The annual buying bonanza that is Black Friday is upon us.
We’ve been bombarded by advertising in the weeks running up to this, offering deals on everything from televisions and smartphones to toys and clothes. Last year on Black Friday, Americans spent $7.9 billion, a nearly 18 percent increase from 2016.
But if we step back and think about it, our consumption seems out of control and comes at an enormous environmental and human cost. All this stuff we buy comes from somewhere: resources are extracted, with people displaced and lives destroyed in the process; huge amounts of energy are expended, leaving a trail of pollution ― not to mention the human labor, often for little, and sometimes no, pay.
There’s no way to sustain this kind of consumption. Earth Overshoot Day ― the point in the year at which we have consumed more resources than the planet can regenerate in one year ― fell on Aug. 1 this year, the earliest date since the 1970s. If everyone in the world lived like Americans, according to ASAPscience, we would need 4.1 Earths to sustain consumption levels.
“Our consumerism ― defined as shopping for shopping’s sake, to feel better, be social or validate ourselves ― means we buy even if we don’t need something new,” Lu Yen Roloff, communications and engagement lead at Greenpeace International, told HuffPost. “We buy and throw away too much and replace things too quickly.” In other words, we are caught in the spokes of a system that drives destruction.
But there is a movement that is starting to reject the call of advertisers and brands to buy ever more stuff. Most of it starts local and it prioritizes sharing, upcycling, making things, and giving time and even money.
Here are four things you could do this Black Friday, other than buying stuff.
Make Or Mend Something
Why not learn how to make something new or how to fix the stuff you already own?
Greenpeace puts on an annual campaign called MAKE SMTHNG, which runs from Black Friday until Dec. 2 in cities across 28 countries. It’s a global festival encouraging people to create not consume by helping them repair, upcycle, share and reuse. It includes events covering everything from mending clothes and building toys to making your own cleaning products and growing your own food.
The idea, said Roloff, is to offer “a fun and creative way out of our wasteful and useless consumerism [and] get together with friends and your community.”
Or you could find a local Repair Café, which will help you with the tools and skills you need to fix anything from clothes and furniture to electronics. The idea started in Amsterdam in 2009 but has spread, and now there are more than 1,500 Repair Cafés worldwide. You simply bring in your broken items and specialists help you repair them for free. The aim is simple: reduce waste by keeping resources in use, rather than in landfills. If there’s not one near you, you can always start one.
Donate To Charity
If you have some cash to spare, however small an amount, it can really help nonprofit organizations. “Think about what types of causes are important to you,” said Eileen Heisman, CEO and president of the National Philanthropic Trust. “Then, take 10 minutes to research charities that match with your personal mission.”
Heisman advised that you can make more impact with larger gifts to fewer charities. “It is always better to give one charity $100 rather than five charities $20,” she noted. And if this isn’t a year you are able to make a financial donation, she said, “commit now to donating your time by volunteering. Also, you can check out your favorite charity’s wish list for critical items you can pick up on your next shopping trip.”
Volunteer Your Time
About a quarter of Americans volunteer for some kind of formal organization. Of course, it can be very hard to find the time to do this in between working, caring for friends and family, and sleeping ― but for those who can, it may be extremely rewarding.
Many organizations will be overwhelmed with offers around Thanksgiving and tend to prefer a more long-term commitment than one day, but you could use this time to research which volunteer opportunities might suit you.
“The need and opportunity to support people is year-round,” said Tanisha Smith of Volunteers of America. VOA works with more than 60,000 volunteers a year and is seeking people for everything from helping host birthday parties for children living in shelters and mentors for foster kids to helping at community food bank centers.
“Whether episodic or long term, volunteering offers enriching and often transformative experiences that stay with you well after the activity and reap personal rewards and inspire you for years to come,” Smith said.
Connect With Nature
While consumerism doesn’t seem to make us happy, some studies suggest that connecting with nature can.
“In the last five to 10 years there’s been a huge amount of empirical research that points to the very direct health benefits [of connecting to nature] ― everything from lowering your blood pressure to feeling more connected with people,” said David Case of conservation communications firm DJ Case and Associates, who co-authored one such study.
Instead of spending Black Friday struggling against a wave of other shoppers or hunched over a laptop, you could head outside.
“We often picture engaging with nature or being part of nature as these faraway experiences ― the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone,” Case said. But it needn’t be so grand. He suggested a trip to a local park or a trail in the city, “activities you can go to in your backyard or down the street, or the next county over.”
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