You might be familiar with the dopamine hit that comes when making a new purchase; the thrill of finding the perfect thing that will make your life better, your closet more complete, or your mood momentarily lifted.
Gosh, it feels good. But it isn’t good for us — or for the environment.
Overconsumption is an entire way of life, as our social media feeds are filled with influencers whose entire jobs are to sell us things we don’t need for problems we didn’t know we had. Of course, it’s okay to treat yourself every once in a while, and of course, it’s okay to value material possessions, but our cycle of overconsumption is not sustainable, and it’s time for it to end.
Overconsumption happens when our demand for more is met with the ability to produce at a rapid pace, and the endless cycle harms the planet. If our carbon emissions aren’t coming from the factories where we purchase new products, they’re coming from the fuel used to ship our packages, or from the waste we toss in landfills with reckless abandon (to be fair, our emissions are probably coming from all of the above).
And the problem is uniquely American. According to Heal The Planet, sustaining the lifestyle of the average American takes 9.5 hectares of energy, while the worldwide average is 2.7. Additionally, consumption of goods and services has increased by 28% in the last decade.
Whether it’s a TikTok telling you why you need a new trendy water bottle, an Instagram roundup of “dupes” of high-end fashion items that you can buy on the 2-day delivery app that shall not be named, or the confusing Explore page of microtrends that fold in on each other until there are no more trend cycles at all — our shopping habits have tainted our social spaces.
As Gen Z leans into lifestyles that reject capitalism and consumerism and embrace sustainability, we’re inspired by the young people who are “deinfluencing” us online.
The deinfluencing trend is one we can get behind, as TikTok creators rack up millions of views denouncing products they were influenced to buy but never actually used.
Many of these videos are about beauty products (turns out you don’t need 10 foundations, as Twitter user @CambieArt puts it), trendy clothing items, or home goods.
TikTok user @sadgrlswag lists trendy product after trendy product in her video. “I am here to deinfluence you,” she says directly into the camera. “Do not get the Dyson AirWrap. Do not get the Charlotte Tilbury wand. Do not get the Stanley cup. Do not get Colleen Hoover books. Do not get the Airpods Pro Max.”
It almost sounds like a mantra; something to play on repeat when the urge to participate in the overconsumption cycle gets to be a bit too much. It reminds us of a similar trend where beauty vloggers share their empty beauty products to prove that they actually enjoy using them.
Can you imagine a world where we actually use all the things we buy, and only buy the things we know we’re going to use?
What is deinfluencing?
Deinfluencing is a new social media phenomenon where users attempt the opposite of influencer marketing, swaying audiences away from making a purchase that they don’t need. The goal is to prevent overconsumption and remind one another that we don’t need certain products to be valuable or worthy of belonging.
Deinfluencing all boils down to one concept: Buying something is never going to make you a better person, a more sustainable person, or a more well-rounded person.
There are certainly items we can want and need to make our lives easier or more pleasurable, but the reality is that shopping in any way doesn’t exactly make us morally superior, and we really need to stop pretending that it does.
Deinfluencing gives us a window into a life online where we are free to be critical consumers, straying away from the monolith of trends, dupes, and must-haves, in exchange for a lifestyle that hopefully gives us a little more peace of mind (for both the planet and our budgets).
How TikTok has taken to the deinfluencing trend
TikTok’s #deinfluencing tag has over 65 million views, as creators gather to demystify the latest trends and redirect viewers to find products and recommendations for things they actually need.
Elle Grey (@basicofcourse) has a handful of videos on the topic, reminding viewers that “a t-shirt isn’t going to change your life.”
“As a general rule of thumb, I don’t think you need anything from someone that looks like me on TikTok telling you that something you hadn’t heard of 30 seconds ago is an absolute necessity,” she says.
The caption below one of her videos encourages viewers to just be more intentional about their purchases. She says it’s even okay to want a trendy item, but to be sure you actually want it (and not just because TikTok tells you that you should).
“I have no problem with promoting things you truly love… but 2023 is all about lowering the consumption game,” she writes.
Grey is only one of hundreds of creators moving toward this concept of deinfluencing. User @hanayla got a little more personal in her call to consume less, sharing a story about her volunteer work with foster youth. She summarizes a story where she took a young woman experiencing homelessness to the store and asked her to pick out anything she wanted.
Although she helped the girl gather some necessities, the youth Hannah was helping didn’t want anything above and beyond, saying: “There is nothing in this store I could buy that’s gonna make me feel more loved or less alone in this world.”
We all deserve dignity and to have access to the things we need in life, but Hannah’s story reframes how many of us have been influenced to spend money and consume items we truly do not want or need.
Deinfluencing is helping us to be more sustainable
There is a mantra we like to keep in mind when it comes to shopping and sustainability:
The most sustainable thing you can use is the thing you already own.
In the zero-waste and eco-friendly landscape, there are countless products you can shop that claim to reduce your carbon footprint, help you use less single-use plastics, and more. But if you already have a perfectly functioning toilet brush, you really don’t need to buy one with a bamboo handle.
Of course, if you finish your laundry detergent and want to buy a more sustainable option, or your toothbrush is on its last legs and it’s time to invest in a more eco-friendly swap, by all means: have at it! But deinfluencing helps us consider where and how we shop — and how we can be more mindful about what we actually need.
By using up what we already own, shopping secondhand, borrowing from a friend, or even renting a product we won’t use very often, we can dramatically reduce our consumption — and therefore, our waste, emissions, and negative impact on the planet we call home.
How to de-influence yourself:
While TikTok is full of great videos to encourage you to be deinfluenced from the endless stream of products you apparently need, we know the overconsumption conditioning can take hold any time you’re in a store or shopping online.
Here are a few ways to help you think critically about your next purchase:
- Ask yourself how this item fits into your life.
Are you actually in need of a new concealer, or is this one just branded really well? Does your dog need a new harness, or do you just think the green one is cuter than what he has right now? Are your pots and pans not doing the trick, or is this just what your favorite YouTuber cooks with? If there isn’t a clear place for this new product, consider holding off.
- If you really want something, consider how you will discard something else you no longer need.
One approach you can try to take when buying a new item you really want is to exchange it for an older item in your closet or home. If you really want a new coat, you’re going to have to make sure your older one is taken care of. Do you donate it to a nearby shelter? Sell it to someone who is looking for a secondhand jacket? How can you make sure that this purchase doesn’t cause more waste?
- When shopping for clothes, consider using the Cost-Per-Wear Calculator.
This tool is a handy way to consider how often you might wear something and how long it will last you, compared to the retail cost of the item.
Seriously, try counting to 30, putting your phone down and walking away, or asking for a second opinion before you click “add to cart.” If you’re still thinking about something a few days or weeks later, it’s probably something you really want and you can consider buying. Bonus: sometimes this will even allow time for a product to go on sale, and you can be more mindful about your purchases and your finances!
- Make a “stuff I want but don’t need” list.
This is a great final step before actually buying something. Make a spreadsheet or even just a running list in your Notes app of links or products that really caught your attention but don’t make sense for you to buy right now. Maybe you do want to try a new concealer, but you can wait until you use the rest of yours up. Now you have a reference to the new item you want to try, but you didn’t purchase it until you actually needed it. (This also makes a great ongoing holiday wishlist you can return to when someone asks you what you want for your birthday — and that’s what we call a 2-for-1!)