zen habits : breathe

The No New Gifts Holiday Challenge

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Are you ready to participate in the mad shopping frenzy that we partake in every year, not only on Black Friday but all holiday season long?

Are you ready for an incredible burst of spending, for racking up credit card debt, for the stress of buying things for everyone on your list?

Are you ready to consume an insane amount of resources, to have a huge impact on the environment, to work long hours to pay for all that?

Yep, it’s the holiday season again, and with it comes the worst season for consumerism ever.

I say, let’s opt out.

My family and I are issuing a challenge to all my wonderful readers, to the world: The No New Gifts Holiday Challenge.

What is this crazy challenge? It’s simple — follow all these rules:

  1. Buy no new gifts during the holidays.

Wait, whaaat? Don’t fret, there are alternatives:

Are you in? Take the challenge! It’ll be fun, you’ll save a ton of money, and your family will get creative. Read on.

The Tradition of Traditions

Many people will scoff, and say they love giving gifts. It’s a tradition, after all!

Well, sure. But new traditions can be made if the old ones aren’t working out. And I’d argue the tradition of buying gifts is broken. Read: The Case Against Buying Gifts.

Do we really want to teach our children that giving is really all about buying? Do we want to teach them that to show love, you must buy something? Do we want to set an example of consumerism instead of creativity? Are we saying that the only way a family or friends can get together is if we spend a crapload of needless money?

No. Let’s be more creative. Let’s create new traditions.

What kind of traditions? What if families got together and played games? Built things? Went outdoors to hike, play games, swim, play in the snow, camp out? What if families taught each other how to make things?

What if families got together to help others? Volunteer at a soup kitchen, help others build houses, clean up a neighborhood? Show that giving can be amazing, but it doesn’t have to involve consumerism.

Get creative. Get healthy. Get constructive. Get compassionate.

But teh sales! All the money I’ll save!

I think you know this already, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that when you shop during a sale, you aren’t saving money. You are spending it.

The best way to save money is by not buying at all.

Sure, there are some necessities that we need, but holiday sales are not about necessities. They’re about convincing you that all these TVs, iPads, Kindle Fires, iPods, video game systems, clothes, power tools and more are necessities. You can’t escape buying all this stuff, because it’s Christmas dammit! So come down and save some money, and sign up for store credit while you’re at it.

When retailers offer you a major sale, this is a good time to run in the other direction. They’re trying to trick you into buying something you don’t need. When you see an advertisement for something, anything, it’s a good time to shut off whatever you’re watching, or go to another website. You don’t need it. Opt out of Black Friday, at the very least. (We’ll talk about next year later.)

But … my family won’t!

First, your whole family doesn’t have to do this. Just you. You’ll be an oddball, and some people won’t understand, but you’ll be leading by example. Send them a link to this post, and tell them Leo made you do it. Just because everyone else is doing massive consumerism, doesn’t mean you have to.

Second, don’t be fatalist. Your family might be willing to change, if you at least start the discussion. Again, send a link to this post. Ask them what they think. Challenge them to get creative.

This could save your family thousands of dollars, and be incredibly gratifying in the process. Instead of spending hours of shopping apart from each other, you could be spending hours together, doing things. Celebrate the holidays simply.

Talk about the benefits of changing, and the problems with the way things have been done.

These holidays weren’t always about massive shopping. What did people do before department stores and malls and online retailers? How did they ever survive? Let’s try to remember.

Dealing with Difficult People

Some friends or family members absolutely won’t join you. That’s OK. You don’t need to force this on anyone.

Remember that everyone will change at their own pace, and not everyone will embrace changes like this. They’ll feel threatened, or criticized. You need to try not to come off as critical of others, but more positive.

Tell them that they are not required to join you, but that you want to do this for your own sanity. You are trying to save money, but mostly you want to move away from consumerism. Ask only that they respect this.

Others might insist on getting you presents. Politely ask that they don’t, but if they do, don’t be ungrateful. It can be awkward — for years I’ve asked family not to buy me presents, only to have some of them buy me stuff anyway. I don’t buy them anything, so it’s weird. But these days I just smile, and say thank you, and appreciate the effort. It’s a long education process, trust me.

In the meantime, you can still suggest starting other traditions, like playing games or going outside or volunteering.

Be patient. Others don’t like to be forced into change, so just be the change you want to see in the world.



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