Tag Archives: gifts

Commercialmass is coming

The greenest thing you can do is simply consume less. Buying more sustainable stuff is still consumption and still has an impact. Our planet can’t afford to have us replace our fossil fuel transport with electric cars, or our plastic packaging with some other packaging. We consume too much, and imagining that we can carry on as we are and just make some slight changes isn’t going to work.

We have to slow down. We have to own less. We have to buy less, and that will help us considerably in throwing less away. Of course for many people, that’s not even an issue. For people who can’t buy enough food reliably, and who can’t afford to heat their homes, over-consumption is not the problem.

We do have a problem with cheap goods that won’t last being the only option for the poor. When you buy something cheap and badly made, you tend to pay a lot more for replacements than ever you would on one good, long lasting thing. Take the cost of a moon cup or re-usable pads against buying cheap, disposable sanitary products every month. Or buying cheap clothing that wears out within the year, versus buying something more substantial that will last a decade. It is not on poor people to fix this situation. If we are to have social justice and sustainability, we need to tackle how expensive it is to be poor, and how much unnecessary waste is caused by that. No one should be so poor that they can’t live sustainably, but the minimum wage won’t give you those options.

We’ve been sold the idea that owning more is good. We see it in terms of status and entitlement, social standing and self worth. Those are emotive things and hard to unpick, but on the other side of it is the simple fact that we are destroying the only planet we have.

We’re heading into the season of obscene overconsumption. Over the coming weeks we will all be encouraged to eat far more food than is good for us, drink more alcohol than is wise, buy throwaway clothes – like the wretched Christmas jumpers. We’ll be encouraged to buy more stuff for people who don’t need stuff, and buy paper to wrap it in so we can throw that away afterwards. We will be encouraged to kill a tree, or buy a plastic tree substitute and fill our homes with shiny plastic rubbish to feel ‘festive’. Many of us will put on a great many extra lights and increase our energy use for good measure.

Commercialmass has already begun, and the shops are filling with it. Which makes this a good time of year to give some serious thought to what you, and the people around you actually need. It’s a good time to remind each other that we all need clean air, and none of us need the oceans to be choked with plastic. We need living trees and we do not need wrapping paper. We do not need to send tons of uneaten leftovers to landfill or even recycling, while other people go hungry.

If you can afford to exchange gifts, you probably don’t need them. If you can’t afford them, you certainly don’t need to go into debt trying to keep up. Give less. Give thoughtfully. Give responsibly.


Greener Christmas – give something useful

Here’s an option for making Christmas a bit greener: Give people things they can use. Give them food and drink, clothes, toiletries and useful or essential things that they are missing. Make sure these are things that keep well, and they will be used and none of them will be abandoned to landfill.

We are subjected to a lot of messages that useful things – such as socks – are terrible presents. A proper, glamorous present costs a lot more and has less utility. Children don’t want warm clothes, they want a plastic toy based on a TV program. Allegedly.

This is a great time to provide people with nice things they wouldn’t necessarily be able to fund for themselves. Think carefully about what the person you are buying for might need – so many people are living in poverty at the moment; small useful gifts are much more valuable than things of no utility in this context.

Also think about how to tackle the issue of gifts with any friends or family members who might struggle to afford it. Offering not to do Christmas can really take the pressure off. The gift of not driving someone else into debt is a huge one, and well worth considering.

Poverty tends to cause feelings of shame and inadequacy, so it can make it very hard to say ‘I can’t afford to buy you a present’. If you are in a better position, take the initiative here. Start those awkward conversations. Give the gift of caring about other people’s situations.


The fairy wife

There are folk tales about fairy wives, who come on strange conditions and say they will leave if those conditions aren’t met. And of course the husband forgets, and does the thing he must not do – usually three times – and the fairy wife leaves and never comes back. I think there are ways in which these work as teaching tales – not about getting involved with otherworldly women, but about dealing with day to day life.

Our lives may be full of small blessings that we never really think about. We take them for granted, and we may take the people involved (where there are people) for granted too. Just because the conditions aren’t made explicit, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If we do not show care and respect to what we’re involved with, it may be damaged beyond repair. It may desert us. It may no longer be able to work for us. Valuable things ruined because we didn’t pay proper attention to them are not unlike fairy wives.

There’s nothing wrong with conditions. Often they aren’t as arbitrary as the fairy wife stories. Usually, the conditions we have to meet are essential to making things work. If you do not take care of your tools, they will rust, get damaged, get lost – it is not their conscious decision to respond to you in this way, it is the inevitable consequences of your behaviour. People are much the same, and can themselves be damaged through poor treatment. The fairy tale of the goose who lays the golden eggs works along these lines, too. The person who lays golden eggs in your life is not to be taken for granted, either. If a person keeps laying golden eggs for you, there’s probably a reason – it may be love, or a sense of duty, or a desire to see you survive and thrive. Undermine that reason in some way and there will be no more eggs.

When something is reliable and substantial, it can be easy to take it for granted. A parent’s love. A friend’s support. A nice home. A beautiful landscape. Breathable air. A healthy ecosystem that supports your life. Clean water. We can pollute any of these things when we treat them thoughtlessly, disrespectfully. If we damage what was freely given, then like the fairy wife, it may leave us forever and never look back.