Only do the things you can worry about (my Amazon-free Christmas)

Submitted by Victoria on Tuesday, December 31, 2013 - 12:57

I have one of those complicated families which has inconsiderately spread itself across the breadth of the United Kingdom. As well as making it difficult to see one another, this wreaks logistical havoc on present-buying occasions, such as birthdays and – most of all – Christmas. As such, most of my relatives and friends have, at least once, received a gift via that most ubiquitous of middle men, Amazon. Sometimes I have even asked dear old Mr A to wrap the gift for me.

I have one of those complicated families which has inconsiderately spread itself across the breadth of the United Kingdom. As well as making it difficult to see one another, this wreaks logistical havoc on present-buying occasions, such as birthdays and – most of all – Christmas. As such, most of my relatives and friends have, at least once, received a gift via that most ubiquitous of middle men, Amazon. Sometimes I have even asked dear old Mr A to wrap the gift for me.

But this year, something changed. 2013 had seen the revelation of some unpalatable truths which made me begin to seek alternatives when it came to doing my Christmas shopping. Tax avoidance has been hardwired into Amazon’s way of doing business, depriving taxpayers of £100 million and taking away custom from thousands of small businesses who pay taxes, and thus cannot offer as low a price. Not to mention the ‘bullying’ of small businesses who choose not to sell their products via Amazon. Then there’s the way workers are treated. Ten-and-a-half-hour night shifts, involving walking for 11 miles. Working conditions which could cause mental and physical illness. Resistance to unionisation. Etc. etc.

So I began looking for other ways of shopping. And I did it. I managed to send Christmas presents to everyone without adding a single item to my Amazon basket. Beautiful wooden dishes from Traidcraft. Soaps and fairtrade chocolate (and rice and tea and coffee) from Ethical Superstore. Books and DVDs from The Hive – a new online shop which simultaneously supports independent bookshops. Handcream and crafts from the brilliant little gift shop in my own town.

Of course, ethical shopping is a field fraught with competing issues: land, women, the environment, workers, tax (and the list goes on). And I can have the strong temptation to say that I just don’t have the energy or time to worry about the ethical minutiae of everything I buy. Our lives are busy, our needs are many, our time is limited.

But perhaps that is exactly where I have got it wrong. The complexity of modern life is not really an excuse for ignoring ethics. Busy-ness, consumer desire and a lack of time are not inevitable or non-negotiable. If I am buying so many things that I am not able to worry about the people exploited in the process, then I am buying too many things. If what I want is not obtainable in a way that sits with my conscience, then that want may have to go unsatisfied. I’m sure I will survive.

My reflections on this have made me see in a new light Jesus’s famous teachings about money: ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’

I had always taken this passage as a warning against getting distracted from God by the accumulation of money and things – which I still think is an accurate reading. But, in the society in which we find ourselves, I think there is more. Filling our lives with things – and all their accompanying demands, habits and accessories – can not only distract us from our relationship with our Creator. It can crowd out the time and space to worry about the people and world around us – the very concerns of God. Building for ourselves treasures in heaven is not only about time for prayer but about time for love, work for justice, longing for peace.

Writing this post has made me painfully aware of the infinite ways in which what I believe and what I do are very much out of line with one another. But as we go into a new year, here’s my new year’s resolution: I will try only to do things which I have time and energy to worry about, to consider fully. I have a feeling this will make my life simultaneously simpler and more difficult. But let’s have a go. Here’s to 2014.

Tags: ChristmasShoppingNew Year