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Make Something Day – My Thoughts

2008 November 18
by Julie Clawson

If you haven’t noticed recently it’s become really popular in emerging/missional/alternative church circles to to promote the whole Buy Nothing/Make Something Day. For the uninitiated, Buy Nothing Day is an alternative option to the shop on Black Friday hysteria that grips the nations every year. The idea is that one would opt out of this consumeristic ritual in hopes that this will encourage people to consume and waste less the entire season (and not just postpone their shopping). Others though move beyond the negative stance of Buy Nothing Day and propose Make Something Day. The idea is to still encourage gift giving, but to avoid buying new things and make handmade gifts instead.

On one hand, I like the idea. We are a culture obsessed with the new, constantly seeking more. Most people would rather buy say a whole new shirt than take the time to replace a missing button on an old one, much less make an entire gift. We as a culture have lost touch with the basics and instead support consumer practices that are destroying the environment and enslaving the poor. It is a broken system that needs healing. Make Something Day is a creative alternative to subvert the way things are in the world.

But I have a few problems with it (here’s where I get in trouble).

First – it doesn’t actually achieve its goals. Just because someone choose to make something doesn’t make them any less of a consumer. Most homemade gifts are not made from scratch. That yarn, or fabric, or beading, or rick-rack, or cookie dough, or whatever came from somewhere. Often the same sweatshop using corporate entities people are trying to sidestep in the first place. And as a crafter I have to come clean and say that crafting is just another way of consuming more – lots more. I have boxes and boxes of craft supplies in the attic. I have friends whose entire basements are filled with crafting stuff. I even had a friend in high school whose house’s second floor started to collapse because of the weight of the material from his mom’s quilting habit. Be it at JoAnn’s, Michaels, or Hobby Lobby crafting for handmade gifts is consumption plain and simple.

Second – if the idea is to produce less waste, why create useless crap that people feel obligated to keep because it is handmade? I’m pointing all fingers at myself on this one. I spent all morning making Christmas gifts with a super excited Emma who was extremely proud to tell me who was getting each particular gift (family members watch out!). I have a craft business, an Etsy storefront (shameless plug moment), and do the craft fair circuit. That being the case I would far rather give (and receive) something needed or desired than a handmade something just for the sake of something. I admit, I’m not a sentimental person. I’m not the type to keep a technicolor itchy afghan my grandmother knitted just because my grandmother knitted it. Call me heartless, but that’s the way it is. I described my gift giving rationale last year. Basically I try to shop for that which is wanted/needed – not making something, or buying something (even fair trade or organic somethings) just because. I’m a huge fan of wishlists in that regard. If someone wants a quilt, I’ll make it, but I’d rather give them a book (used is just fine) if that’s what they want. And if that book is insanely discounted on Black Friday, well, you get the picture.

Third – I am uncomfortable with the whole “make something to subvert the global economy” idea when avoiding the global economy is the driving force. I am all for economic justice and supporting local businesses, but that does not mean that I want to propmote a “me/America first” mentality that abandons the poor around the world. I am not anti-globalization – seeking justice that sacrifices the poor is not just. I’ll write more on this soon, but let’s just say that I am uneasy with underlying assumptions put forth connected to Make Something Day.

So these thoughts have been bugging me recently with every new reminder I get about Make Something Day. I like it and I don’t like it. If it works for you, really works for you, great. But I’m uncomfortable with it being the only “just” alternative out there. Once again this year I won’t be shopping on Black Friday, but I doubt I’ll be making anything either. I’ll be at the family ranch hiking, chatting with my Grandmother, drinking way too much wine, playing dominoes and scrabble, and smoking insane amounts of meat in the outdoor oven. It will be fun.


9 Responses leave one →
  1. November 18, 2008

    Interesting reflections. Trying to do “the right thing” never is simple….

  2. November 18, 2008

    I think everyone has to do what they think is best/right in their own particular circumstances.

    For me, making things for my nieces & nephews using my stash (and other stuff on hand) is what works best. But that’s this year. Next year it might be something different. It’s also another way of holding each one of them close in thought and prayer as I’m choosing the gift, selecting the fabric and then making it.

    Any form of strict “one size fits all” idea can turn into legalism no matter what the original motivation. So it’s good to look at this from a variety of perspectives.

  3. November 18, 2008


    Just give me a gift renewal to Adbusters and I’ll be happy :)

    Seriously…..I saw this notion in Evangelcial Churches……..if we take away A we need to substitute B. or Whatever we give up God replaces it with something better.

    Wrong……..It is just right to do right.

    Is making things wrong? Absolutely not

    For our family…….about 8 years ago we said…….Christmas is going to be different. No more buying just to be buying. No more gorging at the latest, greatest sale at the local box store.

    My wife and I told our parents and married children that we wanted NO gifts. We have everything we need. There are lots of tech toys I’d love to own but I can live (I think) without them. We told our older kids we were not going to buy for them either. My wife sews for the grandkids and that is about it. For us it was wonderful to be delivered from the “I have to buy something” spirit.

    Do we buy and make gifts throughout the year? Sure. When we see need we try and answer the need.

    The most important gift we have is the company and fellowship of family and friends. That’s enough for me.


  4. November 20, 2008

    wow Julie. I agree with you for once. See, right wing conservatives can be convicted about the consumerism thing too. Yes, part of it is about saving money for me, but part of it is also about being a good citizen on this earth. Not that I think that will change the course of history, but at least my nose is clean on it.
    This is why I am choosy: I only make USEFUL stuff. I used to make stained glass. Environmental pollutants galore. Absolutely useless, although pretty. And you can only use so much of this stuff. I now quilt, make stuff with yarn and am working up the nerve to make real soap (the stuff with lye, which thanks to the local tweakers is very very hard to come by without undergoing an FBI grade background check) People can USE hats, scarves, blankets. I also give this stuff to charity. Do not take offense at this because I know you scrapbook, but part of why I don’t direct my energies that way is that it doesn’t really produce something useful, just sucks up money and resources. And I don’t want to eat up my hard drive by doing it digitally.
    Of course I also bought one kid an XBOX for the birthday last year and the other kid a Wii (that they had to share the systems was part of the deal).
    You might find a website I discovered last night to be interesting This woman, Bonnie Hunter, I think her name is, is really into going to thrift stores and buying old clothes and hacking them up to make quilts. Of course she buys new fabric too, but this is a really good way to use resources that are already there. Some people unravel sweaters and reuse the yarn. I know that was popular a generation ago.

  5. November 24, 2008

    I suppose one (hidden) benefit – and a value of emergent in general – is that many of these ‘make something’ initiatives can be done in the context of relationship /family / community

    I agree with the not giving or receiving useless items(no matter how beautifully made by hand) …

  6. November 24, 2008

    Appreciate your perspective. I think that we should never get involved in something like this without first considering the pros and cons. I have always been a keen knitter and love sewing so the idea of making gifts is not new to me but I do hate that fact that it is easy to make cutsie useless gifts that no one really appreciates. I always try to make something practical – like sweaters for newborns or hats and scarves for those that live in cold climates. (Of course you can end up with a drawer full of scarves you never use either.)
    I personally love to receive home made items and always feel that they carry something of a person’s identity with them – maybe a little deposit of their soul. I find that when something has been made especially for me then I don’t want to throw it out. I wear it until it is rags. I think that one of the motivating forces for our consumer culture is the disconnect between the consumer and the person who produced what they are consuming. When we have relationship with the person who produced our goods our whole attitude changes. They are no longer goods to consumer but a small part of the person who made them.
    On Sunday (the first Sunday of Advent) we will be decorating our Christmas tree and I particularly love to hang the home made ornaments. Some of them are those same cutsie craft articles that at other times I would despise but there is something special about ornaments that I pull out every year and hang on the tree, especially as some of the people that made them are now dead.

  7. November 24, 2008

    I am not a bit crafty so the whole notion of making stuff fuels me with more stress than a full mall on the day after Thanksgiving. As for gift giving and shopping I try to urge everyone to walk in peace. I think there is a peace God gives when we are doing what is right. It is not about being right wing, left wing, or some other sort of wing. I hate it when we box others into groups. It is about being thoughtful and prayerful in our actions and not being caught up in what is going on around us.

  8. November 25, 2008

    Christine – I do think it works differently for different people – for some the sentimental aspect of a handmade gift is much greater. But things can be “homemade” without necessarily being objects that can be wrapped under the tree. Like my Christmas wish this year is for a garden – I don’t have the strength to dig/build one in my backyard, but my husband could. there are all types of services than one can do for others that would be greatly appreciated as well.

  9. December 2, 2008

    julie – i’m with you; just because something seems like the right thing to do doesn’t mean it by magic is redemptive or makes the world all better. (the thing about the people’s ceiling/upper floor caving in! ha!) so – how to make intelligent and well-reasoned and balanced choices about how we live … whether it’s about making things rather than buying things, or worshiping one way or the other, or raising our kids one way or the other, blah blah blah …
    except, of course, that everyone who disagrees with me is wrong. but other than that.

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