Hyperconsumerism, or hyperconsumption, has become one of the most damaging human habits in the modern world. Most of us contribute to hyperconsumerism daily without even realizing it, becoming influenced by society to buy things we don't need or buy something for the wrong reasons.
But as we're becoming more aware of things around us, many of us understand that the needless buying of stuff is creating problems for our environment.
In this article, I'll discuss the problem with hyperconsumerism, talk about the art of sustainable gift-giving, and give you some sustainable gift ideas for the holiday season.
What is Hyperconsumerism?
According to Wikipedia, hyperconsumerism, hyper-consumerism, hyperconsumption or hyper-consumption is the consumption of goods for non-functional purposes and the associated significant pressure to consume those goods, exerted by modern capitalist society, as those goods shape one's identity (1).
Simply put, we've become a society that buys things that we want rather than just buying the things we need.
A set of characteristics determines hyperconsumerism. These are:
- Personal Identity
- Product Lifecycle
- Conspicuous Consumption
- Religious Characteristics
Our identity has become less to do with who we are as human beings and more to do with the things we have. When we are younger, we try to "fit" into certain social boxes.
Hyperconsumerism can create insecurities in people if they don't buy the latest fashion, wear the newest makeup, or use the latest technology. Even the food we choose to eat and our skincare all play into our identity.
Every season brands bring out bright shiny new products, and they market them so that the consumer simply "must" have them. Tying into the last point, if a person wears clothes from three seasons ago, depending on the circle they hang out with, it can negatively affect their social status and, ultimately, their emotional health.
Yet, buying novelty products every season is incredibly wasteful, especially if that product only lasts a short period; think fast fashion. Anything that is a trending fashion item will go out of trend before the following year. Often we'll push out of trend items to the back of the closet or discard them after only a handful of wears. So the resources that went into making that garment are essentially wasted.
Horstein Veblen coined the term conspicuous consumption in 1965. It refers to the display of easily recognizable expensive goods when cheaper functional equivalents exist (3). According to this study, humans prefer to bond with wealthy and high-status individuals and thus treat them more favorably in social interactions.
Many of us classify ourselves by the car we drive, our shoes, and the handbag we carry (3). The issue with conspicuous consumption is that the sustainability and ethics of high-end luxury brands are insufficiently addressed (4).
The fourth characteristic of hyperconsumerism is religious characteristics. Hyperconsumerism is like a new religion that reveres consumerism. Going to church is replaced with going to the mall. Longing for a better afterlife is replaced with a desire for a better life right now. We replace penance with shopping sprees, and jewelry and accessories are worn as religious symbols.
The Environmental Issue with Hyperconsumerism
I don't think I need to point out the environmental cost of hyperconsumerism, but I will anyway. Because we are a society that wants to buy things we don't necessarily need, it creates a lot of waste. Think about how many items you've bought this year that you never used or only used once.
Someone put effort into making that Gucci dress you bought for that one dinner event you went to three years ago. They used resources and labor, and the environment was impacted. But now the dress sits in the back of your closet collecting dust, and while it may end up in a thrift store someday or re-gifted to a friend, the issue is that we spend a high price for items — for stuff — that we won't even use to its full potential.
Fashion — particularly fast fashion — is one of the worst industries for our environment. One study (6) on fashion's production to consumption found that water use, chemical pollution, CO2 emissions, and textile waste were some of the worst of all industries. Impacts from the fashion industry include over 92 million tonnes of waste produced per year and 79 trillion liters of water consumed.
Our obsession with buying the latest trends is one of the biggest reasons our environment suffers. But with societal pressures, it's difficult, particularly as an impressionable young person watching TikTok all day and idolizing the Kardashians; our priorities are skewed.
Sustainable Gift Giving
There are ways we can combat the hyperconsumerist lifestyle many of us have built for ourselves. Going against hyperconsumerism doesn't mean you miss out on buying things, as I'm sure some of you may be thinking. It just means that you purchase items more thoughtfully, more mindfully, and you consider the entire life cycle and sustainability of that product.
The key reasons why you should be buying sustainably are:
Sustainable means products are made to last longer, with better quality components. The shorts you bought from Reformation will generally outlast the ones from H&M simply because they are made with higher-quality fabric. Or the sofa you buy from Wayfair will not be as durable as a boutique furniture store that handmakes all of their furniture.
Another key difference in buying sustainably made products is that the company making said products are more often than not more ethical. Brands need to jump through many hoops so that their products can be considered sustainable. This means the sourcing of ingredients or materials needs to be sustainable and ethical; the packaging needs to be sustainably and ethically made; and the brand itself needs to be ethical in manufacturing, producing, and operating, which means no harm is done to humans, animals, or the environment.
You may not have thought about how much more effort goes into sustainable products, thus making them a more thoughtful gesture as gifts. Sustainable products — like artisanal and handmade gifts — are much more considerate to give someone. Giving someone a gift that is made sustainably shows that you value them and you want them to have a product that will last and that is high quality.
Adding to the thoughtfulness of giving a sustainable gift gives you more opportunity to gift something more personal. The disparity between getting an ordinary gift that you know has been mass-produced over receiving something from an Indie brand that has been handmade is night and day. So giving something that is more sustainably made will ultimately feel more personal.
4 Sustainable Gift Box Ideas to Give This Holiday Season
As we come into the holiday season, you've likely started thinking about gifts to buy your loved ones. So I've come up with four sustainable gift ideas that take the guesswork out of gift-giving this holiday season. These are all handmade, artisanal, and sustainably made gifts that I've hand-picked just for you.
Self Care Box
Everyone longs for more luscious lips. Three Ships have a beautiful little duo; a lip exfoliator and a lip mask. Give the gift of softer lips.
Next, add Earthwise Beauty's Passion Eye Serum. With sustainably sourced botanicals, like andiroba and rosehip oils for antioxidant protection, coffee oil for reducing puffiness, and sea buckthorn berry for minimizing fine lines, this eye treatment will have your loved one looking fresh and bright-eyed.
Your loved one can apply their eye serum using this applicator while also performing acupressure therapy to help further ease puffiness and eye stress.
Complete your self-care gift with a 30-momme silk pillowcase by Fait avec Coeur. And if your loved one suffers from acne, select the 30-momme silk pillowcase with silver ion-infused technology instead, which will treat their breakouts and inflammation while they sleep.
Skincare Essentials Box
Teach your loved one a simple skincare ritual of double cleansing. First, get the Silk premier Cleansing Oil. This oil will emulsify makeup, dirt, and excess oils without stripping the skin.
Then add this gorgeous cleansing cream to balance and nourish their skin. This cleanser contains Hawaiian botanical known to cleanse, purify, and balance, leaving skin soft.
Another staple essential in a skincare ritual is toner. The Tidal Rose Crystal Hydration Toner will further balance and hydrate skin while giving an immersive and relaxing experience.
A ritual is not complete without a moisturizer. This moisturizer will repair and nourish the skin on a cellular level without weighing it down. Perfect for the cooler months.
Makeup Essentials Box
For the makeup lover, get them a Bioblender, the world's first biodegradable beauty blender. This will effectively blend makeup, just as the original beauty blender does, but doesn't cost the earth.
My favorite eyeshadow palette is the Joshua Tree Palette by Āthr Beauty. It has a range of colors that suit any skin tone and occasion. They're also formulated with sustainably sourced and made ingredients, like conflict-free mica and crystals. The palettes are 100% recyclable, too.
Give your loved one a Highlighter by Axiology. These gorgeous crayons can be used anywhere on the face to highlight high points. They contain natural, cruelty-free ingredients and come in recyclable paper — zero plastic.
The future is circular and refillable. Izzy has innovated the first refillable mascara on a subscription model. Just send your finished mascara back to Izzy where they recycle and sterilize the mascara tubes and wands on site and send you a new, sterile mascara.
My absolute favorite lip balm is by River Organics. They come in a paper tube and contain 100% natural butters and oils that are sustainably sourced. They come in six colors and are a perfect way to complete a natural makeup look.
Home Essentials Box
Get Fait avec Coeur's Bamboo Bedding Set if you're after something more luxurious. Bamboo is one of the most renewable and sustainable natural resources available. It's naturally antibacterial and hypoallergenic and is super soft on the skin.
Finish the gift off with a 100% Silk Blanket. This blanket uses only the finest strands of mulberry silk. It is naturally biodegradable, hypoallergenic, antibacterial, thermo-regulating, and incredibly soft. Everything about this blanket is luxurious, and it has also been sustainably handmade by artisanal silk spinners.
It isn't difficult to be more sustainable in buying things. What can be difficult is recognizing that we are contributing to hyperconsumerism, and then taking action to change habits. Hopefully, this article has given you some insight and ideas into being more sustainable this holiday season.
Emma Masotti has been an esthetician for over 15 years. She is a sustainable skincare writer, educating and building awareness around proper skin health that doesn't cost the earth.
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