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Last weekend I spent up large at Gisborne’s annual Art Mart at Marina Park.

My definition of a big spend may differ to that of some people – I’m a pretty thrifty lady (nicely evolved from the frugality/stinginess of my younger years). But in the space of Sunday morn spent amongst a sunny array of browsers and vendors alike, I managed to find a birthday gift for my sister, a Christmas present for my niece, and I added a small pile of absolute beauties to the household’s ‘present drawer’, which will see us through a good few months of kids birthday parties.

The best thing about the whole experience was how good that exchange of dollars felt every single time it passed from my wallet to the very hands of the artists, the craftspeople, the makers, who had made the pieces I was about to take home with me.

I’ve been having a few conversations around the place lately with people wanting to ‘give up Christmas’ in different ways and to varying extents, but there is a rising energy it seems, to stop mindlessly playing out on repeat, this tradition that’s become so skewed from its original self, and which does little to serve humans or the planet in its current form.

One friend was trying to find the words to pen an email to whānau asking for their help and support, “Our kids are growing up in a world full of issues from mass consumption and we are trying to show them, through our purchasing choices, that we can make a difference” she writes. “Our hope is that the kids are fufilled with the simple things in life”.

Another friend has taken to giving each of her children a sum of money, to be equally divided into three parts. One part to give, one part to spend on an artwork or an experience, and one part to spend on something that they really really want. That same friend talked about a shift to celebrating the Equinox instead of Christmas, in the hope of further distancing themselves from the consumeristic connotations of the latter.

Yesterday I reminisced with a fellow parent about our own childhood in which we placed such high value on the things that we owned and experienced – our marble collections, the second-hand bike our parents had done up for our birthday with a lick of paint and addition of some spokey dokeys, the annual trip to McDonald’s for a birthday celebration, the rarified glass of Fanta or Sprite. These days when there’s an absolute excess of everything, that sense of anything holding any particular value has certainly become a difficult concept to impart to our young’uns.

My partner and I don’t buy our kids much new stuff. It’s not to say that they – we – don’t still end up with piles of stuff though. I made a concerted (and rather short-sighted) effort to train my daughters into op shopping from a young age, and it was only when I realised that, contributing to a circular economy though I might be, it was taking away from that notion of value in scarcity just as much as buying new stuff all the time would be, and so these days op shopping too has become a once in a while kind of occasion (ahem).

It’s not that I don’t sometimes question this approach we take. When the kids are looking at us like we’re just downright mean..when the front brakes on my daughters bike that I got for $30 at a Barwicks Auction before she was even born come unclipped for the second time in the week, when I’m refusing yet again to buy something because of the way it has been packaged..it is hard to not just start feeling – downright mean. But although I cringe every time I hear myself saying ‘you’ll understand one day’ I do think that the way in which we remember ‘scarcity’ with such fond nostalgia and almost romantically, holds us to the truth of this notion.

Which delivers me back in a very circular manner to the value of the craftsperson, the local makers and marketplaces for their goods in a healthy community and creative economy. Last weekend I came away from the Art Mart with about 10 gifts (including one for myself) having put about $70 into the local economy, which I’m guessing for a lot of Warehouse customers is probably a fairly modest spend.   

My five daughter and I had had a rare kind of shopping expedition in which neither of us had a tantrum and during which we stopped and talked with friends and people we knew, makers and fellow browsers alike. My daughter got to experience this simple yet rarefied concept of buying things from the people whose hands had made the ‘stuff’. It was a warm and sunny day, the band matched the mood of the weather and we took the dog and my daughter’s bike for a run around the cycleway to finish. 

There’s plenty of opportunity for supporting our local makers and easing the environmental impact of our Christmas shopping spend this weekend, with both the whimsical Willowsong Summer Fair in the Rose Gardens and the always outstanding Upmarket in the Ballance Street Village tomorrow and the Royal Market in Matawhero on Sunday.

Other ideas for more sustainable giving can be found aplenty if you’re looking for them – vouchers for future adventures or help doing something, tickets for experiences, memberships, second-hand goods, up-cycled goods, home baking.. the list goes on. For the less time-wealthy amongst us though I highly recommend a mosey around a local makers market!

Story by Sarah Cleave.

Images X Ro Darrall. 

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