Deinfluencing, “Anti-Hauls,” and the Dupe Decor Conundrum

Deinfluencing, “Anti-Hauls,” and the Dupe Decor Conundrum

A growing breed of social media users are dissuading their followers from buying into rapidly cycling micro-trends. Does it actually translate to spending less?

Behold, if you will, the viral Christmas tree candle: A cluster of small, ornamented evergreens rise from a waxy mass, poured into a circular crystalline dish. The candle in question is the latest TikTok must-have decor item, which drove swarms of consumers to the shelves at HomeGoods, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls leading up to the holidays. The #viralchristmascandle hashtag racked up 8.7 million views on TikTok; I know this because I recently scrolled through it. "Can’t believe I found the viral Christmas candle!" one caption reads, while Darlene Love’s "Christmas" loops in the background. The candle was coveted, hunted, and duped by users the nation over.

I scrolled to the bottom of the feed, eyes glazed over by the sheer amount of waxy green trees, when a voice emerged from the montage: "You don’t need the viral Christmas tree candle because you probably wouldn’t even burn it," says the TikToker behind @LiveKindly, an account mostly featuring clips of said individual dissuading people from buying stuff with environmental factoids (and tied to a mysterious business entity that calls itself a "community"). As if struck by the tone of a compelling older sister’s voice, the spell is broken. I pictured the viral candle in a landfill, melting under the smoggy sun. I envisioned it burned to its wick, smoked out and blackened. I saw it like a mirage, languishing on the shelf of a thrift store. In the comments, users thanked the TikToker for talking them out of getting or even wanting the candle. For some the power was too strong, as one comment reads: "I can’t be deinfluenced when it comes to Christmas."

Persuading a crowd not to buy a viral product has come to be known as the art of "deinfluencing"—wherein a content creator will dissuade the viewer from buying a certain product or participating in the latest aesthetic sweeping social media. Deinfluencers are the contrarians of TikTok, offering counterpoints to what feels like inescapable cycles of wasteful trends and cheaply made products. One particular deinfluencing format, known as the anti-haul, involves listing products the content creator is influencing you not to buy, in the same style as they would in a typical PR haul or unboxing video.

Anti-hauls seemed to have emerged as early as 2017 as backlash to the increasing popularity of fast fashion and said hauls and unboxing videos popularized on YouTube. Over the years, the trend has ebbed and flowed with consumer habits impacted by economic factors like inflation and shortages. The rise of the #antihaul hashtag to its current status at 99.4 million views on TikTok (take that viral Christmas candle!) followed, notably, early pandemic surges in e-commerce spending. After tracking spending increases from the first lockdowns to now, I found that anti-hauls appear to gain traction when spending seasons run high; plus, a recent holiday season economic survey reports that 57 percent of U.S. shoppers prefer to do so online (and Gen Z in particular loves to open their wallets via TikTok).

Apparently, people caught on to the general culture behind #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt marketing as flagrant commission-based capitalism thinly disguised by influencers. Instagram removed its Shop tab last January in response to backlash from users who accused the company of trying to prioritize business over connection. Still, it felt like a battle to be the preferred influencer/social commerce platform: TikTok Shop introduced itself to the algorithm last September and makes $4 million in monthly revenue in the U.S. (Dismal compared to its counterpart in Asia, ByteDance, which racks in $60 million a day.)

Aspirational spending links our purchases with a sense of destiny. Buying the candle will not stop war, but it will deposit a drip of dopamine into the folds of my brain for a temporary high. Shopping feels good! And online shopping through social media closes the already small gap between marketing and the check out page. Approximately 70 percent of adults admit to emotional spending habits and roughly five to six percent of those living in the U.S. have addictive shopping behaviors, leading to debt and overconsumption. Architect Chris Price of Utah-based firm Klima Architecture elucidates the Pinterest-to-client pipeline in residential design: "People often want things because they saw someone else with it."

Beyond creating waste that’s bad for the planet, rapidly cycling trends point consumers on the chase for an elusive, perfectly appointed lifestyle they might not be able to afford. Anti-hauls take the sting out of either not buying what you’re influenced to buy, or not being able to. As Price says: "It makes being broke less lonely."

As frameworks, influencing and anti-hauls are an ouroboros—one cannot hold any power without the other. Yet walking away from joining in inflates a false sense of agency, the ol’ illusion of choice. In different hands, anti-hauls are avenues to talk about finances and class as a type of show and tell for a tight budget or to expose wealth inequality. Or to encourage and educate on the power of divestment and boycotting. From mothers assessing their daughters’ "delulu" Christmas lists filled with items far beyond their family tax bracket, to "middle-class Christmas hauls" of items like essential oils or sock sets, the haul format—anti or not—throws economic differences into stark contrast.

Some veins of deinfluencing extend beyond the simple refusal to participate in certain trends—but more so condemn them. Take: "Stop Treating Your Home like a Showroom", "Common Decorating Mistakes", and "Worst Interior Trends." One luxury interior designer goes so far as to share the tips he tells his clients to save them from making their houses "look like a piece of sh*t" with you, his lucky TikTok audience.

It’s no coincidence then that "quiet luxury" (also known as "stealth wealth") was anointed by Vogue as the 2023 fashion trend (or "non-trend trend") to pay attention to. The "elevated basics" aesthetic mimics the ethos of deinfluencing, and, more specifically, anti-hauls, downplaying gaudy logos and excess shows of affluence in favor of selective minimalism. Of course, the "quiet luxury" aesthetic bled its way into home decor, but its brand of minimalism differs from the spartan millennial homes of the KonMari Method era in that the emphasis on investing in high-end staples is less about downsizing, and still primarily consumption-oriented. Those who can afford to buy into rapidly shifting trends are also the people who accelerate them.

While most fast-fueled fads propel compulsive purchasing, even if veiled in the concept of minimalism, there are some trends that embrace the ethos of the anti-haul. "Swedish death cleaning," a method of end-of-life decluttering and paring down possessions popularized by the 2017 bestselling book by Margareta Magnusson, culminated in a full-blown home improvement reality TV series narrated by Amy Poehler last spring, for example. Downsizing is trending and tiny homes are everywhere. Then, enter the right-to-repair movement, which puts emphasis on upcycling and refurbishing existing pieces that need a little TLC, and questions why, in certain cases, repair costs exceed the price of buying replacements. (So far only three U.S. states have codified a Right to Repair law, which holds manufacturers responsible for reasonable diagnosis and repair for appliances and electronics.)

Where finding quality items and keeping up with fast-moving trend cycles is exceedingly expensive, dupes allow the average consumer to keep up. From rip-off Murano mushroom lamps on Temu to fake Mario Bellini couches, manufacturing factories have pumped out designer lookalikes that retail at Wayfair and Amazon for half the price and with variable quality. The Ligne Roset Togo Fireside chair, for example, inspired many a bootleg this year. The Michel Ducaroy–designed lounges start at about $2,000, and a vintage one recently auctioned for upwards of $6,000. Wayfair’s version, the Trule bean bag look-alike, will set you back a mere $600—which is still fairly pricey for a dupe with half the shelf-life. "Other cultures seem to be grounded in a different reality because they design for generations," says Price. "[The U.S.] does not design for generations—we design for the next five years." Even that time frame estimation is generous.

Indeed, dupes, no matter how cheaply made, can still be expensive—especially for the average consumer trying to keep up with the latest trends. "It’s about changing the way you think about value and longevity," says style and beauty content creator Dominique Byrd, whose TikTok series "Ugly Designer Items" and "Designer Regrets" are not only a work of charity for the spendthrifts of the world (and the planet itself), but also offer an anthropological study in merchandising. "Would you buy this if nobody ever saw it?" Byrd says in a TikTok in which she surveys cheaply made designer objects retailing for thousands of dollars at a Texas Nordstrom. "The answer is usually no, because it’s being purchased for the label recognition, not for the craftsmanship or the actual value of the product."

So, if the point of deinfluencing is to dissuade consumers from buying into design trends, and even from buying actual products, what should people do instead? Conscious consumption is often expensive, not to mention time-consuming. The viral Christmas candle is only $14.99; the RH Cloud Couch is $11,048. The deinfluencer redirects purchase power in an economy of fantasy, but how and where is as varied as the influencers themselves.

The anti-haul offers a simple premise: You don’t need that brushed metal sink rack or white Scrub Daddy for your kitchen, because you don’t have the same kitchen, house, or budget as the monied influencer who’s promoting them. The feeling of owning Kim Kardashian’s $60 million Los Angeles mansion cannot be replicated through buying the monochromatic products from her homewares collection. Or can it?

Top image by ArtMarie/Getty Images

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