The spirit of goodwill and charitable giving at Christmas time is a wonderful thing. But the stupendous quantity of unwanted gifts that are given is surely something that must end.
Most people receive at least one unwanted Christmas gift. This may not seem too much of a problem until you realize there are over 2 billion people in 160 countries who celebrate Christmas. If even half of them received just one unwanted gift this year, it will have added up to a staggering one billion items that have been needlessly purchased and will most likely end up in landfill. The global level of Christmas wastage has reached obscene proportions.
The financial cost
In the US alone, the money spent on unwanted gifts amounts to over $15 billion dollars a year. Just think what could be done with that if it were usefully channeled instead of being frittered away.
What’s more, in one study, an astonishing 38 million Americans admitted to buying presents they knew the receiver wouldn’t like. The social obligation to give something – anything – is has become so deeply ingrained that many people view an unwanted gift as being more acceptable than giving nothing at all. How on earth did we let this happen?
For some, this can mean that Christmas is a time when they feel obliged to run up debt they can’t afford, only to spend the rest of the year trying to pay it off. Then it’s repeated again twelve months later, in a never-ending cycle. It can cause a huge amount of unnecessary stress.
For each unwanted gift that is given, if it cannot be recycled or repurposed in some way, the labour involved in making it and the components and resources used to transport it are all wasted and can never be recovered. Even recycling, repurposing or regifting an item takes time and energy of some kind.
The ravages caused by climate change have made it clear to us all that we are using up valuable resources at a rate that is not sustainable. How much longer can unwanted gift-giving at Christmas continue before sanity prevails and people step up to say enough is enough?
A different way of giving
A ray of hope can be found among Gen Zers. They are digital natives and tend to have a greater degree of ethical concern about the things they purchase. Like Millennials, they are more likely to value experiences and virtual gifts than physical items.
This echoes my own experience of giving and receiving gifts. I can’t think of a single physical object I’ve ever been given that significantly changed my life in any way. The most useful and memorable gifts I’ve received have always been personal experiences or software that I can use to create high-level experiences for myself and others.
How to do next Christmas differently
If you participated in physical gift-giving this Christmas, I invite you to reflect on how many unwanted or unneeded items you received this year, how many you may have given, and whether you really want to repeat the absurdity next year. At the very least, consider giving money or gift tokens instead of physical presents next year to allow the recipients of your kindness to choose something for themselves that will be genuinely useful.
My attitude to Christmas has certainly been shaped by the 20 years I lived in Bali, where the festive season is a non-event because the majority of Balinese people are Hindu. Life goes on as normal there while much of the world goes into Christmas frenzy. Being so far away from all my relatives and friends in the UK, none of them expected so much as a Christmas card from me during those two decades. I was therefore able to extract myself from all things Christmas at that time and have continued to do so since returning to live in the West in 2010.
Here in the UK in 2021, there’s nothing that Richard and I do differently at Christmas to any other day of the year. The only gifts we give are charitable donations and thank you tips of money to professionals who’ve provided good service to us during the year, such as waste collectors and delivery drivers. For us, it’s a time to step out of the busyness of life for a while to review the last year and put plans in place for the future.
Your ideal Christmas may be very different to our low-key version, and that’s absolutely fine. But I sincerely hope the days of giving unwanted gifts at Christmas are numbered. The 74 million eBay listings on December 28, 2018 show how big a problem it has become. Christmas is the biggest clutter-creating event of the year and it makes no sense at all, not for the givers or for the receivers. The only beneficiaries are the retailers who have hijacked Christmas and turned it into a global commercial event.
Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd, 2021
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