An Alternative to Holiday Consumerism – Buy Nothing!

by , 12/17/08

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We love the holiday season and definitely love scouring the web for fabulous eco-friendly gifts, but sometimes we get overwhelmed. With the economy in its lousy state and the fact that we’re trying to be good environmental stewards, we aren’t buying quite as much anymore. There are days when we wish we could forgo the whole gift-buying frenzy and just have a lovely holiday with our family and friends. And who really has time to buy so many gifts and then wrap them? For those of you out there feeling stressed out from having to buy too many presents, maybe it’s time to cut back completely and buy nothing.

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Here at Inhabitat, we like to suggest useful and thoughtful gifts that have a lower environmental impact than other options out there. Along with our gift ideas, we also want to encourage you, as the consumer, to be mindful this holiday season. If we cut back, we’ll have more time to go ice skating, skiing, for a walk, or play games with our kids, and as an added benefit reduce our environmental impact. Most of us have gotten to a point in our lives where we don’t really “need” anything anyways, but we’ve become so used to the ritual of shopping at Christmas that we feel we have to. Well, don’t feel obligated. Liberate yourself and Buy Nothing.

We highly recommend checking out Buy Nothing Christmas, which has a wealth of information, reader suggestions, and alternatives for having a merrier holiday without all the consumerism. The organization was originally started by Canadian Mennonites, but is of course open to anyone. We adore their Buy Nothing Catalogue, which has a number of gifts for you to not buy, but to give freely on to others. Our favorites – Irrational Play and Public Art Installations.

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Buy Nothing Christmas also has a long list of alternative gifts to inspire you like calendars, art, baked goods, or items you don’t use anymore. They also provide free resources like downloadable coupon booklets, scripts and scores for Christmas musicals, Kits for Youth Groups to rebel against the consumerism of Christmas, and some great posters. The creativity of this organization is overflowing with free ideas full of holiday cheer and a lot of fun.

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Facebook has a Buy Nothing group that you can become of fan of, and Adbusters has a Buy Nothing Campaign which is 81,000+ members strong. The Adbusters campaign encourages people to support Buy Nothing Day, otherwise known as Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Sadly enough 3 people died in the melee this year. Is it really worth getting up at 5 am to go shopping for sales?

Buying Nothing doesn’t mean boycotting the holidays or not enjoying all the good things they include, like good food and drink, or singing holiday carols with your family. The Buy Nothing campaigns merely suggest cutting back on consumerism, having mindful holiday celebrations, and not succumbing to the frenzy that causes so much stress and grief. Giving is still a great way to show your love for family and friends, but it doesn’t have to be bought in a store. Make something, bake cookies, knit a scarf, give away your favorite books, take people to dinner, volunteer. And if these guidelines and resources don’t answer your questions, maybe you should ask yourself, “What would Jesus Buy?”

+ Buy Nothing Christmas

Photos via, Facebook Buy Nothing, and Adbusters

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  1. cheryllion November 24, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    I can see both sides of the argument — I definitely enjoy the idea of presents on Christmas, so we always make sure that there are plenty under the tree — but they are thoughtful things that we NEED and would buy anyway — we start collecting things in the summer, we spend within our means and we don’t make it a holiday of Glut. But I run a small mom&pop stationery business, and if my customers stopped buying, or just traded stationery for some other random items, I would go bankrupt.

  2. Koifish December 29, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    If the only way to save the economy is to buy more crap we don’t need, we are in deep, deep trouble. This year, my family throttled way back on the gifts — and the holidays have never been more enjoyable. Spending time with family and friends is important. Buying them “stuff” is not. This is a no-brainer.

  3. strange weather December 21, 2008 at 8:22 am

    I think a barter economy is a great idea. Systems for trading locally and outside of the monetary system are up and about and working. It’d be novel to see an uptake of membership in bartering communities.
    Unfortunately, most people are interested only in conforming to the status quo, and so will think and act like Kensington. Lighten up on the vitriol, this holiday season has been burned enough as it is!

  4. kensington December 20, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    I think you’re the one with the seriously flawed economic philosophy. How do you pay the artisans? The barter system? Do you trade them goats and hay? No, you pay with American dollars. Guess what, they are going to use those American dollars to buy their groceries, pay their taxes, buy toys for their kids. It’s a cycle I don’t think you quite grasp. You have your job, your computer, your house, your car, all thanks to American consumerism. Unless you live in a cave that has naturally occurring internet somehow, in which case, bravo.

    That money that you have to give to artisans doesn’t come from them. Indirectly or directly, it comes from the very process you are suggesting we ignore for the holiday season at a time when it’s MORE important than most years. Or do what you want, give it to artisans, who will then turn around and use it in that gosh darn awful American economy. I got your point loud and clear, the problem was, you don’t understand enough of the system to support it. That and you jumped to too many conclusions about my post and you’re too scared to admit it. You don’t want to admit that I didn’t say “rack up debt” or “shop at major corporations”. You don’t know enough about economics to understand that we need to spend money to help get out of the recession. So tomorrow morning, wake up, do your normal daily routine, purchase what you need to purchase, and don’t STOP purchasing for some selfish aura-inspiring nonsensical need to feel superior because you don’t like to put on Dockers and go to the mall.

  5. grr December 20, 2008 at 2:45 am

    You missed my point. We have a seriously flawed economic philosophy. That is all.

  6. kensington December 19, 2008 at 10:30 am


    Use all the buzzwords you like, but at no point in my comment did I talk about any flawed businesses, largescale trade, imperialism, or the decadence and idiocy of the early 20th centry. I know it gets you in a new-age granola-crunching fit to talk about how the man is keeping you down and how corporations are killing the world, however I’d like you to point out where I said “Rack up a bunch of debt spending money on Christmas this year, so the credit card companies can smoke cigars and laugh at how much money they are stealing from you.” Spend within your means like a normal intelligent grown up, but don’t stop spending on Christmas. Why do you think Valentines Day exists? Why do you buy stuff on Valentines Day? Spending helps the economy. Is the United States mostly in the service industry now? Of course. But you HAVE TO HAVE the 20% (or whatever is left) that manufactures. You can’t have a country that doesn’t manufacture something. Try to get some oxygen to your brain and realize that not all major corporations are out to hurt you, and that I never said you had to shop at The Gap or go buy a car or go on a Saks Fifth Avenue shopping spree. Just don’t stop spending.

  7. grr December 19, 2008 at 2:33 am

    Perhaps you need to check up on economics. The men responsible for shaping the current American economic philosophy developed laissez-faire, and neoclassical economics which strangely enough take in no consideration for the limitations of natural resources or the effects of overconsumption. Sadly we were duped into believing these men, and now we walk the road toward a fully interconnected global economy (which is actually at the heart of the worldwide financial crisis). Just think, a little over a century ago imported products were reserved for only the most affluent, the majority of the population consumed food grown within the country and purchased items made by americans (or at least people who lived and spent their earnings in america). The development of largescale world trade has indeed spurned on economic development, but that has come at the cost of dismantling our own countries ability to support itself without utilizing the resources of poorer countries: that is called imperialism and its why we had the american revolution.
    If you ask me, your clearly beloved consumerism is at the heart of our problems. Credit providers need people to default on loans to make profit, and that requires consumers to keep buying more and more products utilizing more resources and spurning further waste. If you want to point a finger do not point it at us. Point it at the flawed businesses that abuse our government with lobbying and bribery for their own profit (see subprime mortgages, phil graham aka the devil, and debt swaps). It is painfully clear that the people who profit from these practices need consumers to survive, so why not rain on their parade and stop shopping at malls and factory outlets and start looking for products made by artisans not children. Your right about purchases paying salaries for workers, but you appear to be more interested in keeping the employers afloat than the employees.

  8. predicament December 18, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    Only clicked on the comments to see if anyone had posted what Kensington posted, and if not to post it myself.

    Hypothetically, if this idea were to be adopted by any considerable amount of people, the economy would tank even further after the holiday shopping season figures came out.

    This is the most crucial Christmas season ever in at least 25 years and like Kensington said, we need people to buy.

    Virtually every industry in America is affected by the retail industry.

    Worst Inhabitat post I’ve ever seen.

  9. jeanX December 18, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    I been doing that, anyway, for past 30 years.

  10. kensington December 18, 2008 at 10:08 am

    You gotta be kidding me with this. We NEED people to buy stuff for Christmas, not the opposite. We’re in a huge economic crisis and revenues are down for everyone, and you want revenues to fall EVEN MORE?! You want retail stores to lay off MORE people because they don’t need the help? You can’t be serious! I’m all for helping the environment and spending time with your family, but bloody hell, not at the cost of American businesses and jobs. If you are going to be this careless with your economics, please take Econ 101 and think straight for a few minutes.

  11. grr December 18, 2008 at 1:06 am

    Sounds like AdBusters’ Buy Nothing Day. Hop on over to and get some knowledge.

  12. CynthiaVasconcellos December 17, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    Hello there!
    I love this post and I am totally into this idea.
    I made 2 posts about Xmas gifts on my blog Random Issues:
    1- It’s a notepad made with old receipts – as a suggestion for recycled gift (I’m not sure if someone will follow me at all… ha ha ha…)
    2- My Xmas gift for friends which is an individual indication of a website based in their particular interests. To “pack” that link, I make a pps file with a short “about”, a picture and kisses.
    At this moment I have to stay indoors because of a muscle injure, which affects a lot to walk, so when is not aching that much, I stay on internet researching special links for special friends with all my love.
    : )

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