Standing in the doorway to my garage on Christmas Eve was like staring into the aisles of Toys R Us. To a casual observer, we were an episode of ‘Hoarders’ waiting to happen. 10 minutes later I sat crossed-legged on the family room floor, covered in layers of wrapping paper and bits of ribbon, staring at toys, video games, and t-shirts I had no memory of purchasing. Then and there I made a decision. Next Christmas, things were going to be different.
In a family as large as mine, gift giving took epic strategic planning. Relaying the exact specifications of the Lego set on my son’s list took no less than 3 phone calls to my 95-year-old grandmother, and my own mother who was tasked with taking her shopping. Ensuring that the uncles and aunts understood the difference between Call of Duty and Halo was the result of ping-ponging emails. Guaranteeing that no gift was duplicated and the correct sizes were selected was a team effort.
Eventually, we decided to simply do the shopping for everyone.
It was easier.
It was cheaper.
It was more efficient.
Thanks to Amazon Prime, I can order 12 rolls of paper towels, a set of California King bed sheets, 2 boxes of cereal, and a new iPhone charger in less time than it takes to blow dry my hair. I can also order Christmas gifts for every person in my family, scheduling all of it to arrive on my doorstep before 10 a.m. the following day.
With the click of a few buttons and zero human interaction everyone is happy.
Thanks to modern technology, I glide in and out of Starbucks in under 2 minutes by ordering and paying for my drink through my phone. I may sacrifice 2 seconds of my time for a brief “thank you” as I’m checking my email and dashing back out the door. I’m in a hurry. I’m being efficient. Eye contact and a smile just don’t fit into my schedule.
No one would dispute that all of us are busy. Our schedules are fuller and traffic is heavier than it has ever been. Our biggest commodity is time and we are always looking for ways to save it. But are some of these “life hacks” really making our lives any easier? Have they given us more time, made us happier, more understanding, more patient? In my opinion, all these “tricks” have done is trained us to expect things to be accomplished immediately and on our schedules. They’ve made us selfish and intolerant of anyone that slows us down.
We’ve traded empathy for efficiency.
When we don’t pre-order our Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte, and we have to wait in line, we have no patience for the woman who failed to have her wallet ready when she arrived at the cashier or the gentleman who wants to know the difference between Pike’s and Blonde roast. (Doesn’t he know he can look that up online?)
We forget that these moments, when our patience is tested and we are inconvenienced, provide the opportunity for us to be our better selves, maybe even our best selves. When the woman frantically digging in her purse in search of her wallet, shoots an apologetic smile over her shoulder we have two options. We can huff while giving her a tight-lipped smile – making it abundantly clear that her inefficiency is not appreciated – or we can offer up a “no problem” kind of smile and tell her to take her time. Because really… is an extra 25 seconds in line really going to ruin your day?
We are not factories, nor are we machines. We are human beings made for connection and community – even when it’s not convenient.
For the last two years, we’ve stopped buying all the gifts. We email the kids’ lists and answer any questions about sizes or latest editions and offer up store coupons that came in the mail. We take our kids shopping so they can spend their own money on a gift or each other and us. Yes, we brave the lines and packed aisles of Target and Barnes & Noble. Sometimes it takes a second trip to find the perfect gift. And sometimes even a third.
It’s not easier.
It’s not rarely cheaper.
It’s most certainly less efficient.
But it gives us a chance to step outside of ourselves and our own schedules. It reminds us to practice patience and kindness regardless of the clock. We smile more easily, we chat with strangers more freely, and we remember that while all of this could be accomplished in the privacy of our own home when it fits best into our own busy lives, life’s not all about getting things done as quickly as possible. Sometimes it’s about enjoying the process.
I will hang on to my empathy at the expense of my efficiency any day of the week.
That’s just my normal.
**Hey lovely readers!! It’s wonderful to see you! Over the last few months I have enjoyed publishing my work on various other sites. It’s always exciting to reach new, larger audiences. Unfortunately I haven’t had the time (or the talent) to create content for those sites and my own; and as a result, I’ve neglected my normal. But I’m back, friends!
My focus is going to be our little piece of normal.
And I could use YOUR help.
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Elly Lou says
As the Mother of two small kids, some days the cashier at Target is the only adult I talk to. I need THAT more than the extra time, too.
Yes! Yes! Yes! Great point, Elly. I also remind myself, that I might be the only smiling face that cashier is going to see all day. That is more valuable than a few moments of my time. Those seemingly insignificant interactions were the things that kept my head above water when my children were little and I was in the throes of stay-at-home’ness. I can definitely relate to your comment.
If at all possible, skip the self check out lines. First of all, who are they kidding? It just saves the store from hiring more cashiers. And you haven’t saved a dime. Plus waiting in line is a great way to love on humanity. Chat with the lady behind you. Get that little one in the cart in front of you to giggle. Smile and just be nice to the cashier. I promise, all of you will be better people for it.
Yes!! i avoid the self checkout as much as possible! They make me so mad for the reasons you listed. It robs us of the chance to engage and have community. And for what? An measly 4 minutes of time? We all need to be better people and, like most important things, it takes stepping outside ourselves and making an effort.
I love your ideas, Kathy!
Thank you for your post. I needed that reminder as we head into the holiday season. 🙂 Your brother will love it, too, since he still talks about how much he prefers shopping in person rather than online.
I love that about him!! He is a great example for me to follow!
Such a super point, Vicky! I online order with the best of them, but you are so right–there is a such a tremendous value in human interaction, and learning to navigate it with grace. Well said!
THank you Meredith! And thanks for sharing! I think most of us shop online now. It’s easier because it fits into our own schedules. I find myself having to make an effort NOT to do that. The truth is, I didn’t even realize it until I found myself so irritated by people who I thought were “too slow” or “asked inane questions.” Suddenly I realized I was a total JERK! Definitely time to get over myself and be part of THE world, not just MY world.
The Imp says
We’ve never managed to do everything online. Canada doesn’t have the amazon that the US does. Now, instead of lamenting that, I think I’ll take a moment to appreciate the opportunity it affords me.
Here in the States it’s entirely too easy to do things from the privacy of your own home and never interact with a single person- other than your every day life. You have to be intentional to go against that. I love your perspective- that this is an opportunity!
Quirky Chrissy says
I love you! This is spot on. I try to interact with people (and especially small businesses) in real life, and sometimes, it even saves me money if it doesn’t save me time.
That’s a good point! I have found myself with an upgraded coffee size or an extra shot several times. People are grateful for positive interactions with the community. I remember working in retail and I often snuck in a coupon for extra friendly people. But, even if I get nothing more out of it than a smile and some great conversation, it’s a great deal, in my opinion.
Thanks for sharing and commenting, Chrissy!
We’re designed for connection, which is why it feels better when we do it, and a bit crappy when we don’t (in spite of all the efficiency of keeping up with our own agenda). I think the key point here is that you’re making time to demonstrate ‘joined-up’ behaviour to your children, and engaging them with it. You’re leaving a legacy of connectedness and the importance of empathy. THAT is awesome.
Per the usual, your words say it better than I every could.
“a legacy of connectedness…” I love that!!
Great post! I wholeheartedly agree, interacting/engaging with cashiers and fellow shoppers can be so much more rewarding. I also enjoy another different holiday gift-giving ‘technique’ – other than my own kiddos, I no longer buy holiday gifts, instead I make edible goodies and crafts. It takes more time, and creates an explosion of craziness in my kitchen for the month of December but I love it! Takes us back to the true meaning of the season, giving some of our time and love to others.
What a great idea, Abigail!!! Someone shared a great caramel apple in a jar idea a few months ago. I’m planning to use that for my kids’ teachers. Like you said, it’s so worth the mess in the kitchen! I also COMPLETELY agree that we need to get back to the TRUE meaning of the season!! Thanks reading and commenting!
Great post! Thank you for the reminder. A friend of mine brought up a great point along these same lines. She is encouraging all her friends to purchase gifts for the holidays from Independent Consultants to support people you know. I am not an Independent Consultant but I think it seems like a wonderful idea.
I think this is a great idea! I am not one to use independent consultants myself. Not because I don’t like or wouldn’t use the products they sell. Typically, it’s because I can’t commit to the monthly/quarterly orders that are required. However, there are plenty out there that are one-time sales. I will definitely look into finding more of those. That’s an excellent way to support local companies and consultants. Thanks for the idea!!