Better Than New


As the holiday season approaches, it’s easy to get excited at the prospect of new things. Catalogues overflow from our mailboxes and sale notifications arrive daily via email. We make lists of the things we want to give to others, and of the things we hope to receive. Images of brand-new clothing wrapped in brightly-colored paper fill our December daydreams as we contemplate all of the possibilities. Yet we know that we have no need for any of it. I’m as guilty as anyone. I will admit here and now that I am addicted to sweatshirts. The fact of the matter is, I already have far more sweatshirts than one person can wear. I fully recognize that I have no need for another sweatshirt, yet my eyes still stray to the piles of fleece always abundant in stores. The holiday season tends to bring a mindset of “more, more, more!” when in reality, we already have too much.

The phenomenon of holiday overconsumption can be painful to both our wallets and the environment. According to the National Retail Federation, the average American spends $740 on holiday shopping each year. Yet no matter how great of a burden holiday shopping is on a consumer’s wallet, it pales in comparison to the environmental impact. Most of the purchases made during the holidays are unnecessary. People purchase new things to replace old things that still have a lot of life left. According to the World Wildlife Fund, it can take up to 2,700 liters of water to grow enough cotton to produce a single t-shirt. That is the equivalent of 34 bathtubs filled with water. It is also enough for one person to drink for 900 days. In other words: mucho agua. Combine that with the immense amount of energy it takes to transport the shirt from the manufacturer to the store and finally from the store to you. This all adds up to create a massive, holiday environmental footprint.

One obvious way to reduce your environmental footprint during the holidays is by taking stock of what you own instead of purchasing new things. Take pride in your “well-worn” wardrobe. The personality and character of a storied pair of jeans or an old flannel shirt is priceless. In fact, two of my most prized articles of clothing are older than I am. The first, a teal Patagonia fleece, is a hand-me-down courtesy of my mom, originally purchased in Chicago sometime in the 80s. The second is an oversized University of Michigan sweatshirt, faded and riddled with holes, circa 1990. It was initially purchased and worn by my dad, hijacked by my mom when they first started dating, and finally passed on to yours truly a few years ago. These items mean the world to me. Not because of their brand name or monetary value, but because of the places they’ve been and the stories they hold. I would rather have one of these well-worn and loved pieces of clothing than anything new.

The holidays are upon us, and the giving and receiving of gifts is steeped in tradition. However, I recommend that you take a moment to step back and be thankful for the irreplaceable items that you already own before rushing to the store. Our environment and your wallet will thank you.