Guest post by Jacqueline Fenner
I want to make it clear, I am not ungrateful. I am extremely grateful for all the people who think of my children with love, and I understand they enjoy expressing this through gift giving.
In the past few months, however, I’ve had a massive awakening. We’ve all seen the recent news coverage regarding impending environmental catastrophe, of which a major contributory factor is obsession with buying manufactured ‘stuff’ – and way more of it than we can ever use, or ever, ever need.
I realised, every new item I bought was another nail in the coffin of my children’s future. And, as Christmas was coming, we sent out a message to all our gift giving friends and family:
“Our Christmas Wish. A Planet left to share. We have lots of stuff. We need less stuff. We need to play with people we love. We need love. If you feel you must give us something to unwrap we would like it if it’s second hand. Live simply so others may simply live.”
We also stated we would not be at all offended if any gifts already bought were donated to children who will have nothing, and asked that adults no longer received presents. Despite this, fifty-one physical gifts entered our home at Christmas. Every single one of which was brand new.
The real price of our tokens of love
Don’t misunderstand me, all fifty-one were lovely gifts, but let’s consider the environmental impact of their manufacture.
Forty-six contained plastic of some kind: microfibers that poison the oceans and contaminate the food chain; virgin plastic made from oil; packaging that cannot easily be recycled or not at all; poorly-made items that will eventually end up in landfill, contaminating the ecosystem.
Some were made of cotton, a known cause of desertification, and coloured with dyes that pollute waterways. Then there is the water and trees needed for paper and cardboard, and the vast fossil fuel emissions caused by the manufacturing process and transportation of goods; plus metres and metres of wrapping paper, much of it difficult to recycle, and plastic sticky tape headed straight for the bin.
Then, very sadly, the reality is, to make room for these new gifts, other items that were lovingly and thoughtfully hand-picked a couple of Christmases ago (or maybe more recently) have now gone to the charity shop. Simply to make room: not because they were no fun.
Now also consider, I have three children (again, I know the environmental impact of this but it’s too late to return them, so we’re trying to raise them as part of the solution) so the same happens again at birthdays. And then there are numerous other ad hoc gifts that people get ‘just because’ throughout the year. So the problems caused by excess at Christmas are repeated many times in any given year.
The best things in life are free
On Christmas Eve, before the influx of new items, my children were not bereft of fun: their existing things were perfectly adequate. They already own numerous boxes of arts and crafts, small world, games, jigsaws, instruments, construction, dress up, stuff that beeps and flashes, oozetts and whatsits of every kind, and have an attic full of hand-me-downs.
Yes, they loved most of their gifts (but the sad inevitability is, not all) but they also enjoy climbing trees, splashing in puddles, collecting pine cones, turning boxes into pirate ships, performing shows on the windowsill, reading stories from the ten shelves worth of books we already have and borrow from the library, pretending to be cats/shoppers/doctors, visiting museums/castles/parks, receiving a letter, and a favourite pastime of my three year old is snipping up bits of scrap paper. But, most of all, they just like spending time with people.
The future starts now
Our planet has reached an unprecedented era in which the threat of environmental destruction will come to fruition within my children’s youth, unless we act now. An easy start would be to end this culture of disposability and our obsession with constant upgrade.
These hundreds of gifts given each year as “tokens of love” are simply unsustainable: for us, but more importantly, for the planet. It matters not how extravagant or not are these gifts: stuff is stuff, environmentally and clutter-wise.
As parents, we are trying desperately to claw our way to a place where “love” is no longer associated with “stuff,” which sometimes feels an impossible task living within this culture of consumerism. We also want to empower them to make ethical and environmentally conscious choices when spending their own money. We cannot do this if our (and, importantly, their) wishes are overridden by others.
To really show a child we love them, there are so many other choices, such as:
* Make up a story for them
* Teach them a song or game from your childhood: in person or by video call
* Give them a piece of old string and show them how to do a cat’s cradle
* Send them a link to a funny dog video
* Push them in a swing just because they want you to, even if they can do it themselves
* Learn some jokes to share with them
* Ask them their opinion (my six year old has a lot to say about the environment, war, rights etc)
* Bake for them
* Tell them you love them
And, most importantly, when you’re with them: give them your full attention. Give them you, and a future in which you can share.
Thanks so much to Jacqueline for writing this post. It’s a sentiment I’m sure we can all relate to. Please leave your comments below. You can read my thoughts on Christmas here.