Buy Nothing Day: DIY instead of BUY your Christmas Gifts

Picture this: It’s early in the morning. Way too early to be up, on your day off. 

You’ve been waiting in line in front of an electronics store… in the bitter cold… for four frosty hours. 

Hundreds of people are waiting in line with you, shivering, tired, yet determined. The shopping frenzy is about to begin, and they are not about to forfeit those oh-so-juicy bargains. 

You catch a glimpse of a security guard. The lights go on in the store.

You brace yourself for the madness. 

The sliding doors open, and the crowd storms through the entrance, elbowing and shoving its way through the store. 

The Black Friday Sale has begun. 


Black Friday: A U.S.-American Export 

The (in)famous Black Friday, traditionally the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, is currently the most popular shopping event in the country. It is no longer restricted to one day but extends from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, the first Monday after Thanksgiving. Retailers are pushing to extend the discount period, and some experts predict that the whole month of November will become one big shopping spree! 

In the US, approximately $682 billion was spent on Black Friday in 2017, whereas an estimated 4.3 % increase is expected in 2018, totaling $717.5 billion. That is about $1,000 per person – in a 5-day period alone! 

Online sales on Cyber Monday have skyrocketed since its debut in 2009. In fact, many shoppers now prefer to make their Black Friday purchases online in order to avoid the hectic and overfilled stores which once defined this extravaganza. Shopping via smartphone has become especially popular in this regard. 

Like many US-American commercial exports, Black Friday is now a global phenomenon. Europe has recently also adopted this practice as its own. In 2017, the UK spent the most during the Black Friday weekend, followed by Germany and France. 


The Countermovement: Buy Nothing Day (November 23rd) 

Fortunately, Buy Nothing Day has been introduced as a countermovement to Black Friday and a general statement against overconsumption. Credit card cut-ups, sit-ins, donating and volunteering (instead of shopping) are just a few ways in which protesters take their anti-consumerist stand. Buying nothing for a whole day makes us aware of our often-unconscious spending habits and should ultimately lead us to practice mindful consumption during the rest of the year.

Since Black Friday marks the start of the holiday season, a significant part of the purchases made are generally Christmas gifts. This year, People's Design Lab and Zero Waste Europe wants to encourage you to participate in Buy Nothing Day by making your Christmas presents out of items and materials you already own, or which you can collect outdoors. In addition to curbing overconsumption, this also reduces waste.

Many store-bought gifts (think electronics, toys, clothing) contain plastics and chemicals which potentially harm us and our environment. Sadly, many of them end up in the trash before the following Christmas because they aren’t made to last, they are no longer “in trend”, or we have no real emotional connection to them. By contrast, handmade upcycled or repurposed presents bring lasting joy – not only for the recipient but for the gift giver, too! 

Personally, making something with my own two hands is a truly rewarding and satisfying experience. It draws me out of the busyness of everyday life and forces me to focus directly on the task at hand. DIY gifts are an environmentally friendly, stress-free, inexpensive form of gift giving, and the best part is: the possibilities are endless! If my own imagination fails me, I can find plenty of inspiration online.  

This year, my husband and I are making our own Christmas gifts. As a carpenter with a wicked sense of creativity, he will be using scrap wood to make his unique gifts. I’ve opted for some sewing projects made from scraps of cloth I have collected, homemade bath pralines, and cookie mix in reusable jars. I will definitely be using this upcoming Buy Nothing Day to work on them. I hope you will join me, and don’t forget to vote in our People’s Design Lab contest! The deadline has been moved from November 23rd to December 3rd! 


Ruth Wachsmuth is a global citizen, inspired to write about matters close to her heart. She lives in Germany with her husband and son.


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