I don’t do Black Friday. I used to refer to it as Buy Nothing Day, and in fact it’s still my practice to avoid buying anything or transacting any commerce on Thanksgiving or the day after. Now, though, I’m thinking of it as Slack Friday. It’s the perfect day to slack off.
I went on a Black Friday shopping trip precisely once. My brother and his family were planning to go, and there was something I wanted, so I arranged to tag along. We got up at 5 AM. I was unclear on the concept that the holiday sales don’t apply to everything in every store, and it turned out that the one thing I wanted was not on sale. So I got to experience waking up way too early, driving around in circles in the freezing cold, looking for a parking spot that wasn’t there, fighting the crowds, and listening to Christmas music FOR NO GOOD REASON. Honestly, I’d rather go to the transfer station and watch the dump Zamboni crush old couches. At least there are seagulls out there.
How much better to sleep in! How much better to stay inside where it’s warm, snuggle on the couch with my dog, and read a book! Slack Friday is the one day I’m guaranteed not to have to cook. Eating leftovers is practically a necessity, if we ever want to feel secure that the fridge door will stay closed again. There’s pie. (Pie is never a leftover). The house is already holiday-clean and nothing, absolutely nothing, needs to get done.
I live in Southern California, where we know it’s winter when we have to wear socks. There are only a few months of the year when it’s cool enough to wear jeans, boots, and sweaters. This is the only time of the year when it feels like a good idea both to cook and eat hot soup. Using the oven is a pleasure rather than a punishment. We can enjoy a little cold weather or the sight of a patch of snow as pure novelty. Best of all, it’s the perfect temperature for distance running. The best things about Slack Friday are not things, or the acquiring of things, but atmospheric conditions and a shared vacation day.
What do I need, really? I’m a middle-aged suburbanite. I have everything already! I have clothes for every season and occasion, including even a few pairs of socks. Every room in my home is furnished comfortably. My kitchen is equipped to cook virtually anything. I have enough books to keep me occupied for at least three months. We have transportation and cleansers and toiletries and camping gear and musical instruments and fitness equipment and and and… What we never seem to have enough of is time. Sleep, and time. Well, money and sleep and time. I’m at an age where I’m much more interested in a plush savings account than a plush anything else.
What advertisers want us to do is to feel an intense excitement around the activity of buying and spending. This is why Christmas now starts 55 days early, and anyone who isn’t deeply thrilled by a two-month celebration of materialism is somehow trying to start a war and be a big mean old wet blanket. Just as we can’t even look at last night’s photos of Halloween costumes before we start hearing Christmas music, we can’t get through the Thanksgiving leftovers without being urged to venture into traffic and BUY ALL THE THINGS. It took ten years, but I convinced my family to step off this crazy train and slow the rate at which our gift-giving reciprocation tended to accelerate. We have shifted our focus to family meals and family vacations instead. Experiences, not things. Why do we think we need to buy each other stuff to show our love and friendship and appreciation? What happened to the group hugs and sing-alongs? Personally, I feel much better knowing my parents are saving for their retirement than I do having them spend lavishly on toys and treats for me.
While frugality does not necessarily lead to minimalism, the converse is usually true. Focusing on the most important things – reading, naps, reading with the dog, napping with the dog – tends to lead to most of one’s time being spent on things that don’t cost money. Treasure a perfectly free day with family, giving it the value it deserves, and it becomes difficult to imagine why anyone would mess up such a perfect day by leaving the house at all. (Unless someone is into making leaf rubbings).
One of the things I like to do on family free days such as Slack Friday is to try to sneak candid shots of people in a listening pose. I think people usually look their best while they are listening to someone. That’s when they look the smartest, the most relaxed, and the most thoughtful. Everyone is so sophisticated with the camera-radar now that it’s almost impossible to do. We have a family game of trying to snap pictures of each other napping with our mouths hanging open, which is much easier, and hilarious, and I still need to complete my collection, which is why I am promoting synchronized Slack Friday napping.
The days are short. This dumb old life is so short. When we look around the room during a gathering of friends or family, we can never know how many of us will still be here at this time next year. These are the days we’ll remember: the days when we wasted hours doing a jigsaw puzzle or playing board games or sitting around gossiping. Memories are not made at the mall. We spend so much of our time in parking lots and waiting at stoplights, so much time standing in line and completing transactions. Every day of the year we can do these things. How many times do we really get to have our loved ones in one place at the same time? How many days are there when we can kick back with nothing better to do?
The rhythm of life was probably like this much of the time for our pre-Industrial ancestors. They would not recognize the frenzied pace at which we rush through our days, or the chronic distraction of our screen-filled rooms and pockets. One of the gifts that minimalism can give us is a reminder that our modern lifestyle is not the only way to be human. Buying and selling and driving and parking can be only a small fraction of what we do with our time, if we choose it. We need time to listen and commune with one another, time to sit and be together, time to take in each other’s presence for the priceless glory that it is.
Plus there’s that pie to think about.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.