I keep hearing ads to encourage people to go crazy shopping on the upcoming black Friday. As such, Friday is the annual "Buy Nothing Day", which is the alternative to spending all that's left in your wallet. It suggests that, instead of buying, you refrain from shopping. Some see this anti-consumerism as a threat to our American way of life, but let's stop for a moment and consider our holiday spending and its financial, emotional and environmental impacts.
It's really easy to get caught up in the shopping fever, especially when you perceive that you are getting a deal. But, are you really? Does buying something for others make you feel better about yourself? I know that I really enjoy giving gifts, but if you are buying gifts for people because you feel obligated to do so, or if you are buying gifts for people without knowing what they want, what does that really mean? At that point you are just checking things off of your Christmas stress list?
On one hand, feeling obligated to purchase products for somebody doesn't necessarily leave one feeling the holiday spirit. There are no warm fuzzies as a result. There is stress in worrying whether or not the recipient will like what you got for them, and there is concern whether or not the reciprocal gift will match in either quality or cost. I know I also get stressed when someone spends a lot on something for me that I really just don't like and won't use.
I think one of the main reasons people get so stressed about the holidays is because of the obligations of gift giving, particularly if you are already financially strained. The shame or disappointment that is associated with not being able to buy for loved ones what they really want to get them tends to make people overspend. No wonder people are depressed during the holidays.
So, what's a person to do? I know it goes against tradition for many, but what about talking with friends and loved ones about some alternatives? Finding out what they actually want is a good first step. Buying unwanted items equals buying unused products and the carbon footprint of all that excess that is going to waste is not negligible. Second, discuss other options for gift giving.
Buying experiences instead of stuff will not only result in a more memorable gift, but will also potentially have a much smaller environmental impact. Suggesting that time spent together is far more valuable than the latest gift and gizmo is another option. I know this isn't exactly realistic for some of you when familial obligations to spend time together aren't exactly pleasant, but I suspect the feeling is mutual on both sides and perhaps others don't exactly like the whole gift expectation thing either.
I also know that fighting against cultural norms isn't exactly pleasant and can be a nerve wracking experience, but once it's done, it doesn't need to be revisited every year. The end goal is to rethink how we spend (and what we spend on) the holidays, reduce the amount of stress involved and perhaps reduce our carbon footprint in the end by buying a lot less gifts.
How do you feel about gift giving during the holidays? Do you feel obligated to get and/or match other's gifts? Or, do you enjoy buying gifts for people?