As Black Friday marks the start of a hectic month of holiday shopping, we asked our readers to tell us how they've challenged consumerism.
Responses ranged from revolutionary changes, like stopping buying new clothes, to more subtle changes, like making sandwiches instead of buying a plastic-wrapped meal. Yet everyone agreed that turning away from a culture that constantly demands more from consumers brings economic and environmental benefits, not to mention a sense of smug satisfaction that money simply can't buy.
Furnish your home for free
Earlier this year, I bought an old house with my partner. It had no furniture and needed a lot of repairs, like a new kitchen and a new bathroom. For many it would have been tempting to go to Ikea and furnish the house in one day. But not for us: we didn't like the idea of filling our new home with things that would end up in the landfill in a few years. Besides, why buy something new when the world is saturated with extravagant second-hand furniture?
We decided to challenge consumerism by getting everything for free on Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace. People's generosity has surprised us time and time again: our neighbors gave us a practically new TV cabinet and a solid wood kitchen that we didn't want. We disarmed it and adapted it for our kitchen; we were complete beginners, but we managed to do all the building and plastering work ourselves and it feels good knowing we saved so many items that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill.
I think everyone should ask themselves if they really need that new item, or if it's an opportunity to be creative and give a beautiful item a second chance. Furnishing our home this way is a win for our self-respect, our wallet, and the planet. Nicola Parisi, 36, Manchester
Spoil your new baby with secondhand gifts
We had a baby girl in June and have managed not to buy anything new: most of her clothes are at least secondhand. We're determined not to end up with a house full of hideous, used-once-and-forgotten plastics, so we sourced all of their toys, almost always for free, on Facebook Marketplace.
We also recently bought him a Whirli toy subscription. The toys are great and once you are done using them we take them back and replace them with something different.
People can be very generous, especially with baby things, and it feels so nice to be able to do the same. We have already given away their clothes from 0 to 3 months and we are looking forward to donating their clothes from 3 to 6 months soon.
Many people have a hard time paying for all the things their child needs. You can give away almost anything - someone, somewhere will want it. Sam Hopes, 33, Lancaster
Give unwanted teams a loving home
I'm an animator and I use high-end computers and graphics cards for my work. I had to upgrade everything during lockdown, and I wasn't comfortable throwing perfectly serviceable components into a trash can. My mother is 83 years old and only needs the icon that opens the internet to be able to access her email and Zoom (which she has become very fond of in the last two years). He's happy with the free equipment, and when the components finally make it to the recycling depot they will have been around for up to 15 years.
Giving away my old computers has taught me a lot about how wrapped up in perception consumerism is. People are sold a ghost when it comes to technology. Companies do a great job of making people crave the latest shiny metallic casing when most of the time the components inside are pretty generic and probably not even made by the same brand you think you're buying. Andy, 48, London
Learn to sew
When I was young I was a big shopper, spending my student loan on student sales, but when the pandemic hit I thought it would be a great time to learn how to sew. I was lucky that my mother and grandmother have always sewn, so there was a spare machine lying around. But you can get one in mint condition on eBay. Fabrics and clothing to change/alter are inexpensive if you are thrifty. YouTube is your best friend: there is a video for every skill and every problem you have to solve.
Not only is this a great way to pass the time safely during lockdowns, but it has made shopping at charity shops so much easier, I know I can alter clothes to fit my size and style. I used to get really frustrated seeing things that I liked but didn't look good on me. Now I can do things like turn an old pair of pants into a tote bag or turn a large men's shirt into two new ones in my size.
I even fix things for my housemates and make gifts for the people they love and appreciate. It means more to people when they see that you took the time to make something specific for them, instead of buying it. Ellie Bromwich, 26, London
Follow the ‘90 day rule’
In 2014 I set myself a challenge. Could you go the whole year without buying anything new or second-hand? It was hard, but after 13 weeks, I broke my lifelong shopping addiction and really enjoyed being mindful of my purchases. Also, saving a staggering 38% of my salary was a nice bonus!
Of course, I couldn't stop shopping forever, but now before I hit "add to cart" on Amazon, I pause and add the item to my "90-day wish list." Sometimes it's agonizing to have to wait, but nine times out of 10 I end up thinking, "No, I don't want it after all."
In addition to helping me get out of debt, my period has made me happier. I used to spend my Saturdays walking around big malls; Now I dedicate myself to my passions, like walking my dog on the beach or doing crafts. These experiences are much more satisfying than looking around my apartment full of shiny belongings. I'm thriving, not just surviving. Rachel Smith, 40, Kent
Don't buy new clothes
I was feeling hopeless about climate change when I came across an article encouraging readers to get involved in the No New Clothes movement. I was already doing the basics: recycling, walking or using public transportation, being a vegetarian, wearing reusable menstruation underwear. I felt that I was running out of individual actions that I could perform. Addressing my consumerism seemed like the next logical step, and in June, I ditched fast fashion.
Now I think much more intentionally about clothes. Do I really need another new dress to go to a wedding? What's the point of buying something I'll only wear once when no one is paying attention anyway?
Before, I didn't go crazy about my spending, but probably a couple of times a year I would go into town to buy a new pair of jeans and end up coming home with 150 or 200 pounds (6 thousand pesos) worth of things I would only wear it a couple of times. The pandemic made it easier to kick the habit.
Committing to No New Clothes is very doable because most people already have a lot of great clothes. I know it has made me appreciate what I have so much more.
That being said, I don't think it's necessarily about not buying anything new again. It just makes you stop and think, "Is this something I'm going to wear once a week, or once in a while?" Chloe Maughan, 27, Bristol
Give Santa a break
A few years ago I decided not to give or receive Christmas or birthday gifts, just a card. We encourage our family members to spend on themselves the money that they would have spent on us. In this way, no one receives unwanted gifts; it is much nicer that they save their money for the right gifts.
Instead, I always make a charitable donation, usually to an organization that works in the developing world, like Chase Africa or Brooke Hospital for Animals. In my opinion, we have reached the “peak of things”, so it would be great if people could find other ways to give gifts: by making things, perhaps, or simply taking a family member out for a meal.
Sometimes people get mad at me, they think I'm being rude, but the way I see it is I'm trying to break the cycle of mindless consumerism. The stores are full of trinkets and it is sad to know that everything is going to end up in a dump. We can and must improve.
I would add that since there are no small children in the family, buying things for the adults is what feels like a waste. Christmas gifts from the office are even worse: nobody knows what to buy and they end up giving each other things that nobody wants. Viv Fouracre, 60, Taunton
Additional reporting by Alfie Packham.