January Madness

Image taken from Gemma :D's photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

I’m not sure if it’s because of my growing awareness of consumerism, or my growing number of grey hairs (or both!), but more and more I’m appalled by the absolute craziness that seems to possess people around December and January.

The pursuit of the sale on the surface seems so rational, yet if you look at it, maybe it’s not.

In Australia, when Boxing Day (December 26) rolls around, it seems that there are an ever growing number of people who are willing to journey into the city (normal suburban shopping centres aren’t allowed to trade on the public holiday) and queue up at an ungodly hour to wait for the Myer and David Jones sales to commence.

They wait, in their thousands, for whichever celebrity has been given the ‘honour’ of ringing the bell to signal the store open (at 5 or 6am), and then they swarm into the store in pursuit of the bargain.

Apart from questioning why anyone would get out of bed at 4am on one of the few public holidays a year I think we ought to be questioning the whole idea of the pursuit of the ‘sale’ – if only to keep our consumerism in check .

Sure there are a few major bargains every year at the Boxing Day sales. One fridge will be marked down 70% as will some other white goods and the latest coveted television set. But the majority of stuff will only be marked down 20-30% or so. We are blinkered by the idea of the sale and think it gives us licence to buy, buy, buy.

The thing is, people are so easily sucked in by the bargain, especially when it comes to consumer goods. So often there are sales like buy one pair of jeans for $80 or three for $120. We think it’s so much better to buy a pair of jeans for $40 than $80 so we end up buying three pairs and ignore the fact that we only need one pair of jeans (most of the time we’d be better off saving the $40 and buying just one pair). And who hasn’t been attracted to buying something they realise is just really stupid just because it was on special? It reminds me of The Castle where Darryl Kerrigan and his son are constantly looking in the trading post for a bargain. Thankfully his wife keeps some of the more outlandish purchases in check ‘now what would you want with a pair of jousting sticks?’. Sometimes that blue hat, or the green scarf, or the paisley dressing gown (ONLY $5!) can turn out to be almost as ridiculous as  jousting sticks when you bring it  home (… you try it on at home, look in the mirror and realise…..’what was I thinking!!’).

In 2006 on Boxing Day we took a trip into the city on train with our then 15 month old son. We actually just went in to stroll around the Botanic Gardens and the Opera House, but stumbled across the Boxing Day sales whilst walking down Pitt St Mall. It was around 11am and the queue (some 5 hours after the store had opened) was around 50 metres long to get into the store.

We got sucked in by the illusion of the bargain. We queued up, stroller in tow, and managed to get into the store some 15 minutes later. There was so many people that maouvering the stroller was darn near impossible. It was stuffy, noisy and no one was available to serve you if you needed assistance. There was just too many people.

The whole experience sort of felt like the section of the game show Supermarket Sweep where the contestants have to stuff as much into their trolley as possible and the ‘winner’ is the one who manages to fill their trolley with the most expensive set of groceries. People were frantically searching through piles of T-shirts, racks of shoes – almost on autopilot, after the elusive bargain. Shopping zombies.

For me, it was a never to be repeated experience. I only hope others who go along come away with the same realisation, and don’t continue to be seduced in subsequent years.

Unfortunately, I’m a little pesimistic that this kind of consumerist behaviour is actually growing in Australia. The rise of factory outlet shopping centres across the country has meant that people can do this kind of thing any weekend of the year and not just in December and January. Anyone who has driven past DFO at Homebush in recent years will have seen the bargain hunters. What you assume is traffic caused by some major sporting event at Homebush is really just the backlog of cars queued up to get into DFO  – once again in search of the elusive bargain. But then I look at movements that are trying to highlight the problems with consumerism like The Story of Stuff, and the groundswell of people getting behind them to challenge ideas like the ‘pursuit of the sale’ and that is heartening.

What has been your experience of the Boxing Day and January sales?

How do you temper your consumerist urges?

Image taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/gemmabusquets/6566617595/sizes/l/in/photostream/ with thanks to Gemma :D. 

About greenleftyidealist

Green, left and idealistic. A mum, a runner, a rogainer, a public servant and wanna be writer. My dog is golden.
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