To Consume Or Not To Consume

The theme for this month’s Green Mom’s Carnival is Commercialism of the Holidays hosted by the lovely Michelle at Green Bean Dreams

When the theme was announced I was immediately reminded of this event:

In the country there was a farm I used to take my kids to where we would purchase our pumpkins. They had mountains of glorious orange globes.  Picturesque hay stacks, rows and rows of sunflowers where the kids could pick the seeds and eat, piles of knotty eclectic gourds, and colorful indian corn.  They pressed apples into cider there and someone was always there making homemade cider doughnuts.  It was elegantly simple and charming.

One year when we arrived the entire mood of the place had changed, there were lines of cars to get in, the parking had become remote – we actually had to pay a fee to park! There were carnival rides spewing smoke into the air, and vendor after vendor selling cheap manufactured craft like items.

All I could think about was that I had to pay a fee to buy a pumpkin?

My kids were lured into the entire scene.

Look Mommy!! 

Oh Mommy would you buy me this?

Can we get ….

I want to go on the carousel…

I was absolutely furious.

I wrote a letter to the farmer, who to his credit wrote me back on very nice pumpkin stationary.  Mind you, he didn’t particulary appreciate my discust for his whole new commercial approach to pumpkin farming.

I told him I came for a very specific feeling and expression and that I could no longer find there.

I also told him I didn’t buy a pumpkin.

He told me how sad it made him that I didn’t purchase a pumpkin. 

He then for about 3 pages explained the demise of the american farmer and that the pumpkin festival was the only way he could break even from the whole thing.  He mentioned how he had trouble feeding his family, the tone of the explanations were defensive and angry.  He told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. He was right. I knew nothing about the american farmer. His comment about not being able to feed his family floored me. Not the image I think of with food growing all around. I felt even worse. 

I never did go back to his farm. I tried to grow my own pumpkins and didn’t have much luck. As my kids got older Halloween changed for us and the control I tried to have as a parent shifted; at some level  the sugar, commercialized store bought costumes and foreign made decor won.  I gave in. 

Looking back and thinking differently now about consumerism or even thinking about becoming an empty nester and having to move all that crap, I feel ashamed that I made some of those purchase decisions, lured by the oh buy me call. 

I wish I could take back the money I wasted – it would have made a nice contribution to the college fund.  I wish I had been more thoughtful of the impact my purchasing has on the environment. Or what machinery my dollars were contributing to.  Recently it occured to me that the special unique thing I might be attracted to buy at Target is available to millions of people around the country. Certainly doesn’t make me an individual anymore. It makes me just like everyone else.  I took so much of that for granted before. I wish I had thought about it more instead of just going along. 

I think the choice to consume or not to consume is a conscientious one – choosing not to get caught in the hum of it all, choosing local homemade, homegrown, and back somehow to the simplicity of these holidays isn’t as easy as it sounds.

I have decades worth of halloween decor in my basement.  In recent years I have tried to give some of it away. At least at the local resale shop the purchasing goes to cause. Truth is I just don’t need it anymore 

Do we really need that plastic tray with the cute pumpkins all over it? 

Would the world end if we didn’t get it?? 


alluring vintage plastic halloween from flickr

K a r e n     H a n r a h a n
Wellness Educator/Nutritional Consultant
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26 Responses to To Consume Or Not To Consume

  1. nadine sellers says:

    a very thoughtful post about the great American holiday trap. about the great American ingenuity, yes, it takes a conscious effort to abstain from mindless consumerism. and you have gloriously done that.i realize that moms are in the driver’s seat on the issue of consumer habits, and they are mostly responsible for the financial and environmental education through their own children. this is the future. time to put the brakes on that commercial holiday train again…thanks karen.

  2. Karen Hanrahan says:

    You’re wonderfully welcome Nadine. I remember a woman once saying how much more power there is in saying no – she was referencing getting in over your head in volunteering – I got in over my head sometimes and it never occurred to me to say no! She was an inspiration. Same thing with purchasing, the woman get to decide.

  3. Consumption is really a double-edged sword, isn’t it? I’m constantly walking the line between not buying anything and figuring out how to use the money I do spend to the greatest effect possible. It’s like the old medical credo: First, do no harm. (And then, do what you can to make things better). Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  4. Karen Hanrahan says:

    I agree Diane – It’s like purchasing organics, it may cost more but I feel I am helping grow that economy – I’d prefer to spend my money there – and organic purchasing increases incrementally every year ? Where did I see that last year seed companies saw a 40% increase in sales!! That’s my kind of consumption power!

  5. Mary says:

    When my children were young, I always decorated for holidays – they LOVED Halloween. They loved picking out pumpkins and we would carve them together. It was FUN – ever hear of that word? I sewed their costumes and they loved them. They are adults now and still remember going to the pumpkin patch and getting pumpkins (and yes, the farm did have other activities like the one you described – so what?)So, the year you tried to grow pumpkins and you had no luck – did your kids HAVE no pumpkin that year?The purpose of holidays is to ENJOY. Childhood goes by very quickly.I am a “empty nester” now, but I still decorate for Halloween – all the children in our neighborhood enjoy our decorations and the looks on their faces bring me happiness – I’ve made a child happy. (ever hear of that?) Why don’t you use your decorations NOW for other chidren to enjoy?You didn’t realize the plight of the American farmer? Do you ever read the newspaper or listen to the news? And even after the farmer explained to you the problems he had making ends meet, you never went back again. What is wrong with you? You didn’t think the fun your kids would have picking out “their” pumpkin from the patch would outweight the HORROR you felt because he had a “pumpkin festival”? Did you EVER look at it through your child’s eyes? Were YOU ever a child?So, the few hundred dollars you could have put into their college fund would have meant more to them than the happiness and excitement they got from celebrating holidays by decorating?Incidentally, the decorations I put up every year are at least 30 years old – gee – how wasteful, huh?Sorry you feel decorations are a waste of money. I have two words for you -Bah Humbug.

  6. Karen Hanrahan says:

    Mary – I have no idea how you determined that I have deprived my children of the halloween holiday.  The point of the post is to consider how to celebrate it differently with less consumerism. Seemingly you missed that partWe purchase baking pumpkins every year, hollow them, put a candle in them and then bake them for pumpkin soup and muffins. My daughter’s costume this year is the superheroine carmella – all made from things we have around the house. I have decorations from many years past purchased and homemade and an entire thick scrapbook devoted to halloween pictures.  I think it’s great that you enjoy your holiday’s and that you make so many children happy. Over at our house we do that too!

  7. Beth Terry says:

    Wow, Karen. I’m impressed that you actually found something civil to say to “Mary.” Her sarcastic tone doesn’t exactly invite discussion.Thanks for this post. I appreciated the personal story. You really brought home how different the same experience can feel when commercialized. And I also feel for that farmer. Many of us forget the people who are just trying to make a living, to feed their families.When plastic bag factories shut down, as they have been, many of us cheer. But let’s not forget that we need to be creating green jobs so that those who worked in those plastic bag factories can still put food on the table.There are certainly many facets to these issues. Thanks for illustrating a few of them so beautifully.Beth

  8. It is very difficult to be conscious about the consuming decisions we make every day. At the same time, I want to enjoy life and have my kids enjoy life. It is a difficult balance. The good thing is that often, passing on the “buy” option results in more time spent with family. Yesterday, I made homemade playdough with my children. We had passed toys at Target while buying some other items, and I refused to give in to the whine of “buy me this.” But, I promised fun at home – and that is what we did – had fun together, making homemade playdough, which led to hours of experimenting with colors, which spices made what colors, etc. And that was much better than 10 minutes with the latest plastic toy.Jenniferhttp://www.thesmartmama.com

  9. Thanks Karen! Once again, so well said. One of the biggest challenges I am facing is how to have a store that is sustainable in all ways. I don’t want to encourage consuming for stuff’s sake, and try to make sure that the items we DO carry are Fair Trade, reuseable (not disposable!), durable, and thoughtfully presented with DIY options. I invite all business people to join me in considering more than profit as a bottom line; what is the TRUE cost of all of the stuff we keep buying? best, Alline

  10. Karen Hanrahan says:

    Beth, Like you I believe there is room for more than one view, two sides to a story and ways that we can always learn and be more aware.  I don’t think being green or being healthy eliminates all the fun from life!! I appreciate the point you made about lost jobs from plastic factories.  It’s true these folks still have families to feed

  11. Karen Hanrahan says:

    We used to make homemade playdough too!! I love the idea of making colors using spices – your kitchen had to smell wonderful.  I think you have the right idea Jennifer!!

  12. Karen Hanrahan says:

    Consuming for stuff sake… that’s an absolutely great line!!  Love having you here Alline.

  13. Adele says:

    Personally, I didn’t find Mary’s comment sarcastic – she was asking questions. Ms. Hanrahan said she tried to grow pumpkins – but that failed. Did she buy pumpkins for her kids that year? That’s a question. She was angered by the farmer for trying to earn extra income. Gee, is that a horrible thing to do? Do you have any idea how difficult farming is and that it isn’t a huge money making living?She called all her decorations “crap” – and it would have been better invested in a college fund…My daughter died when she was 16. I’m thankful I added happiness to her short life by “over” decorating for holidays like Halloween. She never needed her college fund.AND what’s wrong with having candy at Halloween and (if you aren’t handy) a store bought costume? WHAT IS SO HORRIBLE about that?AND by the way, if your children ate their dinner off the plastic tray with pumpkins on it – and they enjoyed using it – are you now wishing you had put that $2 in a college fund?I use “green” products – I recycle – I do my best, but gee – lighten up. There are too many REAL issues in the world to think about. Get real.Stop being so serious – life is short – it’s the little things that kids remember.

  14. Karen Hanrahan says:

    I am so sorry for the loss of your daughter. I am glad that you and Mary share the same point of view. This post and carnival theme is about commercialization of the holidays. This conversation is about shifting consumerism, and not spending. That may or may not be a choice for you.  I was angered by having to pay for parking to buy a pumpkin. I was angered that a simple place in the country became like my grocery store or like my local Target and turned my kids into ” I want” machines.  I am happy to support any farmer locally by investing in a crop share.  I really did moderate my childrens candy intake as much as I could. I did so as to not destroy their immune systems.  I didn’t deprive them of candy.  They ate it in moderation. We additionally enjoyed apple bobbing and popcorn – healthy autumn treats! My concern with anything plastic is what happens to it past your use, our disposable society forgets once it’s no longer of value – if it gets tossed it’s adding to the already full of plastic items that will never ever degrade in our landfills. That may not be important to you… it concerns me. Thank you for doing your best. Please don’t decide that I am not doing mine simply because my views are perhaps of a different determination. This planet is big enough for all of us.  We just want to make sure the planet has a chance

  15. adele says:

    Mother Earth – you really put words into people’s mouth. You say you are “glad that Mary and I share the same point of view” (???) ” All I said was I didn’t think her comments were sarcastic- they were questions. That means she and I share the same point of view?You say “this conversation is about shifting consumerism and not spending – that may not be a choice for you”….what does THAT mean?I see from your blog that you eat only organic and free range foods. Gee, must be nice to be able to afford to do that – the cost of such food here is way out of my league.I don’t appreciate your superior attitude comment about plastic in landfills “That may not be important to you…it concerns me”. Where did I say that it isn’t important to me?Do you drive a car to work (if indeed you even work). I ride my bicycle. Gee, I guess that makes me one point ahead of you (by your system)And for your info, I only buy plastic that can be taken by our recycling company and I use cloth bags for shopping.I didn’t say you deprived your kids of candy. Basically, all kids are naturally “I want” machines – they are kids – it’s up to the parents to moderate that. I could take my kids ANYWHERE and they didn’t pull tantrums wanting things. That’s how I raised themYou REALLY need to read what people are writing before you answer – you make too many mistakes and incorrect assumptions.

  16. Karen Hanrahan says:

    Adele,This does not feel friendly to me.  OK ??

  17. Wonderful post Karen! I couldn’t agree more. Holidays are lovely joyous occasions in and of themselves. You don’t have to spend a dime to create memories that will last a lifetime (or at least as long as a McDonald’s hamburger!!)Jennhttp://www.thegreenparent.com

  18. adele says:

    So – if someone disagrees with you or questions something you’ve said, it doesn’t seem friendly to you…and you don’t reply. ok.

  19. Karen Hanrahan says:

    I think what I love most about the older my kids get is the time spent around the table at a celebratory meal and how much we enjoy each other’s company and conversation. A meal can last hours!

  20. Karen Hanrahan says:

    well gosh that’s one way of looking at it adele, it’s not my thinking at all – perhaps it’s you putting words into my mouth now. I’d prefer if you want to chat here that you shift your tone

  21. I think, for me, that some of the allure of the stuff I know is crap is that it is *so* fun to see my kids squeal with delight. The fact that they will do so for homemade playdough as well as a plastic toy means that it’s up to me to direct us to choices in line with my beliefs. When my kids get a little older I am sure it will be trickier! So thanks for a vision of my family having long dinner chats some day in the future. That makes me smile as well. Thinking about your delicious pumpkin pie…

  22. Karen Hanrahan says:

    Dinner table “choreography”  can start anytime. Guided gracious active conversation “ my favorite moment of today was … what was your favorite moment ?

  23. Green Bean says:

    That pumpkin patch sounded wonderful! Like the ones in the books my children read. Then you visit them and they are just as your last visit – rides, inflatable bouncy houses, smoke belching trains and crap for sale. Thanks for the reminder to try and get back to the simple and beautiful stuff.

  24. Karen Hanrahan says:

    You’re very welcome!

  25. NInfusion says:

    As others have already pointed out, an insightful rumination on the American culture of consumption. It’s a fine line to walk between the things that make you happy and the things you buy just to have. A practical suggestions: thrift store shopping is a good outlet for your material desires, while at the same time reminding you that there’s really a revolving door for the things you own. The used things you need to have one moment (especially, as MamaBird pointed out, if you have kids) can just as easily be sold back to where you bought them, or passed along via craigslist, freecycle, etc. Since this post was originally about Halloween, I invite you to take a look at the article and video on my website (http://newsinfusion.com/video_details.php?videoId=235) about people doing just that with their costumes this Halloween season.

  26. Karen Hanrahan says:

    Thanks for the video share, I think resale is an awesome way to purge as well as a place to shop and especially great for halloween costumes.

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