Challenging Consumer Culture During the Holiday SeasonThe holidays are truly a time of waste, to the point where it can be almost dizzying. Not only all the wrapping, disposable dishes at parties and packaging, but even the gifts themselves contribute to our culture of waste. We’re all familiar with the absolute glut of gifts that can pile up when you have a family or attend a larger holiday get-together. Or, we have seen what happens to that pile of toys and other “stuff” that children receive at birthdays and Christmas. So what, exactly, happens to all that stuff afterward? Is it being used and appreciated, or is it sitting on a counter out of obligation to keep it, and then donated a year later? And where did it come from in the first place? Did it contribute to the demand for cheap, consumable goods? But don’t despair. The great news is that we can do something about all of this, and in taking action, we will likely notice more meaning and satisfaction in our holiday season as a side effect.
On GivingKeep in mind that giving someone an object they don’t want or won’t use, even if it’s “zero waste,” will have the opposite effect of what you’re hoping for. Even a stainless steel straw, bulk bath bombs or a beautiful travel mug will fail to benefit anyone if it was produced from raw materials only to sit unused on a shelf. So your first step in reducing gift-giving waste is to only give items that you know will be used, be durable and be loved.
Making a ListIf you ask your loved ones for gift ideas, you can start by encouraging them to ask for certain lower waste gifts. These include: Experiences: think memberships (museums, amusement parks); lessons and classes; tickets to events like plays or concerts; and gift certificates for movies and other activities Fewer but higher quality items: offer to buy one thing that is more expensive and can be used indefinitely rather than a number of things that may not see as much use Vintage or antique: for anyone who enjoys vintage or antique goods, offering to buy them something unique with a bit of history can be a great way to avoid the consumer stream. And if someone on your list is already on a zero waste path or simply has limited space and has expressed a desire for less “stuff” — honour that request! This is the easiest scenario.
Shopping TipsWhen shopping, look for gifts that are durable, high quality and have a long life span — things that won’t just break or be relegated to a corner. Even if someone on your list has asked for more, lower quality items, there’s a pretty good chance that they will like a higher quality version of one or two things they’ve asked for. And where to shop? Well, small, local retailers tend to be more mindful about where they’re sourcing their products. Meaning, they aren’t using their gigantic bargaining clout to drive down prices and therefore wages and standards in less advantaged locales. By shopping local, you keep your dollars in the local economy, too! Speaking of local, consider hitting up local craft or artisan fairs for the perfect, unique gift for those hard-to-shop-for people on your list. Again, don’t get them something they don’t need or want. But if they need a new coffee mug, for instance, maybe buying one from a local ceramic artist would be a better option than going to a big box store. Goods and items at markets are also likely to be unpackaged, saving even further on waste. Lastly, you can even consider used goods. Many used items are like new, and some haven’t been used at all! Young kids won’t know the difference if they receive a gently used item instead of something brand new (think books, for instance).
…Or, Go Handcrafted & From the HeartHandmade gifts are always a lovely option and really show that you’ve put though into your gift. The options here vary wildly depending on your own interests, talents and skills, and who the gift is for! You might also consider packaging up a memory and sharing that as your gift — crafting a collection of photos into a scrapbook or custom photo book or having a drawing or photo plaque mounted for display, for instance. Or perhaps a cross stitch of that funny thing Grandpa always used to say! If you would love to know how to make simple, universally loved gifts like massage melts, lip balms and salt scrubs but you don’t know where to start, we have a class for that at The Apothecary in Inglewood! Find out more here.
On ReceivingMost of the notes above on gift giving can be reversed and applied when discussing what you want or need with any loved ones who ask. To start, you can try to make it clear that you really don’t need or want more “stuff” — but try to do so in a way that is sensitive to that person’s feelings. Above all, try to be mindful of budget and accessibility. Asking your grandma who lives in a small town for a big ticket item that’s only available online or at one niche store in the city is setting everyone up for disappointment. What does that person have access to? Wool socks that you can buy anywhere and you’ll use for years? Used books? Could you ask someone to make you something they specialize in (a painting, cross stitch, scarf, jam)? They’ll likely be thankful for the opportunity and the price break! You might consider asking for “experience” gifts as mentioned above, or for things that will help you cut down on waste in the future. Or maybe you’re the one who’s into vintage or antique goods! A fancy brooch from the flea market, perhaps?
Remembering What Matters MostOne final note on the holidays and our culture of consumerism… The one thing that will bring more joy and fulfillment than any gift ever could is to focus on traditions, and time spent together with the people you care about most. Doing so helps to shift our focus and in turn begin to change the culture built up around this time of year, which goes a long way toward our perception of gifts. Here’s wishing you a joyful and meaningful holiday season!
Lindsay Ross is a writer by trade, writing in the behalf of The Apothecary in Inglewood and All Things Jill.Annie Spratt