Opinion: This Black Friday, we need to re-think excessive consumerism

It’s easy to get caught up amongst the sales and excitement of Black Friday, but shouldn’t we consider the impacts of our consumption? (Image source: Dan Burton on Unsplash.)

By Jordan White | @JordanBWhite1

Friday, November 27 marks Black Friday – a shopping event that capitalises on our consumerist culture. But in a year when income is low and climate change rife, perhaps we ought to look beyond the glossy advertisements and really consider our purchases.

Black Friday originated in the United States, marking the end of Thanksgiving and the start of the exhausting Christmas shopping season. 

Black Friday started in the 1950s and ‘60s, simply as the busy post-Thanksgiving shopping period. It was capitalised by American businesses in the 1980s, and has since globalised as a huge sales event across many countries and stores.

(Image source: Fishwrap)

So prominent is the craze that sales nowadays start on Thursday, and last until Cyber Monday, which was created by online retailers to promote online shopping.

According to Australia Post, Australians spent more than $3.5 billion online in November alone last year. 2.5 million households made a purchase during Black Friday sales, up 57 per cent than in an average week.  

These numbers are only expected to rise this year, with unprecedented e-commerce traffic amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Australia Post estimates a 30 per cent increase in online purchases during the Black Friday sales this year.

With retailers like Priceline and Catch offering 50 per cent off products—and a dizzying amount of buy now, pay later options—getting caught up in the sales rush can be easy.

But, before you get carried away and spend way too much money on products you had to have this Black Friday, perhaps pause for a moment to truly consider your purchases.

A culture obsessed with consumption

We are a consumerist culture through and through. We love shopping, seeking to fill an unfillable void with excessive purchases, and keeping up with the Joneses.

Each year, Apple and Samsung chuck another camera on their shiny ‘new’ $2000 phone (alongside a ridiculous name like “Pro Max” or “Ultra”).

They sit back watching sales go up as thousands of people scramble to buy the latest, despite having three generations of perfectly good phones collecting dust in a draw somewhere.

If I can’t convince you that this obsession with consumerism is unhealthy, consider for a moment crowds competing with each other at Black Friday sales like vultures. People are even willing to hurt each other just for a bargain in extreme examples.

(Image source: Commission Factory)

If the sales and brawls don’t point out how obsessed we are with consumerism, look no further than your own household.

90 per cent of Australian households have unwanted or unused items, according to Gumtree’s Second Hand Economy report

The report estimates each house has 23 unwanted items worth about $5000 in total and this is painfully true.

In my family’s home alone, there are four televisions, six computers, eight mobile devices, and enough unwanted clutter to give Marie Kondo heart palpitations.

Source: Giphy

Still, we’re all guilty of buying stuff we certainly don’t need simply because it was on sale. We all consume mindlessly but don’t think of an answer why.

Consumerism is at the cornerstone of our culture.

By its very definition, consumerism is the idea “That increasing consumption of goods and services purchased in the market is always a desirable goal … that a person’s wellbeing and happiness depends on.” 

But as Touré writes in Vice, if consumption really made people happy, America would be the happiest nation. Instead, the USA is 15th place on the World Happiness Report.

I’m not naive. Telling a person who can’t afford to put food on the table that buying food won’t make them happy would be rather ignorant.

Money can buy happiness. $60,000 to $75,000, according to one study, contributes to one’s emotional wellbeing. But there is a limit. Just like with consumerism.

These limits are excessive consumerism and overconsumption.

The former is purchasing products despite having enough: purchasing excessively. Overconsumption is literally concerned with the sobering fact that our resources have a limit and that exceeding this limit for a prolonged time leads to eventual ecological disaster.   

Environmental consequences

Everything we consume impacts the environment in some way. When this consumption becomes obsessive, and resources cannot meet demands, there are adverse environmental impacts.

Unwanted items end up in landfill unless they are properly recycled or re-used.

One of the biggest culprits is textile waste. An estimated 80 billion garments end up in landfill each year. Experts warn the fashion industry needs to change to mitigate the environmental impact of fast fashion.

(Image source: The Guardian, Fast Fashion is killing the environment)

E-waste is a rising challenge, we waste $20 billion worth of food each year, and the phones collecting dust around our houses are full of precious metals.

A vicious cycle

Excessive consumerism is obviously bad for our wallets, but it has broader adverse environmental and social impacts.

All of this waste is a consequence of the initial consumerism that takes place for each product. When consumerism is excessive—when we take more than we need despite having enough—we are contributing to these environmental problems.

There is no one solution to overconsumption. But a lot of hope can be found in moderation.

While there is some hope to be found in conscious consumers and businesses—like IKEA, who are buying back old furniture this Black Friday—thinking about the impacts we have as consumers is a great place to start. 

I’m not saying we need to quit consumption altogether. I am a marketing student and, believe it or not, a consumer sometimes, too. I understand the desire to purchase items.

One of the answers to excessive consumption we can offer as individuals is to discuss the impacts of consumerism. To resist the urge to buy in excess.

So perhaps this Black Friday, amid the relentless sales and marketing, it wouldn’t hurt to pause for a moment and consider whether you really need what you’re buying.

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