Rethinking Christmas Shopping and Consumerism

It’s that time of year again. The malls are bursting at the seams and many people shop as if the apocalypse is upon us. White elephant gifts find their way to the Christmas tree, just to end up at the back of a drawer by the end of December. People spend their hard-earned cash on things like festive season crockery, which they will use only once a year, when other people on the planet don’t even have plates to eat from.

A few years ago I was at a workshop where Claire Janisch from Biomimicry South Africa showed us a video of Dr Seuss’ The Lorax to drive home the point that events don’t happen in isolation and always affect the other parts of a system. I think this video is particularly important to watch at this time of year. If you don’t have time to watch the video, The Lorax is the story of the greedy Once-ler who destroys the environment by cutting down all the Truffula trees so that he can sell his products called ‘Thneeds.’ The Lorax is the actor who campaigns for the well-being of the environment and its inhabitants.

As consumers we often don’t think about the raw materials, labour, electricity and transport costs which go into the production and delivery of the ‘stuff’ that we so mindlessly throw into our trolleys, real or online. Obviously we need certain products to stay alive, but when you go Christmas shopping this holiday, take 2 minutes to see your potential purchase in a holistic way – where it came from and where it will likely end up. After these 2 minutes reevaluate if it’s really necessary to buy the thing that you are holding in your hand.

An anti-consumerism magazine called Adbusters has been championing ‘Buy Nothing Day’ for the past couple of years. It takes place on the day after Thanksgiving, to protest the overconsumption that takes place on Black Friday.

“The first Buy Nothing Day was organised in Canada in September 1992 ‘as a day for society to examine the issue of over-consumption.’ In 1997, it was moved to the Friday after American Thanksgiving, also called “Black Friday,” which is one of the ten busiest shopping days in the United States. In 2000, some advertisements by Adbusters promoting Buy Nothing Day were denied advertising time by almost all major television networks except for CNN. Soon, campaigns started appearing in the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, Japan, the Netherlands, France, Norway and Sweden. Participation now includes more than 65 nations.” (Wikipedia)

Here’s a short clip of an interview from a while back with the co-founder of Adbusters, Kalle Lasn.

Sadly, the reaction of this CNN anchor perfectly illustrates that a widely held systemic worldview still needs to take hold. Earth Overshoot Day shows us that we’re already taking much more than the planet can handle or regenerate from (we only have one earth, but we’re using the resources of 1.7 earths).

If I had to make an ad this festive season, my message would be: ”Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Just because you can buy a load of crap, doesn’t mean you should. Even if it’s not crap, I would urge us all to reconsider too. As Rachel Botsman writes in her book ‘What’s mine is yours’ – “The average power drill is used for only twenty minutes in its entire lifespan.” So, unless your husband/boyfriend/brother is a contractor, don’t buy him a power drill for Christmas. Rather borrow the neighbour’s. Surely, the whole street won’t be DIY-ing at the exact same time on the exact same day.

A particularly big challenge, is to change the mental models of (especially the poor-turned-middle class) citizens who feel that it is their right to enjoy all that materialism has to offer – this Christmas and in the future. Many of these individuals will want to relish in the fact that they can (for the first time in their lives) buy what they want, when they want and how much they want. How do we help the new generation of consumers to leapfrog the learning curve and spare them the time of figuring out that buying and owning loads of stuff will not make them happy?

I’m not saying that we should go back to wearing loincloths and stop buying toothpaste, but what I am trying to get across is that we should try and get more people to avoid overconsumption, mindless consumption and consumption to fill a void in their souls. When you do shop, make sure that you really need it and that it’s a product worth buying. That’s why I try to highlight products that work/are good quality here.

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