An anti-consumerist gift guide for our incredibly consumerist holiday season

Everything must go!
Everything must go!
Image: Reuters/Dino Vournas
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The holiday season is finally upon us: a time for family, gift-giving and most of all, gift-buying.

Ah yes, a joyous season for all, but especially for businesses, many of which do the bulk of their sales around the final, festive two months of the year. In the US, consumers plan to spend an average of $830 on holiday gifts this year (a significant increase from the past few years, according to Gallup). In years past, America’s holiday spending has consistently ranked among the highest in the world, second only to Luxembourg in 2012.

With all of that holiday spending, one would expect that American gift-receivers are also full of holiday glee.

Not necessarily. There are a plethora of surveys, often conducted (somewhat unfortunately) by trade companies, that show Americans are, invariably, displeased with their presents. According to one such study from 2014, some 75% of Americans “probably won’t like” their Christmas gifts. Instead of cherishing them forever, many Americans plan on ridding themselves of their gifts as quickly as possible through combination of donating to charities, reselling and re-gifting (a practice a separate American Express study found to be a quite acceptable cultural practice.)

Deep down, many people have come to realize that Christmas is an incredibly commercial endeavor. Few, however, realize the enormous toll the holiday season also takes on our planet.

But what if there is an alternative to the stress, expense and environmental destruction that comes from buying gifts likely to be disliked anyways? (Well, outside the obvious alternative of skipping the material gifts in order to spend more quality time with friends and family, of course.)

Whether you choose to spend more time with family (or not, no judgement), there’s no reason you have to remain a pawn in this year’s holiday buying games. Here’s a simple “anti-consumerist gift list” to help you start distancing yourself from the ghostly spirit of Christmas consumerism this year.

1. The gift that’s already been given

As mentioned earlier, many people give away their unwanted Christmas gifts to charity. Thrift and charity stores are bursting with new and like-new items, a legacy of the hyper consumerism of today. Why not rescue these items and direct them into the hands of a loved one, instead of their next stop: the dump. Buying secondhand items is inexpensive, prevents more raw resources from being transformed into stuff and reduces the volume of items entering the waste stream. If you choose wisely, it could end up being a win-win-win.

2. The gift of experiences

It’s not a bad idea to gift your loved ones with life experiences this holiday season. Instead of cluttering up their homes, what about a home cleaning, or perhaps a massage? Indeed, after the stress and frenzy of the holiday season, receiving a fun or beneficial experience can be far more rewarding than another tie or decorative vase.

3. The gift of charity

Admit it: You and your friends have pretty much anything you practically need right now—and probably much more. Giving to charity in a loved one’s name is the inverse of unnecessarily extracting our planet’s resources. Plus, if you truly believe that the holiday season is ultimately about generosity, what better present than the gift of giving?

4. The gift of your time

Do you have a special skill? Maybe you’re a master seamstress or a painter or an IT wizard—everyone has a few odd jobs around house they need completed. Your gift could even be as simple as offering to polish someone’s silverware. Time is the most invaluable—and most in-demand—resource there is. And the best part of course is it’s totally free.

5. The gift of cold, hard cash

This one is a little bit a surprise, and understandably so. Gifting money has a bit of a stigma attached to it, even though it is undeniably a present that all will like and use. But actually, if the money is filling a need, it’s not necessarily the worst idea. Plus, there’s dozens and dozens of creative ways to give cash—personalization is always appreciated and goes a long way.  Ultimately it’s much better than giving culturally acceptable gift cards, which, besides requiring resources to create, often remain unclaimed—according to The Wall Street Journal, billions of dollars in gift cards remain unused around the world.

Gift giving can be an exercise in selflessness, but far too often it’s become an annual chore. This type of giving doesn’t make anyone truly happy, but it does contribute to our endless cycle of consumption that is wreaking havoc on our planet. Not to mention the stress and economic strain it places on ourselves and our loved ones.

Maybe this year, put out cookies for a slightly revolutionary Santa—one that realizes that perhaps he should spend a little more time with his long-suffering wife and overworked elves. Talk about a true Christmas miracle.