It’s my birthday in around a month and I am freaking out a little bit.
Not just because of the inevitable marching of time and my daring to age in a culture where that’s simply not cool (although that’s in there, especially as I have recently had to embrace wearing glasses).
It’s because I’m getting myself into a tangled knot about presents.
It’s actually been building up over the last few years, and was really brought home last Christmas in this post from George Monbiot urging readers to “bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.”
I also keep reading about the power of minimalism to reduce our stress and increase happiness, and in a house ruled over by a chaos-bringing toddler who regularly scatters everything we own across our floors, that’s sounding pretty tempting.
And, this probably is related to the marching of time bit, but it really feels that we are in a peak state of Stuff. We can literally buy almost anything we can dream of; things that would have been science fiction when I was little. iPads, wellies that light up, teddy bears that sing, pens that fire lasers, VR headsets, robot hoovers…
I had a bit of a melt down about this last Christmas and found shopping really stressful. I know gifts at heart are about showing you care and there are so many people I genuinely love and I want them to know how I feel. Sometimes I nail it and find The Perfect Gift that expresses that.
But if I don’t really know what someone wants or needs, am I just giving a present to make myself feel good? Am I trying to get them to like something that I think they should like, and what if they don’t? Isn’t the person who really benefits the big, faceless corporates that I buy from in desperation? And what happens to all the Stuff we give to each other at the end of its useful life?
So. I know I may come across a bit childish and controlling, possibly ungrateful and privileged, but I thought I would go old school and make a list of things that I would actually LIKE to have for my birthday…
And I hope it can act as a bit of a guide for anyone looking for a more inspiring way to find presents for anyone.
(Spoiler alert: if you are someone I get presents for, you are probably getting something from this list).
- Nothing. Seriously, it’s fine. You don’t have to explain or apologise. Simply nothing is fine. Maybe an extra birthday hug or tell me I’m pretty or something, but I don’t really need any more Things. And I’m completely up for a present amnesty with friends and family. I’m aware by making this list and being prescriptive I am making life more complicated, so opting out of the gift giving ritual really is ok.
- Celebrate un-birthdays (and un-christmas). Sometimes you find a fabulous gift for someone when there isn’t any special ocassion coming up. You might be one of those super organised people who saves that for later. Or you might be like my amazing mum and not be able to hold onto until then, and just need to give it straight away. But that lack of pressure to buy the right thing at the right time starts to resolve some of the ickiness associated with gifting I think.
- Second hand, vintage, pre loved things. Something doesn’t need to be new to be awesome. Ebay and charity shops have some really unique finds. My Auntie Jean once said “I love that I can give you any old rubbish and you’ll be happy” – her house was full of very lovely old things so it was extra special to receive something from her, but the fact that something is being reused rather than dumped fills my heart with joy.
- Recycled, biodegradable, green things, ephemeral things. Plants, seeds, things made of recycled stuff, things that aren’t made of plastic, edible stuff, candles – basically, things that won’t end up in landfill or being incinerated, or have been rescued from that fate.
- Handmade. You could follow Mr Monbiot’s advice and bake a cake or write a poem yourself. Or I am obsessed with Etsy (not just because I sell on there) because you can find some seriously amazing, unique, weird and wonderful creations, made by real people living their dream and making stuff. A lot of it could fit into the above category, and you can find vintage things too. There’s something so much more real and wonderful in buying directly from a maker. Someone who cares. If you haven’t had a look yet, Etsy is amazing and I really recommend just having a browse. There are also obviously shops selling some really fabulous things, like Re:So and The Art House in Southampton and Art in the Heart in Peterborough.
- Anything from Charlie Locks. My friends Julie and Mark are running a genuinely ethical, magical skincare company, their products are really special and their packaging is minimal. They also are spreading the word about the Art of Positive Ageing – embracing and pampering your skin at different stages through life rather than trying to stop that inevitable march. Hoorah!
- Anything from Lush. I have been a fan of this sweet smelling company for ages, they are doing great things in terms of packaging and their stance against animal testing.
- Books. Books don’t count as Things to me somehow – they are the one object I am seriously excited about hoarding in my aspirational library (which is currently some bookshelves in the corner of a room).
- Experiences. This is a bit of a tricky one for me right now because I am pretty much either working, sleeping or looking after the previously mentioned Tiny Bringer of Chaos. But I miss people and like the idea of doing things rather than owning things. Even popping in for a cuppa and a chat is perfect. Getting together in whatever way to make happy memories of time spent together doing or seeing beautiful stuff is worth so much.
I am sure there are more things, and would love to hear your suggestions.
I feel like I’m embracing my grumpy old lady status by having a bit of a rant about this, but it genuinely matters. You know that things grow when we focus our time, money and energy on them. When we buy gifts for other people we are also helping to shape the world.
I want a world where we consider the whole life of an item we buy, where we support the little people making lovely things over big faceless business, where we support bigger businesses doing good things, where we bake cakes and enjoy the simple pleasures of life together.
That wold is what I’d really like for my birthday…
I have a Facebook group where I am hoping people making things, writing music, selling albums or knitted octopi can share their creations and we can help change the world. It’s not massively active, but I would love you to join and share your favorite things and help change that. If you make things, I would love to see them!