Are You in Love With Your “STUFF”?

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I was listening to a podcast today about “minimalist living” and all the joy it will bring you.  That got me thinking about us crazy Americans and all our “Stuff”.  People are into designer handbags, brand name shoes, and fancy cars. I’m not really interested in a lot of that.   Maybe we’re too materialistic, but I don’t know if I could swing a stuff free life.

I love to watch the Tiny House shows on HGTV.  People want to live in a 200 square foot place with a baby and two dogs.  People want a tiny house, but room for 6 kayaks, or 13 surfboards.  People want a tiny house with entertaining space.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve yelled at the television “It’s a TINY HOUSE!”  Can we really let go of our stuff?  Could you lead a minimalist lifestyle?

Years ago, I read a book by John D. Freyer.  It’s called All My Life For Sale.  It’s an interesting read about a project that John did.  In Phase One of the project, he sold everything… everything he owned on eBay. In Phase Two, he spends time traveling all over the world to visit his stuff. 

The woman in the podcast today, Genevieve Parker Hill, is the author of Minimalist Living: Decluttering for Joy, Health, and Creativity.  She talks about how her family experienced a house fire, and lost all their possessions.  Through this journey, she learned that relationships are important, not stuff.  So was the house fire a blessing or a curse?

Friends of ours, who always had a big home, with lots of wonderful stuff, decided to live in an RV and travel around.  I wonder if they went through stuff withdrawal at first, or did they just make a decision and flip the switch?

I would say that I’m in the middle on the scale of stuff crazy people. My husband is definitely into stuff.  He’s not a hoarder, but he is a serious collector.  He keeps it tidy, and doesn’t break the bank.  That’s all I care about.  Honestly, I think I’m more about the acquisition of stuff, and lose interest in a lot of it after the fact.  That’s sounds horrible, but I believe it’s true. 

So, pause and think for a minute.  Where do you place in the rankings?  Are you the keeper of the stuff, or a sensible purger from time to time?  Do you think you can do it?

– Cat

The Lost Art of Customer Service

When I was considering my blog topic for tonight, I thought that I should write about something more personal.  The thing is… I take customer service very personally.  These days, you can buy or sell anything on-line.  They are converting to order taking robots at McDonald’s.  I saw a vending machine with iPads and iPhones in it.  Is customer service dead?  Are we programmed not to care about our buying experience anymore?

I spoke with my prescription drug company recently.  I had a credit card on file with them.   They could charge whatever medication they sent out, rather than sending invoices to pay.  So, my credit card was compromised, and had to be replaced.  When I saw that I had a balance with them, I called their customer service to straighten it out.  Of course, I get the automated menu.  I’ve learned what to say when they ask you to state why you are calling.  I just say “customer service” repeatedly, and it gets you to a human faster.  Bottom line… you have to trick a machine in order to speak with someone.

I told the representative about my card.  I let them know that I was calling to pay my balance and add the new card for future payments.  He says “Okay, I’m going to try to add that card.  Usually, it doesn’t let you change cards if you have a balance.”  I asked him “Well, how will I pay my balance if you won’t take my new card information?”  That stumped him for a minute, and he put me on hold so he could speak with his supervisor.  Then he came back on the line, and the two of them had decided that they would work it out for me.  Wow!  I’m pleased to report that all is well now, but what a cluster!

I had a beautiful online experience recently with a company called Brighton.  I purchased a lanyard from them that I really loved.

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So, when it arrived, ahead of the expected time, it was in a box, with a heart shape cut into it… beautifully done.  I opened the box, and it was wrapped in two shades of tissue, and tied up with a gorgeous bow.  When I opened the ribbon, there was a card enclosed.  It had my first name on it, thanking me for my purchase and sending me good wishes.  It was hand signed by someone.  Classy!  I would buy from them again in a heartbeat.  Why? Because I felt appreciated as a customer.

This is the thing that’s hard for machines to do.  They really can’t express gratitude for your business.  They can’t help…  they can just refer you to another source, usually a website.  If I wanted to talk to your website, I would have logged in.  There’s a reason I called you instead.

In this world, your business can stand out by delivering a great experience.  If people didn’t notice in the past, they do now.  It almost takes you by surprise when someone is pleasant in their work these days.  I look for those places to do business with.  It’s proven that people will travel farther, and pay more, for the experience.

What are we thinking?

-Cat

All I Want for Christmas

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Emotions run strong for a lot of people during the holidays.  A lot of anxiety centers around getting people just the right gift.  Along with that goes the pressure to spend a lot of money.  This will supposedly prove how much the recipient means to gift giver.  Sometimes, this expectation is there, whether you can afford it or not.

I’ve scaled back quite a bit from my younger days.  What I’ve found out is that shopping early with a plan and a budget makes the holidays less stressful.  What I’ve also learned is that it’s the same Christmas.  It doesn’t matter if you spend $50 or $500 per person.  The enjoyment of the holiday is the same.  Except that you don’t have the January hangover after the December spending binge.

I cringe when I see young people at work fretting over buying a $2000 bag, for someone who they’ve been dating a couple of months.  It’s sad when we have to buy someone a gaming system, and a ton of games to prove our love.  A big screen TV always screams I LOVE YOU!

I think what bothers me the most are the car commercials.  Just about all the auto manufacturers that run these this time of year.  I know you’ve seen the Lexus with the red bow on it.   This is so disheartening.  It’s a small percentage of the population that can afford to buy a brand new luxury car for a Christmas gift.  Sure, some people can do it, but should they?  Why do car companies have the nerve to put this kind of pressure on people?  It’s sad, in my opinion.

Where does the Christmas spirit figure in here?  What does this holiday even mean anymore?  I’m sticking to my strategy.  I’m thinking about the person I’m buying for.  I’m considering their interests and their passions, and buying each person on my list a heartfelt gift or two.  I’m not breaking the bank, or going into debt to do it.  I shouldn’t have fall into financial trouble for anyone to know that I love them.

I hope you find something fun to do together, see some cool Christmas lights, and have a nice meal with loved ones.  I have a friend that hands out purses filled with personal items to homeless women on Christmas morning.  That’s her tradition.  I’m not that awesome, but it warms my heart to know she does it.

The holidays are hard for folks that have lost someone.  Don’t feel awkward about giving them a hug and some encouragement.  It’s a rough time of year for lots of people.  You don’t have to buy them a luxury car, just shine a little of your light on them, so it’s not so dark in their life.

– Cat

Does Black Friday Make Sense?

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Today is the day.  People are out shopping for bargains to celebrate the holiday season kickoff.  These days, corporations lean one way or the other when it comes to being open at the crack of dawn on the day after Thanksgiving, and even on Thanksgiving Day.

We are a capitalistic society, driven by consumerism.  We do live in a material world.  We have pushed the holiday gift giving frenzy to the limits. How many other catch phrases can I use to rationalize what is going on these days?  What happened to our supposed holiday of love and peace?

As I said, some corporations are bold and unashamed.  They will be open all day on turkey day, sometimes through the night, and super early the next day.  Other corporations state that their policy is to stay closed and maintain reasonable hours.  They do this out of respect for their employees.  Both stances have an impact on marketing and public relations for a company.  Both strategies also affect employees, both directly and indirectly.

Supply and demand, along with diminishing returns on brick and mortar businesses, both factor in.  Retailers are desperate to cash in during the fourth quarter.  It’s the Super Bowl of retail.

Shoppers seem to set up camp on one side or another as well.   Some people, myself included, will not shop on Black Friday or the day before.  Others have built this as a new part of the family tradition.  These shoppers are on a mission.  For me, the last thing I want to do after eating a huge feast with my family is go tromping around stores, fighting for my place, and the bargains that I deserve.  I’m just not interested, to be truthful.

Shoppers love a deal, it’s true.  I think that the funniest places to shop are Kohl’s, or Bath and Body Works.  The last time I came out of Kohl’s I paid $58 for my purchases.  My receipt says I saved $103 that day, with my coupons, my Kohl’s Cash, sale prices.  That says to me that the original prices are way too high.  Bath and Body Works.  Oh my goodness.  Buy 3, get 3 free.  20% off your entire purchase.  Free item with the purchase of something else.  On sale, today only!  And, when you’re done trying to do the math to maximize your savings, you get more coupons.  It’s a part-time job.

A few years ago, JC Penney decided they were going to stop all the coupons, special sales, and incentives.  They went to everyday low prices instead.  It was a marketing disaster that they’re still trying to recover from.  The point is, we are shopping monsters that demand 24 hour access to our sport.  Yes, it’s a sport.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  Sometimes you get trampled to death by someone trying to get to a big screen TV at Walmart before you do.  But when you get that trophy…. YES!

I have to ask this ludicrous questions about holiday shopping.  What would Jesus do?

– Cat