Breaking a season of habits
We're creatures of habit, but, says Heather Skull, let's make sure they're good ones...
The British. We are a nation of addicts. We have habits like you wouldn’t believe. And some of them are more dangerous than any habit forming drug you might come across.
We have things that we always have to do and to say. One of my favourite social media pages is Very British Problems which pokes fun at all of those habits that make us peculiarly British. We queue, we tut and we worry about holding doors open for other people.
I’m known for my tea drinking habits. When I first started working in Southampton, it took just three days before the staff at my local coffee shop would see me come in and assemble my tea tray before I’d even had a chance to say, ‘Good morning.’ Most of my friends make tea for me as a default. It’s a habit. I admit it. My name is Heather Skull and I LOVE a good cup of tea.
Christmas is particularly a season of habits. Every year we do the same things and we buy the same things. I can guarantee that for many homes, this is the only time of year that there’s a pile of food and drink in them that people wouldn’t normally give house space to.
Every day now our daily post deliveries feature at least one gift catalogue filled with things we never knew we needed or wanted. Many of these gifts will be bought for others who never knew they wanted or needed them either.
Black Friday created a lot of hype last week. It is ironic that this has become a festive day in its own right. A day to celebrate consumerism, a day to worship at the altar of the great god commercialism.
People will queue for hours and fight over giant screen televisions. Greed will take over from common sense. Battles over bargains. Buying things that were never needed or even wanted in the first place.
The excuse in some cases will be that people are buying in advance for Christmas and saving themselves some money. The reality is for many that they will end up buying things they never really needed in the first place. And the truth is that actually we need less stuff in our lives, not more.
A family friend once told me that every time she and her husband moved house, they would throw out all the stuff in the roof if it hadn’t been used in that time.
I come from a family of hoarders and that’s the kind of statement that might make us all hyperventilate. But the awful truth is that I could probably get rid of 75 per cent of my stuff and still have enough.
I did take the decision a few years ago not to buy any more DVDs once my shelf space was filled and I’ve not broken that vow. But I’ve still not had the heart to get rid of the 75 or so mugs that I appear to have accumulated over the past 20 years. And there are still 500 books in this house that arrived with me ten years ago when I moved in. The accumulation of stuff is a habit many of us find hard to break.
And yet… there are limits. I watched with a fascinated horror at images of people racing into their local supermarket or other shop, desperate to get a bargain. Did it really matter that much? Was it a considered purchase or just hysteria? I still can’t answer that question, but I can’t get away from the quiet thought that somebody somewhere needs to knock all our heads together to bring us to our senses.
But – encouragingly for us as a nation – there is a quietly growing backlash against Black Friday. There’s protests outside big shops. Smaller shops are refusing to be drawn in. We don’t want to play thanks. We’ll stay at home instead. There’s even a whole campaign on social media and beyond appealing for people to not buy anything on Black Friday. Now THERE’S a useful habit to pick up.
Things don’t matter. People do.
My mobile phone provider has been sending me emails for several days now trying to whip up my excitement about the fact I can now upgrade to a new one.
It even told me when I had only ‘three more sleeps’ to go. I rather think that the company might be rather overdoing it. It’s just a phone. I value it more for being able to keep in touch with those I love rather than what apps or settings it has on it.
We’re just begun Advent. A reminder of a season that has at its heart the most generous gift of all. A gift that reminds us our priorities should be people, not stuff, generosity, not selfish greed.
I state here and now that I bought something on Black Friday. I persauded my friend and colleague Laura to go out at lunchtime with me so we could go mad buying things. When I say buying things, I meant two special festive coffees and a couple of paninis to go alongside a lot of giggling and chat. The cost was less than £20. The value of the time spent together away out of the office? Priceless…
Heather Skull is a former BBC Radio Wiltshire journalist and a member of Trowbridge Baptist Church. She blogs at tractorgirl66.wordpress.com, where this article first appeared