I have not engaged in gift giving for over 20 years. I consider it a ridiculous waste of money, time and resources. This year, for the first time ever, I am hearing others talking about how pointless and burdensome they find it as well. Obligatory gifting suddenly seems so passé, completely out of the step with the times.
So what’s going on?
While most market analysts are still making their guesstimates about holiday shopping based on consumer sentiment and workforce data, more nuanced shifts in how Americans feel about consumerism are not yet filtering into the data (at least not that I’m detecting).
The trends I am listing below are based strictly on my personal observations. I have not seen any in-depth studies on this subject.
I will also be the first to admit it might all amount to nothing. Many people love shopping and enjoy getting gifts for their friends and family.
On the other hand, the confluence of so many trends and movements has the potential to significantly change how Americans consume and especially how they view marketing-driven gift giving.
scroll down for 5 observations about the changing nature of consumerism
1. Climate change throws shade at consumerism
More people have a newfound awareness of how their shopping is impacting the environment. And they’re talking about it, including on social media.
What I hear most often is people planning to cut back on their online ordering to minimize shipping and the use of corrugated boxes.
I anticipate we might see serious pushback and hashtag shaming around Black Friday as well as formulaic gift-giving especially if it involves plastic and disposables. The same goes for gift wrap, cards, and other non-reusable holiday items.
I’m really going out on a limb with this, but I foresee the day when chopping down a live tree for Christmas decor will be viewed as distastefully as hunters dragging home a deer.
2. Meaningless, obligatory gifting
“Secret Santa” and other $20-or-less gifting feels SO wrong to so many people in today’s world. Basically we’re just being coerced into buying stuff that’ll end up in a landfill by the time New Year rolls around. Why people still think this is a fun, cool idea is beyond me.
But this type of meaningless obligatory gifting is what I hear people complaining about most often. It’s perceived to be a dated office ritual that has outlived its usefulness and should be eliminated along with stocking stuffers!
This year, people seem to be especially sensitive to how much of their shopping is for such tiresome, wasteful purposes.
On top of that, consider that 34% of Americans will be returning gifts they’ve received over the holidays. Why we bother with the charade of feigned joy at receiving another “whatever” gift is beyond me.
I’ve not been shy in telling people not to expect gifts from me. Likewise, I beg you NOT to bring me any gifts. We’re all adults and can buy whatever we need, when we need it.
3. The Marie Kondo effect
Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix has had a massive impact on how people view their “stuff.”
It’s influenced millions of Americans to declutter their homes and donate possessions that are no longer meaningful to them. Goodwill is grimacing at everything that’s being sent its way. My local Housing Works is no longer accepting donations!
In turn, having gone through that decluttering process, people are more thoughtful about adding anything non-essential to their now streamlined homes and lives.
It’s definitely making people think twice before they buy that cute tchotchke they would have previously snapped up.
And, btw, I’ll be the first to admit that Marie Kondo’s new line of organizing products that she’s shilling to her followers runs totally counter to her philosophy and her brand. Will see what comes of that.
4. Shift to Experiences vs things
I’ve written about this numerous times. While I don’t give gifts (which I consider clutter), I do love to treat people to dinners out.
I’ll also occasionally give consumable gifts, e.g., an excellent olive oil for somebody who loves to cook. I’m also fortunate to have a few friends who know of my passion for great red wines. Gifts from them are always a wonderful surprise.
5. 72 million boomers – we have everything we need
Boomers are downsizing so they definitely do not want to be given anything that will in all likelihood turn into a cast-off by the time the holiday decor comes down.
Again, the perfect gift is an experience or a consumable.
I’m curious to see what studies, if any, will be undertaken on this latest shift in consumerism, especially around gift-giving holidays.
I’m very much a capitalist and on the side of business but this insanity around buying things we don’t need, don’t care about and often cannot afford is not good for anyone.
On top of that, adding to our credit card debt for these senseless gifts is no way to spend our hard-earned cash.
But I also recognize that if this anti-gifting sentiment gains enough traction, it will negatively impact many businesses, big and small. The reason to take this seriously is that it is driven not by one trend but by many. For some it comes down to climate change for others it’s about living a more decluttered lifestyle for others it’s about downsizing. So do not dismiss this as a fad.
And with that, I’ll leave you with what my bumper sticker would say (if I had a car!): Buy Me No Gifts and I’ll Do The Same!