Money doesn't buy happiness, and the more stuff we have, the more we want. Consumerism makes us discontented. People who are well off can buy more and more stuff, while poorer people in this country have little, and much less in parts of the world like Africa. If the whole world consumed as much as the average Winchester resident, we’d need almost four planets-worth of resources to feed their habit.

Almost fifty people came to the WinACC public meeting on Saturday 3 December to discuss what we can do to break the cycle of consumption. They learned about the ideas of Professor Tim Jackson, author of a remarkable book “Prosperity without Growth”. The TV warns of economic chaos yet politicians continue to champion growth. The vision that drives us, based on the continual expansion of material wants, is untenable. In pursuit of the good life today, we are systematically eroding the basis for well-being tomorrow.

The meeting also looked at what we can do ourselves, especially at this time of year when people feel that the real spirit of Christmas has evaporated under the pressure to buy. Magazines write about de-cluttering, yet our garages fill with stuff and we feel guilty as we unwrap presents we don’t like or need.

So WinACC is calling on the people of Winchester to us take some simple practical steps.

Tell people that you want to consume less, and so you would prefer your present to be a donation to your favourite charity, something second-hand (antique, if your friends are rich!) or consumable. If you explain, you’ll probably find they are relieved and intrigued. Other ideas included buying presents at charity shops, where many things on sale are new even though second-hand, and of course, giving home-made presents.

As well as presents, there are other easy ways to cut consumption. Neighbours could share high-cost items that they don't often use, from lawnmowers to power drills . 

Freecycle is another great way to cut consumption and save money, or get rid of things you don't want. You can offer anything you want to get rid of that you think someone else could use – from left-over paving stones to outgrown children’s clothes, from sofas that don't fit your new colour-scheme to surplus tomato plants. 

And why not keep your savings somewhere they will do good, instead of a big bank? You could have a look at Hampshire’s own credit union. United Savings & Loans  (023 9282 7980), or Shared Interest a international ethical investment co-operative that lends money to fair trade businesses, both buyers in the UK, US, Europe and Australia as well as direct to businesses in the developing world.

Chris Holloway, Winchester Action on Climate Change's Director, said, “We were delighted that so many people came to talk about this important topic. I was slightly worried people might think we were being pious kill-joys, but in fact the meeting was inspiring. People welcomed the chance to be honest about feeling uncomfortable at the way our society encourages us to consume.”