Wallet Activism is out today! You can read all about it here, order it here, and let me know on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook which parts speak to you the most. If you buy the book in any format this week and send your receipt to walletactivism [at] gmail dot com, you’ll also get the link to this Saturday’s launch party at 9 am PT/12 noon ET/5 PM GMT/18:00 CET where we can hang out and I’ll answer questions live. I hope you’ll also consider joining me for one of the many free events this week and in the next several weeks, including the in-person launch event tonight in San Francisco.
Now on to today’s post that’s very much about practicing wallet activism.
A few weeks ago, I went to World Market to buy some German marzipan, because it is not Christmas for a German person without marzipan. This was early November, but the store was packed, with carts all around me full of holiday decorations and gifts.
Clearly people have gotten the memo about supply chain shortages and the “need” to shop early this year.
And it’s true that if you are dead set on buying a very specific set of newly manufactured gifts to give this year, the only way you’ll likely get your hands on everything on your list is to shop early. But there’s another option that also happens to be far better from a wallet activism perspective: changing your gift-giving traditions.
There has never been a better time to change how you do the holidays, and to get others in your gift-giving circles to join you, because the supply chain issues give you lots of excuses.
If we’re serious about addressing the climate crisis and ending our reliance on exploited labor, those of us in wealthy countries must consume less, and create less demand for newly manufactured goods. Holiday giving is a perfect place to begin putting that commitment into action.
Change the Tradition
I wrote years ago about the no-spend Christmas we pulled off. Our holidays haven’t all been no-spend since then, but that year helped us right-size our gift giving to keep it more modest and entirely practical. And this year could provide the same to you. There’s never been a better time to rethink traditions, rethink quantities and costs of gifts, and rethink the types of gifts you exchange.
If you’re not already shopping from wish lists, this is the time to change that. Research shows that we appreciate gifts the most when we get something we’ll actually use. And the best way to get something you’ll actually use is to ask for that thing via a wish list. Wish lists mean the recipient gets something they want and will use, and wish lists take the pressure off the giver to find the perfect thing. Blame the supply chain if you need to: “With so many shortages, I want to be sure to prioritize the thing you want most, so please tell me what that is.” Easy.
This might also be a year you decide to create some more modest limits with the people among whom you exchange gifts. Maybe it’s doing a circular gift exchange instead of buying for everyone, or deciding that adults won’t exchange gifts and only kids will receive them, or setting price limits on the value of gifts. Anything you can do to rein in consumerism is good for your wallet and good for other people and the planet.
Change What You Ask For
One of the best ways to change norms within your gift-giving circles is to change what you ask for. Were people super stoked when I asked for glass spray bottles and cotton cleaning wipes several years ago? They were not. But now many of us in that group put boring, practical, waste-reducing requests on our wish lists all the time. Another excuse if you need it: “With the shortages, I haven’t been able to get my hands on this boring thing, and I’d be really excited to get it for the holidays.”
Another way to reduce consumerism without blunting the gift-giving spirit or making anyone else feel like a Scrooge: ask for a solidarity contribution (better known as a charitable contribution) to be made in your honor. Or ask for several! Maybe you can start a new tradition where everyone asks for contributions to be made on their behalf in addition to regular gifts or even in lieu of them.
One more big way you can change norms: specifically ask for secondhand gifts. We have a messed up taboo in our society against regifting, which is wasteful and ridiculous. As long as it’s not a certain peach candle, passing something on that you won’t use but someone else would be excited to have makes all the sense in the world. That taboo against regifting also extends to most secondhand items, unless those items qualify as “vintage,” which really just means expensive. Let those who buy for you know that you prefer secondhand and would like all of your gifts moving forward to be secondhand, and you might just get others to join in.
Change How You Shop
There are so many options for secondhand shopping these days that it’s basically just like any other online shopping. But buying secondhand isn’t the only way you can change how you shop to reduce spending while also reducing the drain on the planet’s limited resources and the exploitation of workers that goes hand in hand with newly manufactured goods. Here are some other ideas:
- Buy digital-only items – Gifts that don’t require anything to be physically produced or shipped have a much smaller climate impact than physical objects. And this can include so many things: ebooks, audiobooks, games, music, memberships, online event tickets, and the list goes on.
- Give gifts of service – Rather than buy a finished product, offer to do something for someone. Babysit, teach them how to make something crafty or in the kitchen, do some repairs for them, or offer anything else you can offer that they might need. For my recent birthday, Mark built me new raised garden beds, and it’s one of my favorite gifts of all time. (Yes, this did involve some purchasing, but it required far less shipping and other bad practices than ordering me a raised bed that came from who-knows-where instead of buying locally harvested FSC-certified lumber.)
- Give gifts of experience – Rather than buying physical objects, consider experiences you could provide. Tickets to the local museum or a performing arts event are wonderful, and you can scale this up to whatever experiences are appropriate to you and the recipient.
- Shop only from wish lists – Again, to be sure you’re getting something the person will actually use.
One of my favorite resources online is the SoKind registry, which lets you register and shop for non-traditional gifts like secondhand items and gifts of service and experience. But even if your gift-giving group insists you have an Amazon wish list, there’s nothing stopping you from filling it up with requests for secondhand items, gifts of experience, solidarity donations, links to wish lists on other sites, and all the rest. (Just enter those things as “ideas” instead of putting product links on your list.)
If anything in this post inspired you, but you’re not sure if your family or other gift-giving groups will go for it, remember: BLAME IT ON THE SUPPLY CHAIN. There’s never been a better excuse to change your ways, so don’t waste this opportunity.
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