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Here we are again — another year, another holiday shopping season. This is the time of the year where we become bombarded with expectations: buying presents, attending holiday parties, sending out holiday cards, a nonstop frenzy that brings both joy and frustration. It is also one of the rare times that we buy things for others out of obligation. Though we say we want to, we only seem to want to around the same time… every year.

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Our acts of kindness are met with “thanks,” hugs, and smiles, but once the afterglow of the holidays wears off, the gifts we receive are likely to collect dust while they wait out their ride to the landfill. This isn’t only due to our disinterest, but the inevitable degradation of nearly every product in circulation today — both with disposable and durable goods alike.

Built to Break

But this is not news. Planned Obsolescence has been with us even before the term was coined in 1932 by Bernard London in his pamphlet “Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence.” But, what’s different now is how every business seems to be employing the same tactics London praised all those years ago.

Why? To put it in the words of industrial designer Brooks Stevens, “We make good products, we induce people to buy them, and then next year we deliberately introduce something that will make those products old-fashioned, out of date, obsolete. We do that for the soundest reason: to make money.”

And that’s it — each year the “new” is released to replace the new of yesteryear, not because of improvements to functionality or improved cost of goods, but because its time has come. Not only are these habits a waste of time and money, they are literally creating more waste — which is a very lucrative business in itself.

Take a look at the stats from 2010 according to ElectronicsTakeBack.com.

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23,600,000 TVs! No telling what that number is going to be this year with stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy slinging Black Friday “deals” like a “Sharp – 50″ – Class – LED – 2160p – 4k – Ultra HD TV” for $179.99. What’s even more upsetting is that even if you already own an LCD TV, chances are it won’t last more than another year or two because consumer electronics like TVs, MP3/DVD players, and computers are designed with their “Death-Date” built in. So even if you aren’t putting a new TV on your holiday wish list this year,  electronics companies are betting you will do so next year.

Take a glance at the most popular Black Friday sales listings for this year and you will notice that most of the items are electronics. Why? Because they’re cheap to make, have good margins, and need to be liquidated to make room for the new stuff.

Our Needs and Wants Are Subjective

I know what you’re thinking: You’re not one to get caught up in all the holiday consumer frenzy, you’d rather get yourself and the people you know things that they need. If this is the case then I have to ask why you didn’t just buy what was needed sooner? If someone needs something, does it make sense to make them wait until some arbitrary date to receive it? To quote sociologist Juliet Schor in her book The Overspent American, “What we want grows into what we need, at a sometimes dizzying rate.”

The truth is, what we want has now become what we need. Which when broken down makes sense; we bring something new into our lives and we then become dependent on it — even if we were doing just fine without it. In a short span of time, we’ve created a dependency. With every new app or gadget that makes our lives easier, something is lost in the process. Think I’m making this up? Next time you have to drive out of town, try doing so without the help of Google or Apple Maps.

What Needs to Change

We need to shift our attention away from wondering what we are going to buy next and instead focus on what our core needs are; to be honest about them and not twist them to include superficial desires. Most of us see the flaws in giving gifts as a symbol of love and affection — but we do it anyway because that’s what we have been groomed to do.

If contributing to waste, both literal and financial, concerns you, then stop participating in its vicious cycle. Understand that you, more likely than not, do not need a new TV, computer, cell phone, or whatever’s hot right now. What you do need is nutritious food, good health, and a roof over your head. If you have these three things, you are wealthy in every way that matters.

So unless you are going to gift food to someone who’s hungry, or lend a head in improving someone’s life in a very real way, think more deeply about why you participate in the things that you do. Is it a choice you consciously made? Or was it subconsciously made for you?


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