A few years back I was given some homemade granola and it changed my relationship with this cliché hippie food once and for all. Since then I’ve made it for myself and for friends and it’s always unique; sometimes I go really simple with nothing but oats, coconut, and pumpkin seeds. Sometimes I go for ginger and macadamias. And have you seen the cost of artisan granola these days? (I saw a jar for sale for $20 just last week. I kid you not.) Be warned: Once you get really good at making your own granola, you might find yourself craving it at odd hours and opting out of other meals.
Feeling frazzled? Wondering how to sort the important from the trivial from the non-recycable? 'Tis the season. Umbra's Consumption Manifesto is the perfect guide to slowing down, consuming wisely, and taking stock of what matters -- and what really isn't worth worrying so much about. It's too lovely to not republish in its entirety:
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This brilliant triad says it all. Reduce: Avoid buying what you don’t need -- and when you do get that dishwasher/lawnmower/toilet, spend the money up front for an efficient model. Reuse: Buy used stuff, and wring the last drop of usefulness out of most everything you own. Recycle: Do it, but know that it’s the last and least effective leg of the triad. (Ultimately, recycling simply results in the manufacture of more things.)
Stay close to home. Work close to home to shorten your commute; eat food grown nearby; patronize local businesses; join local organizations. All of these will improve the look, shape, smell, and feel of your community.
Internal combustion engines are polluting and their use should be minimized. Period.
This holiday season, talk of having a “minimalist Christmas” or participating in Buy Nothing Christmas seems to be all over the place (maybe it’s the economy? An attempted Scrooge coup?). And I’m happy to report that my family continues to be on-trend. Last year, we were all about un-wrapping gifts, a practice just poised on the brink of widespread adoption. And months ago, we decided to switch up our usual store-bought grab-bag presents for all homemade goodies instead.
Usually, our extended-family grab bag works thusly: Each participant brings a crowd-pleasing gift, typically under a predetermined price cap, to place ’neath the Christmas tree. We draw numbers, then, when your number is up, you choose between unwrapping a new present or stealing an opened one from a cousin or uncle (how festive!). If your present is stolen, you get to open or steal another, so in the end, everyone has something -- and incidentally, you don’t age into this grab bag until you graduate from college, so the kids still get their toys.
This is a fun system, and we’ve always been able to count on a good haul of wine glasses, board games, tree ornaments, and kitchen gizmos. Last year, I got a salad bowl that looks like an alien.
This year will be a little different. In one small way, we decided to reduce the glut of Christmas consumerism -- by making everything ourselves. This, we thought, would result in more thoughtful, meaningful gifts, gifts that have been labored over and loved, gifts that will mean so much more than a mini-blender ever could.
That, or we’ll all just get a shitload of Christmas cookies.
If you're worried about the health of American consumerism, don't be. Not even a bum economy can blunt Black Friday: Americans spent a record $52.4 billion over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend last year. This year, 147 million of us are expected to hit stores over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; some folks have been camping out in line since Monday so they can be first to get trampled snag the best deals. I think it’s safe to guess that Grist readers aren’t really into that scene -- you have better ways to spend the day after Thanksgiving, as you let us know last year.
The creative ideas you shared then ranged from taking awkward family photos to making homemade cards to donating platelets -- all personalized takes on Buy Nothing Day, the annual call to reject the consumer freak-out that is Black Friday and refrain from spending any money at all that day. This year, Adbusters, the folks behind BND, are upping the ante by promoting Buy Nothing Christmas, a challenge to not just skip a day of consumerism but opt out of the entire holiday shopping season.
A group of Canadian Mennonites, not Adbusters itself, dreamed up Buy Nothing Christmas, and they offer some good arguments for why Christians ought to reject the corporatization of their most important holiday. (Liberal, progressive Christians exist, guys -- you’re reading the words of one. Stop associating us with Rick Santorum. Thanks.) Anyway, needless to say, every American could benefit from a break from the purchasing frenzy. This year, I’m going to go the extra mile and give Buy Nothing Christmas a shot -- and you should join me.
OK, I plan on cheating slightly. Certain younger cousins may be disappointed if I draw their names in the annual extended-family Secret Santa exchange only to offer nothing but an anti-capitalist lecture on the big day. I know part of the idea of Buy Nothing Day/Season is rejecting the cultural pressure to prove your love and devotion through materialism, and if you want to commit to that interpretation of it, more power to you.
But giving gifts can still be fun and meaningful if you know your present is unique and not something the recipient is going to see on a half-off rack at the mall the next day. Nothing kills the Christmas spirit like frantically navigating the downtown shopping district on Dec. 23, pawing through piles of V-neck sweaters and stacks of celebrity memoirs in search of something -- anything -- that would halfway satisfy that last person on your list. That kind of gift-giving makes me feel overwhelmed and empty at the same time, like when you’re starving for a hearty home-cooked meal and end up snarfing Trader Joe's Pretzel Slims (chocolate, please!) instead.
So instead of buying no Christmas gifts whatsoever, I’m going to abstain from patronizing corporations and chain stores this season. No fleece pajamas from Old Navy or DVDs from Best Buy. (I’m still deciding whether smaller, local, and/or sustainably minded chains will be fair game or not -- must I really boycott REI?) I wish I were one of those people who could avoid spending any money at all by giving everyone hand-knitted iPod cozies or painstakingly assembled scrapbooks for the holidays, but I don’t have a crafty bone in my body -- so I’ll have to settle for buying other people’s handiwork (what up, Etsy!), which isn’t really settling at all. Giving someone you love a truly unique present, and supporting a local and/or independent artist at the same time, kind of produces double levels of gift-giving warm fuzzies.
Do you plan on participating in Buy Nothing (or Buy Less) Christmas/Holiday Season? Tell us about it! We’ll follow up with some suggestions for alternatives to corporate gift-giving.
I hope this Black Friday finds you well. I also hope this reaches you before you head for the mall …
I'm writing to send a heartfelt thanks for all of the wonderful gifts you've given my girls over the past four and eight years of their lives, respectively -- and to ask you to stop. Really. It's not that we don't love each and every one of these hand-picked gems. We do. It's just that at this point they have one of everything. In some cases three or four.