Sunday, December 7, 2014

Christmas, Consumerism & Chadstone Shopping Centre

Too Much?

I reckon we do a pretty minimalist Christmas.  But it's all perspective and context I guess.

Like when I think about how many toys my kids have, on one hand I don't think they have an excessive amount.

They have a shelf full of soft toys, a small box of match box cars, a bucket of trucks, a tub of Legos, a train set, a tub of dress ups, a tub of dolls & animals, some kitcheny stuff (not a play kitchen but some pots and pans etc) then they have a few doll house type things....a castle, a pirate ship, a tree house, a farm, they have puzzles and LOADS of books.  Are we counting books?

So they have PLENTY of stuff.

But when I go to other peoples houses, people of a similar socio-economic status to me I reckon often their kids have the same or more stuff.  Sometimes much, much more.  By comparison our kids are not over the top.

Then I think of kids in Africa who have a bike tyre rim that they push along with a stick.  Or the kids in Papua New Guinea who have one matchbox car - actually made out of a matchbox.  And then the stuff my kids have seems obscene.

A friend of mine posted this article a few days ago.  It's long, you might not want to read it all.  The upshot is that we all have too much stuff and should aim to have less.

Notwithstanding the fact that the people in the article have waaaay more stuff than I do, I took the point.  In fact part of the reason that I have by comparison not much stuff is because I always take the point, especially this time of year.  I do spoil my kids, totally.  I do buy them way too much stuff at Christmas.  And so do their Grandparents.  But if I filled 4 large bins with my kids toys, as one of the families in the article did I doubt they'd have much left over.  They have heaps.  But not excessive, revolting amounts.

That said I am always wary of accumulating stuff.  Partially because our house has long since been filled to the brim.  And partly because I have a real fear of raising spoilt, over indulged, over entitled little brats.

But it's Christmas.  And I love Christmas.  We're not religious, so for us Christmas is about presents, food and family.  Probably in that order if I'm brutally honest.  Is that wrong?

When it comes to the presents it's all about the kids.  My kids are still of the age where their belief in Father Christmas is complete and unimpeachable and it is a beautiful, beautiful thing.  They get so excited about Christmas like a good month in advance, start talking about Reindeers and Christmas trees and what crafty type things we can do.  Singing Christmas carols.

I feel a certain burden of responsibility to help keep that magic alive.  To make all their Christmas dreams come true.

So it is that last week I found myself joining the crush of consumers at Chadstone shopping centre looking for that certain something.

There's a lot of stuff you learn on the fly when you become a parent and navigating Christmas and the myth of Santa Claus is one of these things.  Who knew how fraught it could be?  When your kids are babies, it doesn't matter.  As long as they have a couple of things to unwrap Christmas morning you're good.  They can eat the paper and play with the bubble wrap and make a cubby out of the boxes.  Done.

But once Father Christmas comes into play, well that's a whole other level of complex.  Because then they start asking for stuff....specific stuff....and it's not because they are spoilt, demanding brats, it's because we parents ask them to ask.  In fact one of my favourite Christmas traditions is heading into the city with the kids to post a letter to Santa at the giant red letterbox.

Nothing wrong with that.  Except this way we can't peak to soon.  Which means I can't plan in advance.  Oh no.  Gone are the days of being the smug one with the colour co-ordinated presents sitting under the immaculately decorated tree come December 1.


You can't go too soon when shopping for kids.  Firstly because the longer you have gifts hidden around the house the greater the risk of being sprung.  And secondly fads.  Kids are fickle.  One week it's all about something.  The next week they can't even remember what that thing was.  Loom bands anyone?

Also kids can be specific and weird.  Like the year my daughter asked for "A boing-ball kit" as if that was a thing.  What the what now?  But let's remember Santa is all knowing and his Elves are magic, so they can make ANYTHING.....

This is why, despite my loathing of shopping at giant corporates in giant shopping centres with giant crowds I inevitably end up a cog in the wheel at Chadstone about two or three weeks before Christmas.  I get there early so I can park and wander in relative peace, but still find myself wishing by lunch time that someone would kill me.  Except for the minor detail that I am already in hell.

When I expressed this sentiment on social media last week Happy Mum @onlyonecell replied with this:

If you haven't read Dev's column about Chadstone and it's being a beacon of everything wrong with society you should.  It's a cracker.  You can find it here.

Only when I shared it on my Facebook page not everyone agreed.  Many found it a bit judgy, a bit sneery, a bit mean spirited.  Maybe it is.  It's also pretty funny and pretty right on true.  I was there.  I was wandering around the place having thoughts like "Why am I here?", "What's wrong with humanity", "This is just gross" and "Wait. Should I try on those shoes?"

But mostly I just kept thinking that the whole place should be razed and a giant park built in it's place where everybody could join hands in a sitting circle and create a powerful meditation ring.

Now THAT would be a better use of space.

Okay, by this time I was probably a bit delusional and in need of caffeine.  But seriously.

I wasn't judging anybody else.  How could I be?  I was everybody else.

But observing, nay being a part of consumerism on that level is quite disturbing.  And so it should be I reckon.  Because it is everything that is wrong with the world.  I mean that quite literally.

I don't mean that the people there are individually responsible for the ills of the world.  But in partaking in that we all contribute to it.

It's pretty revolting.  And I don't think it's harsh or judgy to call that out.  I think it's necessary.  I think the only thing worse that being there, is perhaps being there and not recognising what's wrong about the picture you are inserting yourself into.

Not recognising the cost of the excess.  The human, environmental, global and social cost.  It's massive.  Even more massive than Chadstone.  And that's big.

And like I said I reckon our family does Christmas pretty minimally.  We only buy for the kids.  And each other, but only one gift and with a cost limit.  Don't buy for any extended family or friends.  I do buy for my parents, but I get them a charity gift each, this year it's going to be this.

My kids have loads of cousins and mercifully all us parents are on the same page when it comes to not buying each other and our kids gifts.  It's a dream.

We do allow the Grandparents the indulgence of buying their grandkids something for Christmas  Have you tried telling Grandparents NOT to buy for their grandkids?  Yeah.  Well, good luck with that.

But I reckon I can do better.  I reckon I can do less.  Especially as the kids get older and the magic of Christmas changes from a fervent belief in the fable of Father Christmas to the more solid magic that comes from a {hopefully} happy, healthy family.

For right now I'm not going to beat myself up too much for succumbing to the pull of convenient consumerism.  And I'm certainly not judging anyone else for it either.  We all do some mad shit when it comes to our kids.

But I am going to acknowledge it.

Can someone remind me of this in a years time?  Please!

How do you do Christmas? Do you fret about the excess?

Listen to: Bing Crosby It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Top Image Licensed Under Creative Commons

Instagram Image via One Small Life


  1. Great post! As I read this, I have just sat down after doing some decluttering and realise how little we really need. My kids are in their teens now and I think back to the thousands of dollars spent on toys and how it became a bit of an obsession to get exactly the right toy or toys. Studying store catalogues for the best prices. Hours spent in Westfields and Toys R Us. I really feel quite nauseous. My kids always had plenty of toys but we were never over the top. So many perfect toys have been donated to charity stores and now its pretty much narrowed down to a bit of sports equipment, iPod and iPad/laptop each. And of course books and more books x

    1. Thanks Karen. Yes it is all a bit sick-making isn't it? We are planning a big spring clean in January and I cannot wait to get rid of what one of my friends calls 'the rubble' of our lives. But not the books, never the books! x

  2. Such a great post Kate. I was nodding along reading it. I have all those feelings, particularly around this time and it's intense with little kids (mine are both under 3.5). It really helped me feel not so weird to be thinking these things (at 3 am!) when I read your post. Thank you so much and best wishes for navigating the Christmas lead-up. You'll have an ace day with food, family and thoughtful gifts - that's where the day is at for us too!

    1. Thanks Pia. You know what. You are so right. This is a finite period when the kids are of a certain age and Christmas means a certain thing and I am just going to take the pressure of myself a bit and get a bit okay with it being like this for now. Because after all they are little for such a short time and too soon they'll be telling me they don't believe in Christmas and then it will all be over. Sniff. I'm going to just embrace (put up with it?) it while it lasts. Thanks for the comment. xx

  3. We'll put One Small Life. Nice post.

  4. Great post :) it's all a balancing act isn't it, you sound like you are well on the right track though and I'm with you on finding shopping 'complexes' gruesome....shuddering at the very thought. That Catherine Deveny article was certainly eye-opening!! I'm inclined to be a bit judgey but that redefined judgey with a capital J...! I've long realised that some people love that kind of shit; eating burgers, buying stuff, being in a's not for me but I bet those very same people would look at me sitting at home, knitting and think to themselves "good lord love, get a life"...different strokes and all that...I say leave the shopping centres for the lovers and us haters can just sit at home with a nice cup of tea...and the internet, cos we've still got to get the flipping Christmas shopping done haven't we :))) xx

    1. Could not agree more Emma. And really enjoying your blog too by the way. Thanks so much for commenting. I look forward to connecting more with you and Potter & Bloom in 2015. x

  5. So far, I have managed to avoid it this year, so far....really trying hard to keep it that way. I really enjoyed that virtual romp through the mega mall Kate. It does get simpler as your kids get older so hang in there!

    1. Thanks Romana. Yes, I need to keep it in perspective and not freak out too much. It won't be like this forever. And the trade off is it's such a magical time in my kids life, so lovely and so important. Thanks so much for the comment. x

  6. Well said Kate (and I loved your account of the nightmare-ish visit to the shopping mall - aaaahhh !) - could not agree more. Our world is pretty god damn crazy hey ? Love that charity gift that you are giving to your parents. Now, that is what christmas should be about, gifts like that x

    1. Thanks so much Ing. Yep this world of ours is one crazy messed up place sometimes. And I marvel at how backwards we get things sometimes. But as you know with the writing you do at TreadKindly, all we can do is take the small steps we can take. And not be too hard on ourselves. Thanks for the comment. x

  7. Really great post Kate. I wrote a similar one on my blog about the repulsiveness of how commercial Christmas has become and how it completely misses the point about what Christmas should - and used to be - family time, simple time to relax, etc. These thoughts came to me as I was in a dept store and everything was glitzy and mirrored with sale tags everywhere. I left with nothing and went to a wonderful art gallery in Glasgow - completely free - and it was empty. No one there. And I felt sad about that as there is so much beauty in this world that can be enjoyed for free, yet we strive, strive, strive for the latest designer goods...ah. Rant over. Again, great post x

    1. Thanks so much Rebecca. Yup. We humans are really insane creatures sometimes. It's hard to believe we can be so smart in some respects and so mind bendingly dumb in others. Sounds like you had a gorgeous experience at the art gallery. And you are more than welcome to come here and "rant" anytime. :) Thanks for the comment. x

  8. I've only ever gone browsing at Chadstone. I can't even begin to imagine trying to do Christmas shopping there. I'd be so overwhelmed I think I'd end up in a corner sucking my thumb.

    1. Yep. That's pretty much how I felt by the end of it Leisa. And I did all of it uncaffeinated. By the time I got home I needed more than a coffee. I needed hard liquor. Thanks for commenting. x

  9. Last year I started the present buying under the guidance of this saying: Something they want (Santa gift), something they need, something to wear, something to read. When I lay each boy's pressies out in front of me, I thought "Am I doing the right thing? I feel like a cheapskate." But the boys loved it, didn't even notice the difference and I let the other relatives buy what they wanted for the boys but we were still doing our part to downplay the junky Christmas presents. As we have moved to a coastal town from the city18 mths ago, I have started buying Christmas presents in local stores and boutiques rather than the mass marketing of the huge stores in the city.

    1. I love this Lisa. I've heard this saying before and think it's really good. I'd like to know how old your kids are - I kinda feel like mine are still a bit young, but I would like to introduce this when they are old enough for me to discuss it with them. Maybe I'm being a soft touch, but I just don;t think Santa should be that practical! Maybe in a few years time though.... Thanks for commenting.