This just in: Americans will spend about 18 Billion dollars buying stuff for their sweethearts today.
18 Billion. I have to write that out because I don’t even know how many zeroes that entails.
This is nuts, people. I mean, we could use that money to build a giant wall. Or like, pay for healthcare for every child in America, or something crazy like that.
$18 billion would also cover our National Parks budget for about 8 years. Someone, not naming any names, could do a whole lot of damage to Old Faithful and Yosemite Falls in the space of 8 years.
Or $18 billion could fund the National Endowment for the Arts for a few decades.
I’m not trying to hate on Valentine’s Day. A holiday designated for love? No problem. That’s fantastic. We need all the love we can get. But when did “love” get saddled with all this stuff? Billions and billions of dollars worth of stuff?
Because while some of this money is spent on nice dinners and good wine (which I am ALL FOR, if my spouse is reading), I’d venture that most of it is spent on flowers, jewelry, stuffed animals, and any other number of things that come in the shape of a heart. Which, tomorrow, will be marked down 80% at Walgreen’s and Target and every other store in America. Not long after that, much of it will be in a landfill.
Do you know how much plastic crap my kids are going to bring home from school today? I don’t even want to think about it. And do not get me started on the glitter bombs that will be falling out of a thousand tiny envelopes.
Truth is, today is just one of the many days that draws attention to our consumer sickness. That sickness is big, and multi-layered, and it’s not Saint Valentine’s fault. It’s also not the fault of Baby Jesus or the Easter Bunny; or Saint Patrick, the Great Pumpkin or Uncle Sam. On every one of these days, we wade through the sea of sugar and cheap plastic crap that will ultimately flood the landfills we use to hide our addiction. The dam will only hold for so long.
So there’s an environmental concern, and a sweatshop concern. But more than anything, I’m concerned about the real heart problem underlying all the paper and diamond ones. The real emptiness that might make us feel like we *have* to buy this stuff, or else we have somehow failed at the whole love thing.
More to the point, this day is a condemnation of the scarcity mentality… The one that tells us we cannot possibly afford to insure all of our children–or educate them, or provide them with clean water and air, or protect the resources for their retirement someday–when clearly, we have all the money in the world to spend on… What, exactly? Another engraved picture frame? Another charm for that bracelet? Another stuffed bear with heart-shaped eyes…
This is not to say that all gifts, ever, are bad. And slowing the holiday retail machine is not exactly going to save the environment or fix our healthcare crisis. But practicing a bit of mindfulness about our spending and gifting can go a long way to change our thinking about what is needed, what is important, and what is worthwhile. And that shift might, in turn, change our thinking about what we can, and cannot afford… As a family, as a country, and as people who have to inhabit this earth together long after the landfills overflow and the rivers run dry.
Here are a few ideas for how to celebrate this day of love without breaking the bank–or contributing to our collective national junk pile.
- Quality time: have a game night with your family, or watch a movie together. Take your date for a walk if it’s nice out, or visit a city spot you both love.
- Food: Make dinner for someone you love. Or, better yet–dessert.
- Love letters: Maybe it’s because my love language is “words of affirmation,” but I never tire of getting nice notes… From my spouse, my kids, my church people, readers (ahem), etc. Card, post-it, scratched in the dust on my car, I don’t care. Words matter, and good words go a long, long way. Make a long list of reasons why you love your person, and give it to them.
- Acts of Service: While we’re on the love languages… Fold your partner’s laundry, or take their car to be detailed, or run some other errand that they hate, but that needs to be done. If you think that’s not sexy, you haven’t been married very long.
- Be still. I have a 6-year-old who is crazy active (and almost as big as me), but still cannot get enough hugs and kisses. If he could sit in my lap for 2 hours every day, I think he would do it. Sadly, do you know how often I have 2 hours to devote to sitting still with him? Not often. But maybe today I do. Seems like a small but powerful thing.
- Gifts that Keep Giving. Ok, spend some money after all, but not on stuff. Donate to a cause that is near and dear to your significant other–or better yet, something that is important to both of you. I’m giving to the National Parks Service for my man today, because some of our best memories together are in those parks… and let’s face it, under the current administration, Smokey the Bear and company need all the help they can get.
- Share the love. Maybe your family could go volunteer together somewhere. Or go visit a neighbor or church friend who might be alone. Take them a homemade card or some cookies, or just hang out awhile.
What about you? What are you doing to enact some love on the world today? Whatever it is, I hope it brings joy to your little corner of the world… with as few glitter casualties as possible.