encouraged to discard them when they break and simply buy a new one instead of spending any time or effort in repair. Commercials tout one-use products. Big box stores sell art prints and knick-knacks by the thousands, made in far-off places where a daily wage is measured in cents. The appreciation for the one-of-a-kind work of art or unique craft item seems to have fallen by the wayside in our age of technological gadgets and bargain shopping.

It is hard to be a craftsperson or an artist, fighting against this trend, standing vainly on virtual streetcorners waving our “Will work for Sales!” signs. We go to fairs and our neighbors are selling imported goods at cut-rate prices, or commercial lines of products, all mass-produced, all so much cheaper than the goods we’ve put our time and effort into. It is easy to become discouraged at such times, wonder why we bother, why not just give in and sell leftover containers or a makeup line or someone else’s pre-manufactured jewelry, shipped to us already attached to little black plastic cards with the prices pre-printed.

Also, for the consumer, buying the gift that has been developed by a huge marketing team especially to appeal to the generic masses, or resorting to the gift card and completely removing this burden, takes so much less effort than spending the time to find just the right gift for someone. The excuse of “well they can always return or exchange it” isn’t all that true anymore, as so many retail outlets have tightened up their policies so much, and some actually refuse to allow this practice without full proof of purchase. Everyone is in such a rush, and so much personal interaction has been taken out of the general equation. Just as “please” and “thank you” have become optional, and often meaningless when remembered, the personal touch has been largely removed from our lives in between text messaging and 10-second cell phone calls.

I’ve always prided myself on finding special presents for those special to me. They are rarely expensive, and they’ll always speak to me of something about the person for whom I’m buying them. I’m shopping throughout the year with birthdays or holidays still months away, so I don’t find myself in a crunch trying to find presents a few days before they are needed, fighting the crowds. Of course, then I occasionally run into the problem of forgetting I’d already bought something, or not being able to find it later, but that just means I’ll usually end up a stash of unique items collected that I can pick from if I do have a last minute emergency, or that I can put together a goodie bag of several small items, which I always more fun to open than one larger package. Being ahead of the game is a benefit, and allows me to enjoy the holidays that much more.

And for me, receiving a present that has been hand-made, that isn’t something picked off an entire shelf of the exact same item, makes it that much more dear to me. Again, it doesn’t have to be expensive, and in fact I prefer that it isn’t, because too much is made of the size of the price tag and it doesn’t actually denote the level of care of the giver. But I like the thought that a friend or acquaintance thought of me at an odd time when they saw an item that was not the norm.

It’s a little late to try this for the upcoming holiday season, but I hope you’ll keep it in mind for the year to come.