It’s that time of year when people buy consumer goods to express their appreciation that other people exist. Yet, the world around us in suffering from consumerism-led climate change, what is a person to do? The simple solution is to not buy physical gifts, but that’s not always practical.
Tanja Hester has solutions for us in her book Wallet Activism that provides guidance on how to think about buying and shopping ethically. It’s an easy to understand guide for these complicated times.
I like that you consider price points on either end of the spectrum. A lot of people assume that shopping ethically is too expensive, but you’re pointing out that it needs to be affordable to be widely effective.
Of course, if you want to buy something expensive and high quality under the “buy less, keep it longer” philosophy, then that’s fine. But it’s not realistic to promote that as something everyone can do. And the best ways to make meaningful change involve actions that are accessible and have a low barrier to entry.
Also, most of the stuff that ends up being good for other people or good for the climate crisis is also good for your own finances. It’s not a choice of, “Do I buy this shirt or that shirt?” There’s also the choice of, “Could I buy a secondhand shirt, or could I buy no shirt and use what I have?” There’s nothing better for your personal finances than buying less or buying less new stuff.
If you care about people and want to demonstrate that care through the acquisition of material wealth: stop. This holiday season you should try something different by not buying material gifts for those you love and get them something else instead, like tickets to a play. The spirit of gift giving is nice and all, but with the ongoing climate crisis we need to adapt to the reality of consumerism. There are plenty of alternatives to physical objects, all you have to do is look.
Sarah Herr, a project assistant for Living Green Barrie, based north of Toronto, is well aware of this. She recently held a workshop called “Greening the Holidays,” which included tips on how to help your family transition to greener gifting. Here are some of her suggestions:
Let them know you want to be more mindful about gift giving. You can do so by writing a post on social media or writing a Christmas letter or email to your loved ones, including how you are changing your holiday traditions to involve less waste.
Tell them why you are doing things differently. Let them know your concerns about environmental pollution, climate change and waste.
Provide alternatives. Your family will be much more likely to get on board if you let them know about new ways to give.
Finding the perfect physical gift for someone can be hard so don’t do it. Instead you can gift someone an experience through UnWrapIt. A friend of mine (clearly I’m biased) created the company to make it easier to gift experiences to one another. The goal is to reduce the amount of shipping of goods while providing more meaningful gifts. It’s a very neat service which also works with traditional gift giving.
â€œWe had someone from Sioux Lookout build a scavenger hunt for a family member in Newfoundland. It had him going around St. Johnâ€™s to eventually reveal what the gift was: dinner at his favourite restaurant,â€ says UnWrapIt founder Peter Deitz.
â€œA lot of people reported anxiety about picking out the right kind of gift,â€ he says. Other stressful factors included the actual wrapping of the gift and, if ordered by mail, worrying if the gift would arrive on time â€” a pressing concern this year given Canada Post’s cancellation of its holiday delivery guarantees.
The flexibility of experience gifts can minimize that stress. By gifting dinner at a restaurant of the recipientâ€™s choice, instead of a meal at a specific location, â€œThey wonâ€™t worry about whether they picked out the right restaurant,â€ Deitz says.
Many people who celebrate Christmas (or similar holidays of gift-giving) tend to focus on giving mass quantities or expensive gifts without regard. Man vs. Debt is a blog that focuses on getting rid of material things (and not getting new material goods) and they have a good post up on what you can do this Christmas to give something great to people and not committing acts of blind consumerism.
The plan on what to do is on you.
Courtney and I have decided to severely limit the gifts we buy this year. We wonâ€™t be buying for each other (instead we are making huge life changes â€“ trust me â€“ we are spending enough on those â€œgiftsâ€).
Weâ€™ve bought a few small traditional â€œgiftsâ€ for younger family members, but decided that we would make small donations on behalf of any adults in our life. Weâ€™ll be browsing to attempt to find charities and non-profits that reflect the values of each family member and rather than buy them golf balls or a candle, weâ€™ll make a small donation.
We are lucky that none of our family really cares about the â€œstuffâ€. The donations will be a valued gesture and by customizing each one, we show that we took time to think about and appreciate the personality of each family member.