When we think of Christmas it is difficult not to think of shiny presents underneath a glittering tree. The commercialisation of Christmas means that we are encouraged to spend, spend, spend. We equate showing our love and generosity with buying extravagant presents. Many people feel pressured to spend more than they can afford and exhaust themselves with endless Christmas sales.
The question is: Has the gift of giving gone too far?
While it is lovely to show friends and family how much we care, there is also a dark side to gifts. The frenzied increase in buying leads to unnecessary and excessive consumerism that negatively impacts people and the environment. It was reported that in Australia, an estimated $400 million was spent on 10 million unwanted gifts, many of which were discarded and likely ended up in landfill. The pressure to spend also encourages people to buy from unethical brands. Then there are single-use plastics in the form of packaging, wrapping paper and decorations.
So how can we enjoy the traditions of Christmas in a more mindful way?
Conscious consumerism means being more aware about how your consumption habits impact people’s livelihoods and the planet. This means supporting ethical and sustainable brands and being conscious about how and why you buy.
Here are five important steps to help you choose conscious presents for Christmas this year:
1. Be conscious when consuming
Christmas is a big time for retailers. The Australian Retailers Association has forecasted that we will spend a $54.3 billion this year. This is up from 2.8% on the $52.9 billion spent during the same time in 2019. And this is during a global pandemic and recession!
There is no use in buying something just because you feel that you should. A spontaneous gift can result in the person throwing that item in a cupboard or even in the bin because they have no use for it. To buy mindfully a person can ponder the following questions before making a purchase:
- Does the person I’m buying for need this item?
- How much use will they get from it?
- Would I buy this if it were not on sale?
- Is this item made well and will it last?
Another way to be conscious of consumption is to simply buy less. A good way of doing this is to implement a ‘Secret Santa’ or ‘Kris Kringle’ so that each person only buys for one other person. This naturally leads to more thoughtful and mindful spending.
2. Buy local and support small business
Another way to choose conscious presents for Christmas is to buy local and support small business. There are many social and environmental benefits from choosing local retailers. Firstly, products are not shipped from overseas, meaning there is a smaller carbon footprint. Secondly, local businesses produce more income and jobs within the economy. In fact, small businesses employ 44% of Australia’s workforce and contribute just over a third of the nation’s GDP.
Locally made items can cost more. They cost more because they are not being mass produced overseas in (often) exploitative conditions. By buying locally you can easily research working the business and ensure you support ethical businesses.
It is easy to identify locally made items with organisations like Australian Made. During COVID-19 the need to support local business and economy is more important than ever. Another way to find locally made products is to visit local markets, regional retailers, artisan sites like Etsy and to research companies online. Love Australian Handmade is a great database for small, local businesses.
3. Choose ethical businesses
There are multiple things to ponder when it comes to ethical business, but some of the key issues are:
- Is the item produced in a fair and ethical way?
- Where is the item made?
- Is this item environmentally sustainable?
- Does this retailer have excessive packaging?
- Does this brand have any ethical or sustainable certifications?
- Is this item safe and natural for the environment?
- Is this brand transparent about its supply chain?
- Does this brand do good or support causes?
There are some fantastic resources online for identifying ethical brands and retailers, like Shop Ethical, Ethical Gifts and Ethical Consumer. For clothing, sites like Well Made Clothes curate a selection of ethically sourced retailers. For jewellery, you can read our article on ethical and sustainable jewellery here.
4. Homemade gifts or experiences
Avoid excessive consumption this Christmas by opting for homemade gifts. There are so many amazing ideas for crafting a homemade gift that doesn’t require too much skill. Pinterest is your friend! Handcrafted gifts are a thoughtful way to show someone you care – from a DIY sugar scrub to a handwritten poem or some delicious baked treats. A homemade gift can be extravagant or a simple up-cycle. By making gifts by hand you add a personal touch and avoid needless or excessive spending.
Another fantastic idea for a conscious Christmas is to gift an experience rather than a traditional present. This could be booking a fun activity together, going on a day trip, buying tickets for a cultural event, teaching someone a new skill or even cooking someone a special meal. A gift does not need to be something you buy in a store. Be creative and consider what experience that person might enjoy.
5. Buy secondhand
Buying a secondhand present might be thought of as cheap but it’s a fantastic (and highly ethical) way to avoid excessive consumption and get further use from an existing item. By buying an item secondhand you can often find something cheaper than it would be new – meaning luxury or high quality item is suddenly attainable.
Take time considering what they might like first. Buying secondhand gifts does require some searching and some patience but if you get on to it early you can find some incredible pieces. You can buy books, antiques, board games, vintage accessories, kitchenware and toys are all secondhand. There are fantastic boutiques that even specialise in unique secondhand pieces. Other places to look include markets, garage sales, online marketplaces like Facebook, Ebay and Gumtree.
Choosing a conscious present for Christmas might require some extra time and thought but it is worth it. Excessive consumption results in serious harm to people and the planet and has dire long-term consequences. By taking a moment to be mindful you can enjoy Christmas in a new and considered way. There are many gifts that bring joy and do not cause harm. So, take a breath. Try not to get swept up in the pressure to buy for the sake of buying. After all, it’s the thought that counts.