I picked this book up from the library
and I was prepared to like it very much. I knew that it was written by someone who had made some conscious choices about her shopping habits, she chose not to shop at Wal-mart and now she was attempting to stop buying any products made in China. I started to read it expecting to be inspired. Sadly, I was not. Not at all. I found the whole book rather annoying. I guess that I assumed that part of the reasoning behind the author's boycott was to cut back on the amount of cheap, useless gizmos and gadgets that often come into our lives (our world) but serve no real purpose. I assumed that the family would be very serious about cutting back on their consumption, stopping the flow of plastic toys and trinkets, and excess possessions coming into and out of (as gifts) their home. I thought that if a family was going so far as to not just stop shopping at Wal-mart, not only completely stop buying any item made in China, but to actually write a book about it....well, I thought that there would be much to learn from them. Time after time, I read the author's solution to not buying a made in China toy for her children was to buy a plastic toy made in any other country. How is that beneficial? I do understand that the book was only meant to be about not buying Chinese made products but c'mon. Why not take the opportunity to explain to her oldest child in more detail all the reasons why it is better not to buy more plastic toys from anywhere. Why not use the child's demands for more toys as an opportunity to show the child how much they already have to be grateful for. Why not just get down on the floor and play with the child - there is no better "toy" for a child, no "toy" a child wants more than the attentions of their parent. I absolutely believe that and I believe that any child would agree.
For months leading up to Christmas the parents stewed about what they would get the kids, spent time phoning catalog service numbers and wandering the mall looking for things not made in China. Why not make something? What little girl wouldn't love a home-made wooden doll house? How about a big box of dress up clothes from the thrift store in a big wooden trunk? Wooden blocks? We've done that, they are very easy to make and they have none of the nasty paint on that the store-bought kind have. There are so many ideas. I could not believe the Christmas wish list that the author's four year old son made, there were about 25 things on it, some of them some pretty big ticket items. Go ahead and call me a Grinch but I just think that is ridiculous. As a parent, why support that? Take the opportunity to explain why that is excessive, that material things do not equal happiness, that the products he is seeing on TV are not what they appear to be on the commercials, better yet, turn off the TV. Explain that sometimes we want something but that if we wait and think about it for awhile the "want" will wear off. Don't actually let him buy the plastic electric pumpkin (which of course will lose its appeal after he owns it for a few days - it's crap) for a Halloween decoration, and don't buy him more Lego to try to distract him, say, "No" and mean it, and then go out and get some real pumpkins and carve them as a family. Make some traditions that don't involve hanging out at the mall being tempted by holiday crap. I find it hard to believe that any child would feel deprived because they couldn't get a plastic pumpkin if he is given a more meaningful alternative.
I also was left with a sense that the author herself just didn't get it. In one chapter she talks about her husband going to a "snooty cook shop where he goes to look for a gadget to help me make pie crusts." He wants to give her the gadget for Christmas. He doesn't get it because it is made in China, at the end of the story she writes, " I really do need the gadget to help me make pie crusts." Really? You really do need it? Funny that, my family has been making pie crusts for generations without any sort of gadget, probably yours too. I can tell you that most "gadgets" actually do not serve any useful purpose. Usually they end up being used once or twice, you realize what a pain they are and that you can certainly crimp pie crusts faster and better with...wait for it...your very own fingers, and then they sit in a junk drawer in your kitchen, taking up space with all the other gadgets that were must-haves. It is rather like the idea of the electric can opener, could there be a more useless item? I recently saw one of these in the thrift store and could not help myself from holding it up and saying to my boys, "Behold!! The most useless and (frightfully embarrassing) thing humans ever wasted their time inventing, producing and buying!!" O.K., I didn't say behold, but I did say the rest. One of the things that bothers me most about Christmas is that it seems that many people see it as a time they "have" to give a gift, and they run around buying indiscriminately just so that they have something to give, or something to fill the stocking with. I would like to see less "stuff" in our society and more "meaning".
Now I am not trying to say that my family is perfect, we consume things too, but I do always try to stop and think about every thing we buy. Do we need it? The answer is usually no. If we do need it, do we have something else we can use to do the job? Can we get the needed item second-hand? Can we borrow it or share ours with someone else? We try to think outside the box and we do not do things just because that is the way it has been done or just because that is the way everyone else does it. Another example, the author was having a hard time finding Easter treats and plastic eggs to fill that were not made in China. Here's an idea, don't buy any!! Yes, that's right, don't buy any. How about buying a couple dozen real eggs and dyeing them for your egg hunt? What child (or adult) doesn't love that? Then buy some decent chocolate - it doesn't have to have foil wrappers and be bunny shaped (or Shrek shaped or whatever ridiculousness is in that year)- and give that.
All that said, I realize that many people will enjoy this book so please don't let my negativity dissuade you from reading it. I suppose that it could bring some awareness about as to just how many products in our country are made in China, and it could encourage people to try to find products made closer to home (although I would say that Manufactured Landscapes would do a better job of this). I guess the book really just left me wondering how on earth this woman got to write a book. For a moment I considered that maybe I should write a book about shopping for products. Then, I realised that I really couldn't write a very good book, mine would be only one page, it would read like this, "If you don't need it, don't buy it! And you probably don't need it! If you really, really need it, buy it second hand. But remember, you probably don't need it. The end." Not such a great read, heh?