Fresh off a record $9.8 billion Black Friday, an even stronger Cyber Monday, and the sixteenth year of Green Monday, we are about to culminate with the most paradoxical holiday season yet. Where consumer debt is approaching $18 trillion, home affordability is at a lifetime worst, and inflation (although improving) remains uncomfortably high. I’m left wondering, when we will have enough?
Less is more
For the past few years, I’ve personally been compelled to buy less, consume less, and waste less. More than a mindset, I’ve changed my actions. In the physical world, I’ve convinced myself everything is cheaper online. Once online, I let items sit in my shopping cart for days, usually just forgetting that I even wanted it. I have extensive Amazon Wish Lists, mostly books, that adding to feels just as satisfying as clicking purchase. Our household composts everything possible, including iPhone cases for friends. And I donate my outsized or out of date clothes to great organizations. I hope that I continue to become more enlightened as time moves forward, but today I am more aware of wants versus needs than ever before. And frankly, I have come to see that humans don’t really need as much as we take.
More is too much
As a marketer, I do admire commerce’s ability to invent new holidays like Black Friday, Prime Day, and all the other Hallmark holidays engineered exclusively to sell stuff. But as a marketer, I don’t envy the fairweather customers they’ve created. Relationships that start with a discount are weak, destined to last until the coupon expires. When brand loyalty relies on BOGO and free shipping, it’s a race to the bottom. The greatest trick Amazon ever played was convincing the world we needed same day shipping. Consuming faster only means you’ll consume more.
More so, I carry a lot of distain for the perversion and commercialization of real holidays with real meaning into festivals of discounts, deals, and bargains. Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Presidents’ Day, and Pearl Harbor Day mean something more than 10% off a new mattress. This overt consumerism has crept into even the most sacred dates, places, and moments. Fellow marketers, please read the room!
The Get-mas Monster
But this 6-week stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year is a fierce and insatiable beast unlike any other. Lurking behind glossy brightly colored ads of happy families. Dark and brooding money grabs are masked as holiday cheer. Implying that somehow you’ll be a better parent, partner, or friend if you spend enough on a rare trinket, manufactured en mass, and imported from a million miles away. The monster is disguised as Tickle Me Elmo, G.I. Joe, or whatever the hot toy of the season is these days. Teaching, preaching, and brainwashing kids to want for the sake of wanting. Hedonistically prioritizing what they got over what they gave. A lesson that can’t be untaught.
Try to look at this with a fresh set of eyes and our culture of consumption is as ridiculous as a science fiction movie. Glove drives for children are underfunded while we build a pile of discarded clothes so big it can be seen from space. Millions go to bed hungry every night, while food rots away in landfills. We consume so much, we’ve come to accept porch piracy as a regular occurrence. And in a twist ending seemingly ripped from an old movie, the latest gadget can be made for pennies but costs lives to recycle.
“Why do we give to those who have, when so many others don’t?”
More baffling than our consumption behavior is trying to understand how we got here. From solstice feasts needed to sustain us thru winter, to all you can eat buffets on a random Tuesday. Yule logs once needed to heat our homes, to a 3,000 calorie faux log made with High Fructose Corn Syrup. An elf who symbolizes the surveillance state disguised as a children’s toy. In a few years, maybe we’ll be telling our kids that Santa was one of the wise men who visited Baby Jesus.
Don’t give to get
Back in 1889, when asked for the true meaning of holiday, the American Magazine believed it is “to give up one’s very self — to think only of others — how to bring the greatest happiness to others”. More recently, a wise friend reminded me to “never look in my neighbors bowl to see if they have more than me. Look to see if they have enough.”
I take comfort knowing I’m not alone, so many others see it. While this problem isn’t isolated to our annual gift giving ritual days, our solutions might start there.
Rather than feed the Get-mas monster this holiday season, consider celebrating by getting one less thing. You don’t need it. Instead, find the people who do.