Holiday Shopping. We Can Do Better.

holiday-shopping

Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.” —Dr. Seuss

Over the next few days, Americans will spend nearly $60 billion in retail sales on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. The average shopper will spend $423 this weekend.

But this weekend only signifies the beginning of the holiday season. All told, the average consumer intends to spend $768 on gifts this holiday season—and this figure does not include other seasonal spending: food, decorations, and other holiday items. When factored in, Americans plan to spend an average of $1,014 this holiday season.

Unfortunately, the entire holiday shopping craze is based on unhealthy foundations. It finds its roots in a society conditioned to act on impulse and solve problems with purchases. It is spurred on by corporations appealing to the aspects of us that are selfish and self-centered. And the short-sighted philosophy fueling the excess is the belief we can find happiness in our purchases. But the premise is wrong.

We recognize it each December as the cycle of holiday spending begins again. We recognize it next month as the conversation inevitably turns to diets, home organization, and debt relief. Even more, if we look close enough, we can notice the foolishness of our thinking next week as our trash bins overflow with the pre-packaged waste of the holiday season.

Happiness simply can not be purchased at a store.

In fact, we can do far better than holiday shopping:

We can be content with our possessions.

We can realize our contentment in life is never found in our outward circumstances. Contentment (and happiness) is found in the decision to recognize the opportunity already exists and choosing to accept it. Deciding to be content with our current level of possessions is one of the most freeing decisions any of us can ever make. And it opens the doorway to countless possibilities.

We can value experiences over possessions.

Removing ourselves from the holiday shopping frenzy does not mean we give up all opportunity to express love through gifts. In fact, there are a number of wonderful gift ideas that could be explored. One of the sweetest is the simple idea to gift experiences rather than products this holiday season. You and the receiver may be pleasantly surprised at its value in a world where mass consumption is commonplace.

We can choose to value relationships over purchases.

Gift-giving is an interesting arrangement. We sacrifice our time and money in an effort to put something manufactured into a box for the purpose of showing love to someone else. According to statistics, we will spend over 15 hours in the next 30 days shopping for these gifts. What if we decided to spend that time with our loved ones rather than at a store shopping for them? Consider how sweet our holiday season could become if we chose to invest those 15 hours in real relationship with one another. In today’s world, 60 minutes of fully-devoted listening ears is priceless and far more valuable than anything you can buy anyway.

We can choose to act responsibly.

Rather than adding consumer debt and extra stress to our lives, we can choose to act responsibly this holiday season with our finances. We can intentionally stand up against the cultural pressure to spend money and instead, act mindfully with it. Rather than adding debt this holiday season, perhaps we could choose to pay it down instead. Imagine that.

We can invest our money into social good.

There are desperate needs all around us: internationally, nationally, and locally. While many of us search department store shelves to find the perfect gift for “someone who has everything,” 768 million people do not have access to clean drinking water, and 2.5 billion people live without proper sanitation. But the needs are not always across the water, many are local. Rather than buying scented gift boxes, our money could be used to make this world better and life more tolerable for countless others. It would be wise for us to start recognizing this opportunity.

We can choose to pursue more lasting meaning.

Each new day offers new opportunity to accomplish something new with our lives. We can create rather than consume, we can explore new learning opportunities, or we can bring about lasting change and significance. December does not need to be a month lost to overcommitted schedules and crowded lines at the cash register. We can do better than that. Just like any other month, we can use this one to further pursue meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in our lives. And based on the ads I’ve been seeing this year, those things are still not for sale.

We can remember our world’s resources are limited.

Moses Henry Cass once said, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” And it rings true in my mind as one of the most significant and thoughtful phrases concerning our responsibility with the natural resources available to us. This holiday season, we ought to keep in mind our world’s resources are indeed limited. And choose to shop (or not shop) responsibly.

We can be a better example for our kids.

Many parents will fret over the possibility that their children will be disappointed on Christmas morning if they don’t receive enough (or just the right) toys. This is too bad because our concern is misplaced. We can teach our children valuable lessons this holiday season. We can teach them about spending within their means. We can teach them about caring for those less fortunate. We can teach them about love and sacrifice and contentment—and how none of those are dependent upon a bank account. This is a valuable season for parents. Let’s not waste it by focusing more on holiday shopping than parenting.

We can remember the reason for our celebration.

For many—including our family—the holiday season has rich roots in religion and spirituality. For others, the season represents family, friends, or giving. But regardless, at its heart, it is a season of celebration. Yet many of us have traded the beautiful reason for the season for the tireless pursuit of the perfect Christmas as exemplified on television and in catalogs. We have tried to buy the perfect Christmas. And as a result, many of us will spend more time looking for parking places than we do creating space to celebrate the very meaning of it.

Now, don’t read me wrong. I’m not proposing we need to avoid all holiday shopping over the coming weeks. I’m only arguing we can do better—much better.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. Annie says

    Well said. My family has evolved to where we carefully consider what we include in our Christmas Wish Lists so that the items are things we truly want and will use and enjoy for a long, long time to come. We also include experiential gifts and gifts of donation to causes we wish to support. While we do enjoy the gift exchange, we look forward more to the time spent together and the traditions we have established over the years.

    We are also careful to budget for the holiday so that we do not go into debt because of it. We set aside a reasonable amount to spend and stick to that, even if it means doing without some things. It’s taken some time to establish this way of celebrating, but it has been well worth it.

  2. Lindsey says

    This is exactly what my heart has told me all of these years. I’m glad my family is awesome enough to agree with it! Thank you for putting this perspective in writing!

  3. Mindy says

    We started the tradition years ago, when we only had one child, to do the 4 gifts rule: something you Want, Need, to Wear and Read. We use this guide for birthdays and christmas. This allows me to be able to shop anytime, and not pay any mind to ads or the hype of it all, because I can get those things throughout the year. I knew that we had limited funds (and that we probably always would) and I wanted to teach my children that we would be living within those means, so we had to be sensible even with gift giving.
    Since all us siblings were grown and having families we also had to have that tough discussion with the extended family, that we just couldn’t continue to give gifts to everyone. Luckily everyone understood, and now the get-together IS the gift.
    This year, our family’s big gift is a day trip to “the big city”. I hope that we will make some good memories for them to remember.

  4. Tiffany says

    Love this post. We’ve asked our family to donate to charity instead of give us gifts. We also really limited what we bought for our own little one. I am hitting the stores for the Black Friday sales, though. Going to take advantage of the sales to get gifts for the foster child we are sponsoring for Christmas. I figure that’s the best kind of shopping I can do today!

    • joshua becker says

      Thank you for sponsoring a foster child this Christmas. I don’t know if you clicked through the link above (many are local), but it led to a story discussing the foster care crisis we are facing in this country. Thanks for being part of the solution.

  5. Teresa says

    For the first time EVER, Christmas will be different at our house. One toy for each of the GKids and a years membership to Discovery Center. I always give our kids a wallet with gift cards inside that they seem to like and a bunch of other stuff. This year they will be getting much less. I am tired of gifts that break the budget and cause stress.

  6. says

    Wonderful post Joshua. I completely agree and have been shifting my life in this direction for many years. To a world where experience and quality of life are more important than possessions. Thanks, Brad

  7. says

    For the last few years I have been giving the gift of memories. Instead if spending $$$$ on presents we have saved it and spent it on vacation with extended family. My kids get to see their cousins and grandparents. They have a memory they will cherish for a life time what better gift could I give them then a relationship with their grandma and grandpa???

  8. Kristen Turner says

    I will be making a gift for everyone this year, and if people don’t like that well that’s fine with me. Less hard work I have to to do next year, :) Between my sisters and I, we have NINE children…that’s a lot of gifts to BUY.. no no no… I will not. Each child will be getting a little keepsake, or a “spend the day with Auntie” voucher… for a “craft mania day” Crayon making, “learn to sew” etc… the “littles” (or those who live in different states) will get a keepsake made just for them. I’m saying no this year.. and every year after this. We have ENOUGH STUFF.. :)

  9. says

    When I think back on when our kids were little, I shake my head at how I was able to decry commercialism while buying straight into it. No, I didn’t buy the “in” toys of the season. But I did go deeply into debt to make sure that my kids had the complex Lego sets and elaborate American Doll collections they wanted. I justified so many unnecessary purchases as “educational tools.”

    We’ve been debt-free for over 8 years, now. Our kids are college-aged and our family income is 1/2 what it once was. Their “gifts” are plane tickets home for the holidays where we watch old movies together and laugh so hard, we end up on the floor during family game night. Nothing being sold on Black Friday specials can top that!

    • joshua becker says

      Cheri, I really appreciate you sharing this story with us—both the highs and the lows. I do hope other readers find it and are challenged because of it.

  10. Kristi says

    I have been really struggling w Christmas this year. I have four kids (only one knows the truth ab Santa) who want everything yet lose, break or leave out everything. I hate “stuff” w a passion and don’t want to continue teaching the kids that they just get stuff no matter what. I’ve considered letting the cat out of the bag but my youngest is 4 and I don’t want to spoil the magic. Balancing the magic w trying to teach them responsibility and appreciation still eludes me.

    • joshua becker says

      “Santa” doesn’t have to get them everything. We get our two kids three things: something they want, something they need, and a gift card to their favorite restaurant they can use whenever they want to take the family out for dinner.

  11. says

    The hours we’ve spent interacting are definitely better than any physical gift you could give me, Joshua. After a fantastic Thanksgiving day and a night where my two-month-old son slept for nine consecutive hours, my cup runneth over once again with gratitude.

    I’m marching forward into December just like I do any other month: with intention and focus.

  12. Sunny says

    A good reminder that we are missing the point of the holiday season. This year my children and I are finding ways to give back to our community and staying away from the mall. I am thankful I live in Austin where we can buy wonderful gifts from local artisits and small shops.
    Everyone have a wonderful holiday season

  13. says

    Excellent post. This year, more than in years past, I have been incredibly irritated with the advertising, going so far as to say “forget that Thanksgiving turkey and come to our sale”. What a sad, sad state this country is in that for ONE day people can’t forget about consumerism and just enjoy what they already have. I recently found your site and am enjoying your outlook. Keep up the great work!

  14. says

    Thanks for this!!! I read it right at the time I was sitting down to work on my Christmas shopping list… this year my husband and I, who have been minimalist for a few years now, decided that we were addressing our last issue… which is gift giving… we still spent to much on that… so we came up with a budget first… allowing ONLY for the money we already have aside for it… and we have to stick to it… no using of credit card… only cash (if that can help, our budget is roughly 800$ for my husband and I to spend on our parents, my brother and his family and our 3 kids! – it may still be a lot but we’re spending about half of previous years!)!!! And if ever I feel ‘cheap’ last minute, I’ll bake something and wrap it up to go with the gift!!!
    thanks again!
    perfect timing for such a post!!!
    love&peace,
    nath
    xox

  15. Julie says

    We started celebrating Solstice a few years ago. We make handmade gifts that are personalized for each person. It has become a family obsession, now. The gifts are surprises and they can be as “simple” as a photo paired with a quote from a novel (tailored to the recipient) to as elaborate as handmade tea cozies for tea pots (our family loves tea). We’ve made Harry Potter-style brooms from cinnamon brooms, Haiku, a family game, origami, an original rap about each family member put to music and performed, decorated crowns, CD mixes, and photo calendars.

    The Christmas gifts are far less interesting and as a consequence, are less fawned over. The handmade gift giving tradition is a challenge to continue (everyone feels it as a kind of pressure). But the results are so worth it and the production of the gifts so satisfying, it has become the highlight of the year.

    I love your list here. Thank you for reminding us that experiences outweigh material goods.

  16. says

    These are some great points. People talk a lot about how stressful the holidays are, but I feel like this stress is mostly self-imposed. We can choose to do less, buy less and borrow less.

  17. Amy says

    I love this! This is exactly what my organization is talking about! I love your posts and your perspective. I am by no means a minimalist but it is my goal and I am taking baby steps! After giving my engagement ring in order to provide clean drinking water to the thirsty in India I finally began to understand that possessions and the spending I did on them could actually equal human life, etc. I now work for the organization that brought me to that understanding :). Here is our site in case you are interested in learning more about us – WithThisRing.org. Thanks again for your post! I love it!

  18. Julia says

    I’ve only recently discovered your site and I’m loving your work. Thank you for such a lovely reminder of what this season is all about. This year I only have half a dozen gifts to buy all of which will be purchased from local authors, sculptors, potters and woodturners. Fortunately our extended family has cut back on the ‘junk’ buying which makes it so much easier. We get given the name of one extended family member to buy for with a maximum price of $50 which I enjoy as it makes you think a lot harder about that person and what they would really appreciate especially if it’s someone you don’t spend much time with. If I could I would do away with the gift giving altogether and have a family picnic on the beach (summer here in New Zealand) but I know it wouldn’t go down well with older family members.
    Hope you have a blessed holiday season.

  19. Jeanne says

    Thank you for giving voice to something that touches me deeply. I long for my nephews to know that they are perfect as they are not a reflection of the toys they get for Christmas.

  20. Robin says

    I just reading this blog, although I have been de-cluttering for what seems like years. I am wondering is there is a website, boards, forum, etc. where people discuss ideas about simplifying? I think there is a balance in being frugal, i.e. storing away things for future use, or to give to our children to use when they have their own homes, and being clutter-free and not having so much to clean, etc.

    I have found that balance in some ways, although in other ways, I am still probably keeping too much.

    I don’t have my husband on board yet (at least not 100%) but I really want to make 2014 the year that we try to not purchase anything new that is not necessary, or consumed (as in food)!

    Really appreciate your blog and encouragement.

  21. Shelli says

    Perhaps we could pursue the perfect birthdays for each of our loved one’s (instead).

    “The Reason for the Season” could then (perhaps) be celebrated with a Healthy foundation — “Joy to the World…”

  22. says

    Two years ago, we decided to make a conscious effort to shift the focus of our celebration from gifts and fancy meals, to just having a great time together. Now we get silly stocking stuffers, have a white elephant auction (often with stuff from our homes!), have a marshmallow fight, and just enjoy the party.

    It’s a lot lower stress, and we all really look forward to our celebration.

  23. Emma says

    I’ve been online constantly for the last 3 days looking at the “deals”. Staying up late, getting up early. Constantly checking my email/deal blogs. I even bought gifts for next year already!! I’ve made so much progress this year moving toward a more simple life….and now I feel like such a failure. Black Friday wins. How do I stop??

    • Anna D. says

      @Emma,
      I don’t think it ever “stops.” My family and I have been living a minimalist/voluntary simplistic life for the past 4 years and there are peaks and there are valleys. Some times I look around my house and think, “how did all this excess crap come in?” and have to remind myself that it took me decades to get to where I am. The fact that you see how “Black Friday” purchases have affected you means you are NOT a failure, just human;) Fight the good fight…

      • Christina says

        I can totally relate to this response…as I was shopping, and scouting websites, and putting myself further into debt and completely stressing myself out I remember thinking the whole time this does NOT feel right….but I just knew that once they got everything they wanted it would be worth it. Well on one hand they do love their stuff and for that I am glad, but was it worth it? No. The holidays never even felt like the holiday because all I did was stress and plan…not enjoy. I just discovered this blog today and I wish I had seen it before the holidays instead. It makes me feel sick to know I just blew this holiday on shopping and stress. But I will keep reading and learning and hope that by this time next year I can have learned how to ENJOY life. Not worry about buying things that I think could make someone happy, but really will just make them smile and then they will move on. Id rather have the memories with my family. And not be in debt in the process!!.

  24. everlearning says

    My deep gratitude for posting such an important message!! The comments have also been fabulous!
    For decades we have budgeted for Christmas, vacations, etc. by putting away a certain amount of money each month because we can’t afford Christmas in December, we can’t afford vacation (inexpensive as ours is) in July, we can’t afford one special anniversary dinner at a nice restaurant during our anniversary month. These are small amounts of money put away each month of the year and then we spend only what we have for that event. It works beautifully. In addition, for many Christmases we have made gift certificates for our children, rolled them up and tied them with ribbon. They are for things like a walk and talk around the lake, going out for a sundae and talking about whatever, playing together a card game or a board game, reading time together, watching a special movie together, etc. These certificates are one-on-one with each child and parent. They are are most precious gifts to our children and they have long loved to receive them.
    My husband and I have long grown tired of the craziness and loss of reason to the season, including the actual day (Thanksgiving or Christmas) when it’s all crazy and wild and filled with too many useless gifts. This last Thanksgiving at a relative’s home was nuts except for the fact that we were with family. We have decided that we need to have more meaningful experiences and break away from what we see as self-centered celebrations; going crazy with food and partying and overdoing EVERYTHING as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist. We love our extended families, but know that spending our time this way is not where we are called. We will be graciously excusing ourselves from the upcoming Christmas craziness and are currently searching for (what will be for us) a meaningful way to spend the day. Please don’t misunderstand: I/we have nothing against fun and laughter. We actually do a lot of it. But the holiday season increasingly brings us less joy and meaningful understanding and living out the reason for what we should be celebrating.

  25. Rose Cole says

    After years of hosting Christmas open house and going full tilt like Griswold in Christmas Vacation I decided in 2006 that I had had enough and we stopped full stop .We stopped buying gifts for people who already have too much as it is,stopped the heavy entertaining, and stopped decorating the house to look like a Christmas Village! Instead we give to carefully selected charities, attend various events in the community such as Christmas cantatas and plays, and put up just a few meaningful decorations to commemorate the season and we are much happier for it.

  26. says

    Reading your article this morning, I can’t help but agree. It’s so easy to slip into having too much focus on the materialistic aspect of the holidays–and become so flustered that we start overlooking opportunites to spend time with friends and loved ones.

    I’ve just started working with United Way Worldwide, and was excited to find that, in some instances, purchases of holiday gifts actually generate donations to organizations like United Way Worldwide–which is a participant in the Giving Tuesday movement and supporter of a disaster releif fund for the victims of the Philippines typhoon. Here are some examples:

    http://www.multivu.com/mnr/61434-united-way-worldwide-alternative-holiday-season-gift-ideas-give-back.

  27. says

    Thank you for your post–at moments it really was painful to read–it requires a lot of growing to be so mindful during this season. Each year our family tries to be and do a little better. Our children get three gifts at Christmas (some of these are used and some are new)–just as Christ received three from the wise men. This causes occasional parental doubt when the world says they should have more and I give them only three small gifts. But we continue with our ways and I think as my kids grow they are beginning to recognize how blessed they are to have even simple gifts.

    Bill McKibben’s book “Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas” is an excellent read (I read it every November to prepare myself…I may need to read it in October though with the way our economy is driving back Christmas).

    Merry Christmas–may the true blessings of the season be yours:)

    7 Ways to Avoid Christmas Clutter
    http://awellstockedlife.wordpress.com/2013/11/24/7-ways-to-avoid-christmas-clutter/

  28. Mary says

    I enjoyed your post, and also the comments.
    People might not realize, when they shower children with gifts at Christmastime, that they may actually be creating a lot of stress for the children. Some children are very sensitive to this.
    I would like to tell how I used to react to extravagant amounts of gifts at Christmastime. I am not young anymore, but the memories are still vivid.
    My parents were hard-working people but money concerns dogged their steps. For four or five years, starting when I was about 10 years old, all year long, if I expressed an interest in some thing, or a desire for anything that was not a necessity, I was told “you don’t need that,” or “we cannot afford that.” Then, at Christmas, stacked under the tree and everywhere in the room would be box after box and as I opened each one, there would be something that I had been told we could not afford or that I did not need. This made me feel sad.

  29. says

    Very well said. I cannot bear the frenzy, especially the stores opening on Thanksgiving.

    One additional suggestion to add. Each year, we adopt a family that is currently living at our local domestic violence shelter. These women and children often escape their abuser with only the clothes on their backs, so they truly do have a need. It feels good to provide the basics for mom and kids, and something fun for the little ones.

  30. says

    What a great post! The Christmas season is such an amazing opportunity to reflect on things that truly matter and to cherish relationships with the ones that matter most to us. When it comes to gift giving, I love making things for my family and friends. The personal touch of, “hey, I made this specifically for YOU” is such a neat thing. There are so many ideas for handmade gifts, and I rounded up a few of my favorite ones in a recent blog post if you’re interested in checking it out! Thanks again for such a great post :)

    http://www.mayricherfullerbe.com/2013/12/lovely-links-handmade-gifts-edition.html

  31. Tressa says

    Love these ideas and wanted to share a few more…
    My aunt would always buy our family a year of National Geographic… as kids ee loved looking at the pictures and then we used them for school assignments and reading about different cultures…
    My grandparents have 80 something grand and great grandkids… they give us an ornament on Christmas, usually found at local craft fairs or specialty shops. .. a great idea because after 33 Christmas’s I have a wonderful collection to start my own family tree and all the memories as well!

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