The best things in life aren’t things

Cool Tips for a Hot Planet

By Ginny Colling

Columnist Ginny Colling wonders if we have too much stuff. "Is there already one in the cupboard or closet?" she asks. "Can we repair instead of replacing it? Thrift it, or borrow it from a friend?" File photo.

“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like,” said Dave Ramsey, financial advisor and best-selling author.

Given the state of the planet’s resources, there’s truth in them thar words. In the last 50 years, the world’s population has doubled, but consumption has quadrupled. Surely, it’s not all stuff we needed.

What we consume, from the raw materials to manufacturing and transportation, accounts for half of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report for the United Nations Environment Programme. Stats from the folks who determine Earth Overshoot Day show that if everyone lived like Canadians, it would take the resources of five Earths to support humanity.

Darling, we can’t go on like this.

But Christmas is coming. And before that, Black Friday, defined by Canadian not-for-profit Adbusters as “people trampling each other to buy stuff the day after being thankful for what they have.” I’ve been there. Using a trip to an outlet mall on Black Friday as an excuse to buy Christmas gifts and spend some time with “the girls,” I came away with a couple of gifts, but ended up buying more for myself. I rarely go shopping so I was like a kid in a candy store. Afterwards, I needed therapy for my retail therapy.

The author of a 2019 study of the spending of millennials at the University of Arizona reported that people who buy less show fewer depressive symptoms. And a 2014 study showed that adults who are less materialistic tend to be happier. Then there are the financial benefits of consuming less. As one X (formerly Twitter) post said: It’s Black Friday. Save Big! Buy Nothing.

That’s what Vancouverite Ted Dave had in mind when he launched Buy Nothing Day in 1992. He wanted to foster a lasting commitment to consume less and produce less waste. Both Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day fall on the same day. This year it’s Friday Nov. 24.

I know I don’t need more stuff in my house. My family has decided to minimize gift-giving, sticking to making donations to a favoured charity in someone’s honour for Christmas, or giving services – a ski pass, a concert ticket or a restaurant dinner. It’s estimated that $100 spent on goods has three times the emissions of $100 spent on services. Admittedly, some of these options are a challenge if you have kids anxiously awaiting Santa.

Sometimes it’s hard to resist the allure of advertising aimed at parting us with our money. To fight back, shopping experts suggest that it helps to make a list of what we need before heading to the stores. And first think about whether we really do need an item. Is there already one in the cupboard or closet? Can we repair instead of replacing it? Thrift it, or borrow it from a friend?

Buy Nothing Day has spread to over 60 countries. In several U.S. states, communities hold Buy Nothing Day winter coat exchanges. It all helps.

The more mindfully we shop the better, for the planet, and our wallets. The fact that we’re burning through the world’s resources at an unprecedented rate adds new meaning to an Adbusters’ question:

Will you live, or will you buy?


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