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The Holiday Season Reminds Us About How Consumerist We Can Be

Holidays bring forth waste along with the jolly. This holiday season, it might be important to examine what we really want to give in a gift.

Credit: Eunice Kim

As we quickly approach some more pivotal holidays here in the U.S–like Christmas and New Year’s–the aura comes with another aspect to consider: do others truly need the material gifts we give them? In the same vein, is the idea of wanting something for the sake of adhering to the gift-giving season worth the compromise of potentially being more sustainable? There is something almost cynical about questioning the legitimacy of giving gifts, but there is also another bit to consider. The crucial thing to ask is if giving material gifts is effectively the only way of displaying our love and gratitude for those around us.

In “Gift Giving: Consumer Motivation and the Gift Purchase Process,” by Cathy Goodwin et al., they explore the extent to which gift givers are pushed by mainly voluntary or obligatory motives in regards to gift selection and more.

They saw that even though the idea of gift-giving sounds kind, it evidently isn’t purely driven by altruism. The authors refer to examples in social settings–like giving a wedding gift to a coworker to giving gifts to loved ones during the holiday season. The former example may be more obligation-based (and ideal to build a sense of unity with coworkers) while the other may hold voluntary motives. Even then, it can be a mix of the two, too. Those more likely to give by obligation perhaps might go with gifts with less effort.

These could be important aspects to consider this holiday season.

In regards to waste, according to Jake Halpern’s article “The Big Business of Scavenging in Postindustrial America,” for The New York Times, America accounts for 12 percent of the planet’s yearly waste despite making up just 4 percent of the world’s population. The waste includes a plethora of plastic but also millions of tons of clothes and footwear.

This is problematic when we consider that much of the items we purchase will not be needed upon further examination. Sales from Black Friday and other “limited deal” events draw us in. But once we have the item of interest, there is no guarantee it’s enough or it ever was.

Still, in the book “Empire of Things,” by Frank Trentmann, he explores our long history with consumption–it’s not a new idea to be infatuated with the material goods around us. It is not just evident of American capitalism. It has existed.

But this does not mean that the question has to be uprooted. We can still examine if we purchase with deliberation. During this holiday season, it’s something to consider.

Instead of considering that material gifts are the answer, we can dive deeply into gifts of experiences–from wine-tasting sessions to cooking classes. Due to COVID-19, there is less potential for physical get-togethers, but these experiences don’t need to be obsolete with the power of virtual platforms like Zoom or Skype.

Moreover, stores like H&M and Banana Republic are just some of the places that offer an opportunity to be a bit more eco-friendly–for instance, there are store benefits when one chooses to donate clothing. These can be gifts we offer to ourselves.

The season of giving holds power not through the physical goods but through our intentions and thoughts behind the gift. Rather than thinking about the item’s worth itself, we can ponder about what it really means for the other person.

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