Satchelnomics: New York's Uneasy Dichotomy

A Christmas display at Macy's
Over dinner at John's Pizzeria (best in town, we were told, and they're not wrong), after coming in from the madness of Times Square, with Macy's illuminated window installations, a 50ft high Tommy Hilfiger advertisement staring down at us from above in a Michelangelo-like configuration mirroring the Sistine Chapel, and shoppers from South America, Italy and everywhere in between crowding the streets with locals until well after dark (nothing shuts here, ever; it's 24 hours of shop, shop, shop!), we got to talking about consumerism. 

Is it right to buy a counterfeit Rolex watch? Should you undermine big business – and therefore its employees – by lining the pockets of the poor streetside merchant? Or is big business to blame for letting quality, customer service and craftmanship slide to the point that we don't truly care where the stuff comes from, so long as it bears a brand name or functions just the same?

It is very easy to be hoity-toity snobby about such things when money is no object, when the persuasions of beautiful things are not a hindrance to your line of credit, but for the discerning traveller on a budget – particularly one who wants to honour Christian values – the temptations are everywhere. Better to discern exactly what your values are before you enter the mire, we thought.

Which brands do you believe in? What level of craftmanship are you after? Are you prepared to wear poor customer service for the sake of a sale? And do you feel it right to spend this money on yourself?

I, for one, am tempted by American Apparel – the brand's trendy, easy-wear separates are comfortable. BUT I loathe the company's marketing campaigns (which landed them on Collective Shout's Christmas 'Cross 'em off your list' this year). So when I chanced across the store on Broadway, I peeped inside but then quickly retired. It wasn't the right place to shop. On to Zara I went and I snapped up a pair of khaki jeans and a spotty top, which I plan to wear over and over and over again.

Some people have been brought up to value quality regardless of expense – to procure a tailored suit, a leather shoe of the utmost beauty after saving up for the purchase, which should (by all means) outlast the poorly thought-out impulse buy or mad-dash-before-the-wedding purchase. Others have been brought up to seek out bargains – to snap up those things baring a 'Sale' sign, but more particularly those brand names that might otherwise be inhibitive. With the RBA slashing interest rates again, we have yet another temptation to spend.

Going without one's wardrobe nor toiletries and cosmetics for three days certainly brings one's vanities and excesses into perspective. Truth be known, when my luggage was lost by the airline en route to New York City, I was quietly at ease. What a blessing it was to be without THINGS. To have the outfit repertoire limited to just a few items that could be adapted and washed in the hotel sink for the next day's wearing.

Sure, thoughts did turn to, 'Permission to shop!' but losing the luggage had given me ample time to reflect on my approach to spending this holiday. Over recent months, I have embraced frugality as an operating mantra and have seen the results: "stuff" is one of the things – the thorns in the side – that gets between me and God. I would be silly to let that ground work be eroded, wouldn't I?

"Praise be to the Lord my rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle," said David (Psalm 144:1). Indeed, when we wait in confident trust, God delivers. And my luggage was delivered this morning. No need to go silly on the spending – everything I already need is within. "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your Word," said David (Psalm 119:67). Hence, God rewards us when we keep to our word to him. Learning patience can turn into fruitfulness, but most importantly harmonious, humble living with the Lord. "...the Lord your God led you...forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart...' (Deuteronomy 8:2).

Truth be known, while I could feasibly only ever buy a handful of items for the rest of my life and be quite content, putting that theory into practise is a work in progress: fighting off consumerist messages (you want, you need, you deserve, look at me, buy me!) in favour of that which is commensurate with your soul and beliefs takes a certain obedience and steely resolve until it is well and truly entrenched. But to err leads to inner conflict if you're convicted, so best not to tempt that sort of behaviour at all.

I confess, after procuring a much-needed camera, I was besotted by a little grey blazer at Gap today and outlayed the cash... only to find it to be marked down considerably at the counter. Keeping a short account with God is the important thing: doing business with Him can only lead to healing and a happy sense of being. Not easy when you're in New York, the most consumer of consumer capitals, but glaringly obvious when you find you can survive in chic city without so much as a single outfit reworked three times.

Wish me luck!

Girl With a Satchel