Christmas. This year, the twenty-fifth of December fell in week twenty-five of Our Time of Gifts.
It is, perhaps, fitting that the mid-point of my year-long experiment in giving stuff away coincides with the time when people often blow their household budget on presents for children, friends and family.
In our society, the things we buy – clothes, furniture, music – are often used as markers of our personalities. ‘This is me. I like to listen to music by X/live in a house with X type of sofas/wear clothes that are casual. Or dressy. Or on-trend.’
And, when we buy presents for people (at least, those presents that are well-matched with people’s tastes), it’s a way of saying ‘I understand what you like at this point in time. I see where you’re coming from. Here’s something from me to you.’
But, in todays materialistic society, what happens when people don’t have the disposable income to express themselves in this way?
About a year ago, when my maternity pay came to an end, we officially became a one-income household. It was a choice we made rather than something that was forced upon us, and I’m not going to claim we’re misfortunate in any way. We have more than enough for a comfortable existence. A warm house; food (sometimes of the luxurious kind) on the table. Enough cash left over once in a while to buy clothes that are new, rather than hand-me-downs or charity shop finds.
But, since we splashed out in January 2012 and used my last bit of pay to fund a cheap break to Spain, luxuries like holidays – where we have to pay for accommodation as well as travel – have been out of the question. And, instead of buying new furniture and fixtures for our home, we’ve been making do with what we’ve come across on the street, or through freecycle and other online forums.
And, to be honest, I think I prefer this type of consumption (known as ‘collaborative’ in some circles). Not just because it’s much better for the environment to re-use something that’s perfectly servicable, which would otherwise just be used to clog up a landfill site. Or because, when thousands of people are queuing up to accept aid from Food Banks, it might seem insensitive to be spending hundreds of pounds, say, on that new kitchen cabinet we’d love to own (without at least having the means to also channel some money towards those whose lives may depend on it).
No, there’s another reason: this past year, I’ve enjoyed wallpapering my life – both literally and figuratively – with stuff that’s been given, loaned, or found at the kerbside, because I’ve found it exciting. When I wake up in the morning, I never know what weird, wonderful or wacky item might land on our doorstep. Something I didn’t know I needed, but which, from that moment onwards, becomes part of me and mine.
Of course, it’s only so thrilling because we have our material bases covered (and more). If we needed to rely on serendipity to feed, clothe and house ourselves and our children, it would be a pretty grim state of affairs.
But, because we have enough to money to be comfortable – but not enough to be extravagant, or purchase the amount of new things we used to – I’ve been able to let go of the notion that, if I can’t buy a brand new winter coat this season, or keep up with all the new releases of my favourite bands (of which there are many), I’m giving up on some essential part of my selfhood.
This last year has taught me that we don’t have allow what we consume to define us. Buying less, and taking a long, hard look at what’s really out there – in other words, seeing past all the sales pitches and niche marketing, and seeking out pre-loved goods instead of automatically choosing new ones – means I’ve become more open to accepting the bits and pieces the universe has thrown my way. And, in my view, the stuff I’ve gathered recently – the chance finds and lucky wins – have enhanced my life more than anything I purposefully chose after flicking through a glossy mag. It’s nice to buy something new; to arrive home with full bags after an afternoon in a brightly lit shopping centre. But, this year, I’ve come to see that as a rare treat, not as an activity that defines me, or my place in the world.
And the presents I’ve enjoyed giving most this past year, have been the ones I’ve cobbled together, or made as part of Our Time of Gifts.
A Girl Called Jack wrote lucidly about how important it is to give only as much as you can afford, and – on the other side – to receive graciously whatever your friends are able to give you, even if it doesn’t match up to what you might have given them in the past.
Her post makes sense; but, while reading it, I was struck by her examples of ‘cheap’ presents – some handmade cufflinks, and a cross-stitched picture. These sound to me like the sorts of gifts that would rank among my favourites. Because you can’t beat a present that someone’s put time, thought and energy into.
For me, the jars of chutneys and preserves and Christmas tree decorations I concocted with the Pigeon Pair, were great fun in the making. And, while we were crafting or cooking, it felt as though that time was spent in reaching out to our friends and neighbours. Filling a jar with a rich, oozing pear and ginger chutney, which has bubbled away on the stove for hours, felt to me a much more satisfactory way of saying ‘thank you’ or ‘I love you’ than the many times I’ve clicked a button to order something I’d only ever seen a picture of.
And we made so much of that chutney, we were able to keep a load for ourselves, to smear over cheese this Christmastime.
What could be more delightful than that?
This post is part of Our Time of Gifts, my year-long adventure in sharing. Each week, I’ll loan or giving something away, then see what the universe brings to my doorstep.
Click here to find out more about Our Time of Gifts.
I’m linking this post up with an end-of-year round-up linky at Mumsnet. And I have to say a big thank-you to the wonderful people who run the Mumsnet Bloggers Network. They’ve made my year. Not only because my post was picked to win their competition for a Mark Warner holiday. But because they’ve consistently supported my blogging and writing, which has spurred me on immeasurably.
Thank you, Mumsnet (especially the blogging bit!)
- A very Merry Christmas from the Pigeon Pair and Me!
- Silent Sunday