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Confessions of a Recovering Holiday Shopper: 2011 Update

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This is an update to an article I posted last year during my third consecutive year as a recovering holiday shopper. You can read the original article here.

Having celebrated "Buy Nothing Day" on Black Friday last week instead of braving potential assaults of pepper spray at Walmart or even worse, I now am faced with the prospect that this year, I must once again enter the belly of the dreaded shopping beast.

My non-Christmas shopping days are over. Like a recovering alcoholic at a New Year's Eve party, this year I'm challenged to return to the scene of the crime and learn to exhibit self-restraint.

With the addition of two new son-in-laws to the family, the family dynamic has shifted. No longer does the women's "no gift" policy rule. The men want tradition! Wrapped presents under a tree and nothing less.

Last year, the men suffered through our family tradition of no gifts, but not without frustration. They wanted to give their new wife and bride-to-be something special at Christmas. This was understandable. So when they put their collective feet down this year and declared there will be gifts at Christmas, the girls and I knew it was time to relax our boycott on gift giving and thus, the issue of holiday shopping returns to the forefront.

Having avoided the whole holiday shopping scene for the past three years, the prospect of re-entry does not seem appealing. News of a man's death at a Target in Virginia on Black Friday and of crowds stepping over his body to get to the bargains does not exactly evoke the holiday spirit.

However, just prior to Thanksgiving, while working in New York, I decided to give myself a test run at Macy's, just to get warmed up. Or so I hoped.

Nothing like taking on the Olympics of shopping! This is Macy's flagship store, touted as "The largest department store in the world," with over 1 million square feet of shopping, covering four square blocks of prime real estate in mid-town Manhattan, and sitting nine stories high. I felt like I should cross myself and genuflect at the revolving doors before entering. And I'm not even Catholic!

Taking a deep breath, I cautiously entered through the men's department on 7th Avenue and was immediately overwhelmed by merchandise, music and of course, the press of the crowd. This is the part I dislike the most about holiday shopping. I literally become disoriented and dizzy in a large store, like the life is being sucked right out of me. Can anyone relate to this phenomenon?

Pressing on, I was determined not to succumb to these first few moments of pure reflex conditioning. As my reward, I was immediately faced with an even bigger challenge. The perfume department! Perfume, cologne or any kind of scented product is my kryptonite. I've spent years trying to avoid people who wear perfume and even have a "thank you for not wearing fragrance" policy for my home. Walking through a perfume department, with salespeople holding bottles of the latest celebrity fragrance and asking to spray some in my direction, has always been anathema to me. My sinuses get activated and the violent sneezing begins, lasting sometimes for an entire day. I kid you not!

Holding my breath, I dashed through the perfumes, managing to successfully avoid the disgusting scented cards being waved in my direction and entered the main sanctuary: Macy's ground floor!

I was unprepared for what I saw next. Mind you, I'm not from the boonies with one local dry goods store attempting to be a one size fits all department store. I'm from the San Francisco Bay area, with Neiman's, Sak's, Gump's and high-end designer shops just for starters. I know good merchandise when I see it. And I know bad merchandise as well. But I had never quite seen the likes of what greeted me on Macy's main floor. Sorry, Macy's. But I gotta tell it like it is. No soft peddling here.

It felt like I'd entered a warehouse filled to the rafters with cheap goods from China. As if a boat from China had docked out in front and literally dumped its containers at Macy's front door. It was shocking, actually! Everywhere I looked, there were stacks and racks of "stuff." My normal nausea turned to disgust as I beheld what assaulted me from every angle. Cheap, plastic-feeling purses masquerading as leather, poorly made scarves and shawls, cheap plastic jewelry and other accessories were in abundance. I realize I'm over-using the words "cheap" and "plastic," but seriously, I can find no other words to describe my experience.

My head reeling, I decided to venture to the 2nd floor, women's apparel. Surely there would be something available for purchase that didn't come from China! Wrong again. Without even reading the labels, the goods greeting me in women's apparel screamed "made in China." It reminded me of being in Russia during the breakup of the old Soviet Union when the only imported goods available were cheaply-made items from Turkey.

The good news? I wasn't even remotely tempted to buy anything. I'd had enough. I quickly made my way back to the down escalator and out the door on 7th Avenue. Clearly, if Macy's is a dumping ground for Chinese goods, what must the discount stores like Target and Wal-Mart be? We already know the answer to that question, don't we? Which brings me to a moral dilemma.

Why are people literally risking life and limb to buy these goods on Black Friday or otherwise, when it only enriches the coffers of the Chinese manufacturers and the savings aren't actually all that great? And besides, the quality is poor! I don't get it. There are no jobs being created in this country, except for the retailers who peddle this stuff. The American consumer is being bamboozled.

Did you see the ads on TV for the Black Friday deals? No wonder people were whipped into such a frenzy -- shoppers came armed with pepper spray to ensure they got the purchases they wanted. This is sick!

Which brings me back to my perennial issue of how to maintain the Christmas spirit, honor the choice of my family this year to put wrapped gifts under the tree, while not getting pepper sprayed or trampled in the process or falling into my old patterns of overbuying.

OK, I know what you're going to suggest. Get creative and make all the gifts! That's likely not going to happen. Not this year, probably not ever. We are not a craft-oriented family nor am I a crafty-type person. But that doesn't mean we can't access the resources of others who are.

Enter the Internet! Thank goodness for online shopping. Amazon is becoming my new best friend. I'm inviting the people on my gift list to put up a Wish List on Amazon. I'm sure there are many other resources for accomplishing the same objective. In fact, if you know of any, please, please let me know.

In the next couple of weeks, as we approach the serious holiday shopping season, with your help and suggestions, I'd like to explore creative gift alternatives. Please come on and share your ideas. What to get for that picky daughter or vegan son-in-law? And where to find decent quality items made in America? (Is there still such a thing?) You will be saving at least one life: mine!

Happy Holiday shopping ninja shoppers!

I welcome your comments here and/or on my personal blog and website: Rx For The Soul. And if you aren't already a fan, isn't it time you became one? Because, why not? You'll be notified when new posts appear, and that's a good thing because sometimes even I have trouble finding them on the page.

For personal contact, reach me at judith@judithrich.com.