Christmas is on its way. A time for decking the halls and depleting our wallets. If you’re questioning the consumerist spin modern Christmases have, you are not alone.
Yes, that can sound jaw dropping killjoy. But it’s also worth taking time to step back from the hamster wheel that has become our modern Christmas splurge, and ask ourselves, is this making us happy?
The rise of consumerism
Put it this way, the average UK household spends around £719 celebrating Christmas. The UK at large racks up an eye watering £20bn spending spree.
Equate all this to stuff, from decorations to (dare I say it) unwanted gifts, and you can see the effect this has on our landfills. Then there’s the darker side of Christmas. The commentary around the fact that it’s geared up to the wealthier among us. The pressure it puts on bank accounts.
If we were to add here, that 41% of people report getting into debt at Christmas, and more people with mental health problems find it harder to cope at Christmas, would you be surprised?
The big question is, why do we do it to ourselves? It’s a habit, that’s been drilled into us over recent decades. And while it may bring some happiness, it also delivers stress and debt, while contributing to a consumerist economy that endangers our planet.
What does excessive consumerism do to our minds?
While Christmas can be a stressful time for some, there’s another part of this mental picture that’s worth a closer look.
Studies show us that materialistic tendencies are linked to, “decreased life satisfaction, happiness, vitality and social cooperation, and increases in depression, anxiety, racism and antisocial behaviour.”
You only need to take a look at the extreme scenes from sales events like Black Friday to get a sense of how consumerism can breed a kind of insanity.
It’s not a leap to see why people are increasingly turning to simpler lives, filled with less stuff. Rather than filling a void, if you like, they are prioritising the important things and the useful things. You may think this sounds rather like we’re venturing into the realms of giving up all material possessions. And understandably, this jump would not be a comfortable one for many.
So, is there another way, to be a part of our society without buying into this consumerist mindset hook, line and sinker?
We can take control back
If you haven’t heard of the minimalist movement, it’s certainly a theory worth diving into. A quick foray into two men, self-titled The Minimalists, will give you a sense of what it’s like to live comfortably and consciously.
Their saying, “love people, use things,” with a warning not to mix up the two, give us a yardstick to redefine our relationship with things.
Does conscious consumerism mean buying nothing? No! But it does put the onus on us to link our values of making a conscious choice and applying this to your shopping trips. It means buying things with intention and awareness.
Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus: The Minimalists
The alternative can be conscious consumption
The truth is, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. If you do some further reading and watching (there is a Netflix documentary on The Minimalists,) you’ll also come across initiatives like Project 333. The challenge here is to wear 33 items of clothing, for 3 months, and see what a difference it makes to your life.
Mini spoiler: the woman who started this initiative discovered that not one of her colleagues at her high-powered job noticed she was mixing up the same items on repeat for 3 months.
We don’t need the amount of stuff many of us horde. We don’t use it, and yes, it could be freeing to jettison it. Take this theory and apply it to Christmas and we already get a sense of how things could be different.
Why should we change these habits of a lifetime?
I know. The clutches of Christmas consumerism run deep in all of us! It’s the season of excess, and despite all the best intentions, when you’re browsing online or rushing down the aisles, the madness can take hold. Trust me, I can feel it on the side-lines already.
It is a case of changing a habit of a lifetime, especially with something as culturally ingrained as Christmas. With that in mind, it’s worth remembering the points on mental health.
Many studies reference the negative psychological effect of consumerism, which can exacerbate our lack of self-worth and low self-esteem. On the other hand, being socially conscious, whether that’s through activities like giving to charity or buying ethically, can make us feel better. It has the opposite effect to consumerism on our sense of self.
These arguments alone should prompt us towards conscious consumption. To make meditated purchases based on the merits of the item in question.
Conscious Christmas isn’t a Christmas boycott. To paraphrase what The Minimalists’ stress, don’t think of it as less, think of it as gaining something. Gaining control of your purchasing habits. Making choices that make us feel good about ourselves. And contributing to a better, less wasteful world.