Some fight uphill battle for a simpler holiday season

Nov. 29, 2011 at 7:48 AM ET

Patagonia /

Each year, lots of people promise that this will be the year they cut back on holiday spending, focus on the true meaning of the holidays and end the season without that other holiday tradition: credit card debt.

Some people actually do trade shopping and splurging for caroling and cookie making. But, based on retail sales figures, it appears that most years, most people don’t.

This year is starting off no different: Although many people said they are worried about being able to afford holiday items, Black Friday weekend saw record crowds and higher spending levels than last year.

Lately, some companies and organizations have been trying to make the most of those more altruistic intentions.

On Black Friday, jacket maker Patagonia ran ads urging people NOT to buy its clothes if they didn’t need them.

In a post on the company’s blog, the high-end outdoor clothing maker explained, “It would be hypocritical for us to work for environmental change without encouraging customers to think before they buy.”

It’s an interesting marketing tactic that plays into the company’s longstanding environmental activism, which includes its Common Threads pledge to cut down on waste.

A nonprofit called The Center for the New American Dream also is asking people to take a pledge, this one promising to do things like “give the gift of time” and “consider less gimmicky, less commercial gifts.”

The organization also has a template e-mail where you can invite people to sponsor your pledge by making a donation to the Center for the New American Dream. The group describes itself as helping “Americans consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life and promote social justice.”

Kathy Hedge, the group’s deputy director, said about 800 people have signed the pledge so far. Although the organization has in the past offered tips for simplifying the holidays, this is the first year they are offering the pledge. They’re hoping it will make people more likely to keep their commitment to cutting back.

“I think any time you actually make a pledge you’re a little more likely to carry through,” Hedge said.

In 2008, at the height of the recession, we profiled four families who had decided to cut back on their holiday spending.

When we checked back in on them in January, they had mostly kept to their more limited budgets, and they felt good about it. That turned out to be one of the few years when holiday spending actually fell, by 4.4 percent.

Readers, what about you?

Related: Anti-Black Friday actions urged

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