We’re a couple of days away from Black Friday, the biggest shopping frenzy of the year. Before you go stand in line in front of a big-box store in the middle of the night, stop a second to consider this:
Most of us already have enough stuff and then some more.
The flood of cheap imported goods in the last few decades turned our societies into cultures of consumerism and excessive materialism. We fill birthday goodie bags with cheap plastic trinkets that are tossed within hours. Many buy clothes and get rid of them after an average of three wears. We produce high-tech appliances that don’t last. We go shopping out of boredom or as a pastime; buy things just because they’re cheap; get rid of perfectly good items only to make room for the next trendy thing. Many (most!) of us have houses full of stuff we never use. We have turned into unaware hoarders.
And then we buy books or hire professionals to help us get rid of it all…
Our consumption habits have a HUGE impact on the planet we live in. Our short-term greed is destroying the prospects of our long-term survival.
And yet, giving is a huge part of the holiday season, and a long-established way to show people we care. So what should a conscientious consumer do?
I say, give responsibly.
Here are a few suggestions:
Give Experiences, Not Things
Experiences build memories that last forever. They enrich lives. Most importantly, they forge connections between people. There are endless possibilities that you can tailor to any budget. Some are entirely free. Others can cost a fortune. There’s a full range in-between.
Here are some ideas: Go hiking with your friends. Give tired parents a coupon for babysitting (and then babysit when they ask you). Take a loved one to the movies. Organize a family camping trip. Buy tickets to an exhibition, a museum, a concert, a play, an opera, a ballet, a Renaissance Fair or any other event. Last year my kids really wanted to see Hamilton. The entire extended family chipped in, and they got tickets as holiday gifts AND birthdays combined. They still talk about it… Take your family on a road trip, a cruise or an overseas trip.
Or, if you want to honor someone AND help those who really need it most, make a donation to a favorite charity in someone’s name.
Give Something that is Designed to Get Consumed or Used Up
This is a combination of traditional gifts and experiences. It involves giving a physical item, but one that will be consumed or used up, and which will therefore not add to the clutter in a recipient’s home. This category of gifts involves foods, drinks, and things like body care or living plants.
We all need to eat, and most of us enjoy it. There is something very basic and satisfying about eating together and sharing food. Like experiences, this is something that can be tailored to any budget.
Cook or bake something special for the people you care about. It’ll be great if you get to eat it together, but even just giving it will feel good. You can also buy some special foods, something that people don’t eat every day: a special bottle of wine; artisan-made chocolates; a local specialty from a place you visited. Or, you can take people out to a restaurant. You can choose how fancy you want it to be.
Things that get used up, like soaps, lotions, bath bombs and such, also provide a fun experience. They last for a while, giving ongoing pleasure, but don’t add to long-term stuff accumulation.
Living plants are a lasting gift. They don’t get used up, but they bring a piece of nature into homes, beautify gardens, and give back to the earth (not to mention help clean the air). When I was a pre-teen, a friend gave me a potted plant. Many decades later, it is still very much alive, in my parents’ home.
Make Your Own Gifts
When you make something yourself, you put a little part of your soul into it. Give it to the right people, and they will know to appreciate and cherish it. When I went to visit my family last year, for example, I got to bring a suitcase-full of my work with me. Giving my own art to the people I love was the best feeling in the world!
I know, not everyone likes to make things, and that’s OK. Many of us want to but don’t have the time. Especially not around the holidays, a busy season for us all. Even I don’t have time to make handmade holiday gifts. I make and give at other times of the year.
If you do chose to make your own gifts, be careful about WHO you give them to. Too many people don’t appreciate handmade, or the time and efforts you put into making your gift. Give such a precious thing only to someone you KNOW will appreciate it.
Buy Locally, From a Real Person
If you do want to buy physical gift items, consider buying from a real, local person.
It’s true that big-box Chinese imports are much cheaper. But they’re also made by people who aren’t paid well and who work in sub-optimal conditions. They’re made in factories that employ children and mistreat workers. They contribute to environmental pollution: to the poisoning of waterways and air. Shipping them thousands of miles is also costly in environmental terms. We should care about this even if this happens far away. We all share the same earth. Dirty air and water will eventually harm us, too. Micro plastics are already found in almost everyone’s guts. We ALL feel the effects of climate change.
You will pay more if you buy from a real person in your community. BUT you will also make a difference in the life of a neighbor. You will be contributing to your local economy, something that will eventually benefit you in return. And you will probably get a better-quality item, something that will last longer and, in the long run, save you money.
You could buy a cheap mass-produced “reusable” shopping bag, for example. Just don’t be surprised if it fails you at the worst possible moment.
Or, you could spend more on a beautiful handcrafted bag that will last for years 🙂
- Find a local artisan who uses upcycled materials and achieve a double goal.
- Buy items directly from their makers.
- Or, support a local mom-and-pop shop that sells manufactured goods. It’s in your interest to keep small shops open.
If you can’t find a local person who creates the things you want, make informed decisions about who else to buy from. Do some research about companies you consider. Learn which factories they produce their goods in, and how they treat their workers. Try to buy from ethical companies that treat workers well and care for the environment. Buy fair trade, recycled, socially-responsible.
Most importantly, don’t get caught up in the frenzy of shopping, and don’t let the burden of gift-giving stress you out. Holidays are all about spending time with the people you care about, after all. They’re about taking time off from the hurdles of life and about relaxing. Make sure you do all of that this holiday season.