Saturday, November 06, 2010

Attention Holiday Shoppers!

My apologies in advance: this is going to be one of those snarky, holier-than-thou posts wherein I pretend to have all the answers, as if my actions are the One True Way, and anything else is just plain stupid.

Okay. Now THAT'S outta the way!

Because this is the time of year when I like thinking about holiday shopping, and what I want to give as presents, and what I sincerely would like to avoid. Figuring out what to buy (or make) for the holidays can be really cumbersome sometimes, what with diminishing savings accounts holding weakly against a federal government that screams at us "Spend! Consume! Get the economy rolling again!" through every available venue. Here are some ways I like to spread my meagre dollars around, in the off-label hopes of keeping said dollars local, or at least national.

1) "Your kids will play with what you give them" Dept. This one strikes me as so basic that I'm always amazed at how little it sinks in. Simply put: kids play with what's at hand. What's at hand is typically provided by parents…with a large scoop of grandparents thrown in for good measure. This was driven home to me by watching Roslyn play with her mother's old Fisher Price barn & school. She took to the '70s-era Little People like ducks to water, using their smallish peg size to increase her coordination as she worked on mastering the task of simply getting the damn people into their cars/wagons/chairs. Now almost 3-1/2, she has the Sesame Street playset, the castle playset, the Jeep & camper, and a tub full of odds & ends. She loves 'em. Same thing with Hot Wheels: I loved little cars as a kid, so I took great delight in getting her a Batmobile, a police car & ambulance (to rescue Batman when he overturns), and a dozen or so other little diecast vehicles. Add to that some track and a recent eBay find of the "starting gate" (which, with new rubber bands, will propel the cars down the track at a decent speed) and she's got good entertainment for her cars. And her marbles, which zoom along nicely down the orange lengths. You don't need a bunch of fancy-ass crap for your kids to play with: they only know what you give 'em.

2) "Kids don't know from vintage" Dept. This comes quite naturally out of Item #1 above. Once we discovered how much Roz loved her secondhand Fisher Price toys, we (translation: I) started picking stuff up from flea markets, garage sales, Goodwill, and eBay. Some of this stuff comes at a not-inconsequential premium: the "new" starting gate I just got for her Hot Wheels cars was $45 including shipping. But when I take her to our local St. Vincent dePaul store, she makes a beeline for the toy room and immerses herself happily with whatever secondhand junk is there. Yes, she also takes to the über-expensive Thomas the Train stuff when she's at a Barnes & Noble store or Toys-R-Us. But she never kicks up a fuss to really have anything, which makes shelling out a few bucks for the vintage stuff much easier than spending upwards of $20 for a single Thomas engine. The name of the store isn't "Feel Shame For Shopping Here." It's just "Goodwill." Go check it out with your kid, let her play with some of the stuff to see what she takes a hankerin' to…and then go back later, alone, and see how far $20 will take you. I'm bettin' it's a long way.

3) "Reuse, Reduce, Recycle" Dept. Buying vintage means you're not contributing to newly-produced waste. Yeah, there's a lotta plastic in that Hot Wheels track. But it's already here, so buying it is kind of a garbage push (to borrow from blackjack): you're helping to keep stuff out of landfills by recycling toys, which can be your feel-good moment of the holiday shopping experience. And if you DO buy new, you can often have a feel-good moment in other ways, like making your purchase in a charitable way: Roz was looking through a World Wildlife Fund catalog that showed up this season, and immediately latched onto a stuffed killer whale (don't ask). The $50 price tag seemed steep, but keep in mind: that fifty bucks is actually a donation to the WWF, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, who uses 82% of the money you spend for wildlife conservation. The well-made (in China) plush animal you get is just icing on the cake.

4) "Keep Money Local" Dept. Don't feel like sending your hard-earned dollars to China? Want to support your local businesses? Shop at home. Clicking the "complete purchase" button at makes your shopping really easy, but does that do anything for your local businesses? When I shop at the Mega Mall (a lovely flea market in DeWitt), I'm not only recycling toys, I'm putting money directly into the pockets of the booth renters. It's not going to giant mega-corps like Mattel, or Hasbro, or whatever. It's staying here, close to home. When I DO need new things, I go to K-Mart, which started in Troy, Michigan in 1899 as Kresge's. Even though it's no longer headquartered in Michigan (having moved to Illinois once they partnered with Sears), I still think it's a lot more local than that other discount store from Arkansas. I buy Crayola crayons and watercolors there (Crayola being a privately-held company headquartered in Pennsylvania, with manufacturing plants there and in Mexico and Brazil). If keeping dollars (and jobs!) here in America is important to you, check out this site for tons of stuff that will accommodate you.

5) "Homemade is from the heart" Dept. Lastly, don't discount the importance of making your own stuff. This can run the gamut according to your talents, from toys (Grandma makes excellent wooden toys for Roz, including a huge whiteboard art easel desk) to clothes (all you knitters, take a bow!) to food (just say "Yes!" to home-canned preserves) to art (our wedding present from my new sis was a large oil painting of me and Miss Tessmacher). In 1999 I ruined Mother's Day for almost everyone I know by giving my mom a clarinet concerto that I'd written as my doctoral thesis (comments typically included a wail of "Aww, shit, now the card and flowers I got for MY mom seem really petty!). Chances are, you have some latent talent for making something that can be put to good use at gift-giving time. Remember: presents shouldn't be judged by the dollar amount that was spent on 'em, but instead the thoughtfulness and creativity that inspired them.

There. See? Told ya I'd be all "Lookit how cool I am!" I genuinely don't mean to be that way, but these things are important to me, and I thought I'd share them with you if you hadn't thought of them yet, and remind you about them if you'd forgotten. Be well, and shop wisely this holiday season.


Blogger Gknee said...

I still have my castle set, as well as a McDonald's set and Holiday Inn. I should really start ebaying things :)

Great post, Animal!

4:37 PM  
Blogger Animal said...

Ooohhh…I'd be interested in making an offer on the McD's and Holiday Inn!!

7:46 PM  
Blogger Suze said...

Hear, hear!!
LOL the comment about your clarinet concerto, btw :)

8:49 AM  
Blogger Marie said...

Great ideas! Manu is asking for Lincoln Logs!! I bet I can find some at the Mega Mall...

7:44 AM  

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