The only winning move is not to play.
Whilst we live in a world where we tend to be automatically “opted in” on many things, or, at the very least, are convinced we need to opt in in order to send the right status signals, we can, in many cases, and if we so choose, opt right back out again (albeit running the risk of going against social norms and expectations). While Anastasia and myself are far from being completely off the grid of societal norms, there are increasingly more and more aspects of everyday life where we are choosing to take the path least followed, sometimes raising eyebrows, and occasionally seeing us labelled weird hippies (which is apparently what you are when you don’t follow the pack). Personally, I’d like to think our thoughts and life choices are somewhat closer to being bohemian …
Some of the things we have opted out on, which, by comparison with the middle of the bell curve, seem to put us out past 2-3 standard deviations from the mean (and which seem totally ridiculous as I type them out…), include not buying a whole lot of junk food (checkout operators struggle to put me in a box: “lots of vegetables and no junk food, so must be vegan – but there’s also meat – that is just weird – do you own a restaurant?”); not owning a home, not having any intention to do so, and not seeing renting as dead money; not having children and having fixed myself so I can’t have them; not watching television; and using a bicycle as our predominant mode of transport (even during winter) when we own a very good late model car and can afford to run it.
The sum total of the above-mentioned “opt outs” lead us to living a higher quality, cheaper, and far less stressful lifestyle, when compared to those people who I am most regularly in the company of. To varying degrees, daily conversations might include a snarky comment about how rigid and deprived we supposedly are with our eating, with those same people making complaints about something related to their own health or weight. We’ll get the “you don’t own a TV?!?“, with that person then making comments about never having time to do stuff, or complaining about how much a Sky subscription costs. We’ll get lectured on how renting is dead money or financially insecure, while we see the “home owners” stressed about mortgage payments, rates payments, insurance payments, repairs, dealing with tradesman, etc, etc. Or we’ll be mocked for riding our bikes everywhere while we watch people drive their cars 1 kilometre to the gym to do fitness classes.
Invariably, what is implied when people learn of our “wacky” life choices, is that somehow we are missing out on something; that we must be living a miserable existence, devoid of loud TV advertisements, traffic jams, children testing our patience, and overly sweet food that stops tasting that nice after the third bite. Clearly we haven’t chosen life.
Our latest “opt out” is Christmas. Now I’ve always been the Christmas Grinch, for a variety of reasons, not the least being that I just don’t like anything foisted upon me that includes a very large degree of social obligation. Indeed I am one of those types, where the more you tell me I am obliged to be involved in something, the harder I will dig my heels in to not be involved in it. For something that is sold as a time of joy and goodwill, people don’t half spend a lot of time (and money) being quite miserable with it all. From complaining about the traffic around malls and the number of people in them when they are driving to the mall to get their shopping done, to complaining about the need to spend the day with friends or relatives who they otherwise wouldn’t see or socialise with.
My current travel companion in life tends to share my sentiments toward Christmas, and there have been discussions, over a couple of Christmases, about opting out of it completely. This year a line was drawn in the sand, and Christmas was summarily cancelled. The only way to win the game is not to play.
Far from being difficult, this was the easiest decision for us to make. Firstly, we are not religious, so there is nothing requiring us to observe Christmas from that viewpoint. Secondly, our lack of religion extends to not walking the halls of the Church of Consumerism. In our increasingly anti-capitalist ways, we just refuse to get sucked into the norm that is now spending up large to celebrate every seasonal festivity there is (maybe our inability to just “put it on the mortgage” has a part to play there?).
That all said, we are fans of marking the various changes in the season, and certainly there is some appeal to celebrating the summer solstice with a bit of a feast and some gift giving. However, those pesky Pagans did go and put the solstice at the same time as the Christian Christmas, making it a bit confusing when we say we hate Christmas but have a feast and give some gifts around December 22/23. We like the idea of celebrating the end of a year, reflecting on what we have done, what we have achieved, giving thanks, and looking forward to the following year. This sounds strangely like a somewhat more secular New Year celebration, and our plan is to do exactly what I have just outlined – reflect, show some gratitude, plan and aspire, and of course, feast!
There are multiple benefits to the above plan, including (but not limited to), not getting caught up in the aforementioned seasonal stress and pressure, actually giving us (mostly me) a bit of down time between the end of year office closure and the planned celebration, and, while everyone else is stressing about there being only 19 shopping days until Christmas, we have 25 days until our thing (which includes the generally better post-Christmas sales, which, if taken up, will be the online shopping versions for us).
As with our other “opt-outs” listed above, our decision to opt out of Christmas hasn’t gone without the obligatory snark, mockery, eye rolls and tut tutting. There’s been the standard “Grinch!” tag, and the snark around the “oh that’s right, you are all ‘anti-consumerism'”, like we belong to some sort of cult. But as with everything else, we recognise that we live in a country with an enormous amount of freedom of choice as to how we can actively construct our lives, which includes not having to participate in society’s norms and expectations, nor having to complain about them as we do.
Happy New Year!