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What's NEXT for shopping (spoiler: doing less)
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What's NEXT for shopping (spoiler: doing less)

On the Saturday before last, I panic-bought a real Christmas tree.

Nov. 27 is, to quote the phrase I bellow at my dog every day when he starts asking for his 5 p.m. dinner at 3 p.m., “TOO EARLY!” but my neighbourhood Facebook group convinced me that the lot I usually buy from was going to be completely sold out if I didn’t move it. Hours-long lines! Picked over selection! Ahhhh! So move it I did.

I am persnickety about my tree. I like a six to seven-foot balsam — has to be balsam, no other tree smells as good — with a straight top, not too full, and I have to be the one to pick it out. (Not to brag, but I am something of a tree whisperer.)

Well, I was in and out of that lot in under 10 minutes, and I think my 2021 tree may be my best-ever tree. It chilled in my garage for a few days, and I put it up on Dec. 1, which is closer to when I’d normally do so. Fingers crossed it makes it to the end of the month.

This year’s Christmas tree shortage, which my colleague Martin Cash wrote about here, isn’t only owing to pandemic-related supply chain snags, but they are certainly playing a role.

(Mikaela MacKenzie/Free Press files) On the Saturday before last, Jen panic-bought a real Christmas tree.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen this: things taking longer to arrive, or are harder to get, or are sold out completely. Remember how hard it was to get flour or dumbbells in the spring of 2020? Our various lockdown pursuits meant demand for certain items (home-office equipment, renovation materials) surged, while supply was, well, stuck in shipping containers.

This is not a perfect summation of the ongoing pandemic-related supply chain woes, because look: every time I try to read about The Supply Chain my eyes glaze over and Baby Elephant Walk starts playing in my head. (To that end, this New York Times piece offers a pretty clear run down.)

What I do know is that I’ve been trying to buy a certain lamp from IKEA for a year. I also know that everything is more expensive; I can’t seem to leave my house these days without spending $100. And I also we live in a culture in which shopping isn’t just a necessity but a pastime and hobby — a civic duty, even, to stimulate the economy — and we’re very used to getting what we want when we want it.

I also know most of us have have too much stuff. In fact, we could probably ease the burdens placed on the supply chain if we simply shopped less — or shopped differently. As Terry Nguyen writes in this excellent piece at Vox, “When the stuff we want is so hard to get ahold of, why go to such great lengths to buy it? Consumers have the option to not order items manufactured overseas, to source things locally from small businesses or artisans. We also have a choice that eliminates the potential for shipping or supply-chain mishaps: We can just buy less.”

That’s true any time, but it’s especially relevant at this time of year.

The pandemic has precipitated a recalibration of my own wants and needs. Put another way, I may not be able to get the Scandinavian lamp I want, but it would obviously be much worse if I couldn’t get the food I need. It would have been a bummer to not get the type of Christmas tree I like, but the holidays would not have been ruined. The big lesson from last year was that we can adapt. We can make do. And more specifically, we can make do with less.

Taking a mindful approach to holiday shopping this year can not only ease the pressure on the supply chain, it can also maximize your enjoyment of the season. I mean, we’ve all read or seen How The Grinch Stole Christmas! We know Christmas doesn’t come from a store and that Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

As we head into the holiday crunch, shop locally, intentionally, and thoughtfully. And take this, too, as a small seasonal reminder to be kind and patient with people working in retail. As I wrote last year, local businesses are not fulfillment centres, and everyone is doing their best.

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti, Columnist

Jen Zoratti

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I’m keeping it local this week and am reading Katherena Vermette’s 2021 novel The Strangers, about a family grappling with intergenerational trauma, addiction, grief, and what bonds — and binds — us. Expect to see this one on a lot of Best Of lists this month.

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