Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I Don't Shop Well...Or Do I?

I’ve been told that I shop like a hunted animal.  It’s bad enough online, where I compare prices at various sites and read reviews ad nauseum before I pull the trigger on the purchase days (or weeks, or months) after first starting.  But get me out shopping in person, in an actual store, and it just becomes sad.  I dither, contemplate and generally wander aimlessly around the store for much longer than a normal person ever would.

Typically, I’ll pick up an item that may or may not fit the bill, and proceed to carry it around the store a while as I think about it.  The whole thing is an exercise in rationalization.  Suppose, for example, I pick up a shirt that I think I might like.  I’ll start walking around the store with the shirt in hand, and start talking myself out of it.  There’s the price.  If it is a bargain, I’ll wonder if there is something wrong with it.  Is it low quality and prone to shrinking the first time I wash it?  If it is not a bargain, I’ll wonder if I really want to spend that much on it.  Maybe I can find it cheaper somewhere else.  Even if the price is fine, I might find another reason to talk myself out of it.  “It’s a lot like another shirt I already have,” I might think, or “It’s not really the kind of thing I will wear very often,” or maybe even “How many Rick Springfield tour t-shirts does a guy really need anyhow?”

And so on and so forth.  Nine times out of ten, the item I have taken for a walk around the store ends up back on the shelf from whence it came, I pick up something else, and the whole cycle begins again.  It doesn’t matter if it is a major purchase or a minor one.  It’s always the same.

Needless to say, precious few of my friends and family ever volunteer to go shopping with me.

For that matter, there are not many people at all who want to be caught up in the epic clusterbumble that tends to be my shopping.  I am unfailingly polite and sympathetic to retail salespersons, whose jobs I know can be trying at times.  Nonetheless, I am usually part of the problem for them, though not on purpose.  I have a tendency to pepper them with endless questions when shopping for something specific, typically only to decide I need to sleep on it, and then walk out of the store without making a purchase.  I’m sure they hate people like me.

My dysfunctional shopping habits are especially problematic for me at this time of year, Christmastime.  Not only do I have to do a lot more shopping than usual, but there is a deadline attached to it all.  Granted, I find it easier to shop for other people than for myself, but that is like saying it is easier to swim across the Atlantic Ocean because it is not as wide as the Pacific.

This year, I have cut myself some slack in the Christmas shopping department, though at the possible expense of some sentiment.  I am giving everyone on my list two things: a gift card and a charitable donation in their name.

Gift cards are widely available in almost any amount for almost any place of business.  They always “fit”, meaning that the recipients are guaranteed to get something they want and/or need, because they will be getting it themselves.  No risk of getting someone a gift in a color they don’t want, a size they don’t fit into, or that they already own.

The downside is that a gift card does not show the same degree of thoughtfulness that a specific gift might.  Getting Uncle Louie that one Miles Davis CD that is missing from his collection might be a great gift, but I would argue that getting him a gift card to his local music store so he can get it, or something else, himself still shows a level of thoughtfulness that a gift card to the Fabric Mart for him would not.

Another downside, at least as far as gift cards and young kids are concerned, is that in most cases, it isn’t something they can enjoy as soon as they open it.  Few kids dream of waking up on Christmas morning, running to the tree, and ending up sitting in the midst of a stack of plastic cards after everything has been opened.  Taking that into account for the youngest folks on my list, I do pick them up something else as well.

The charitable gift giving is the part of this whole thing that I like the best.  Most of us have no shortage of “stuff”, and adding unnecessary things to it just doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially given that many people in the world have very little or none of the basics in life.  This year, many of the people on my Christmas list are getting a donation made to Heifer International in their name.

Heifer International, if you haven’t heard of it, is a well-established charity that does work empowering the poor around the globe.  Theirs is essentially a “teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime” philosophy.

Here’s how it works: In their catalogue, you can “buy” gifts that are given to families in need.  The gifts are of the type that allow the family to lift themselves out of poverty.  For example, for $20, Heifer will provide a flock of geese, along with education and training in their care, so the family in poverty can raise them for their eggs, meat and down, which they can use themselves and also sell.  For $30, Heifer International will provide a needy family with a hive of honeybees, along with the education and training to manage the hive and produce honey that they can in turn use, as well as sell locally to provide for themselves.  Gifts such as these are also good in that they are living things that can multiply, and therefore can be passed on to empower other poor families nearby.

Heifer International has gifts that range from as large as a camel to as small as a basket of chicks, all of which can be given to a poor family on behalf of the person in whose name you made the donation.  If you want, Heifer will send a card or e-mail to that person explaining the donation made in their name and the good that it does.  For my young nieces and nephews, I got each a stuffed toy to represent the gift given in their name.  My niece in whose name the gift of a flock of ducks was given is also getting a small toy duckling along with her donation card, to help make it more concrete for her.

A gift donation to Heifer International is easy, fits almost any gift-giving budget, and really fits the spirit of the Christmas season a lot better than a pair of pajama jeans.

Please don’t get me wrong in my intentions in writing about this charitable giving.  I am not trying to give myself a pat on the back by any means.  As a matter of fact, I wasn’t originally going to even include it in this posting.  However, I’ve decided that by making mention of Heifer International, their philosophy and my personal experience with them, it might nudge some others to do the same thing.  I didn’t take the plunge with them myself until someone I knew told me of her positive experience with them.

One thing that may particularly interest you is that Heifer International does not just help families in far away places.  Families in the United States, even right here in Maine, have benefitted from their work.  Poverty is not just a far away thing.  Half the world’s population, nearly 3 billion people, live on less than $2.50 USD a day, and 80% live on under $10 USD daily. (Source)

So here’s to hoping you and your loved ones have a happy and peaceful Christmas season.  And if you see me in a store between now and the 25th, it is probably best if you just steer clear.