It’s after the holidays, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how being a Zero Waster/wannabe-minimalist/life simplifier relates to the consumerist mindset and spending spree that is the holiday season.
Up until not very long ago, I didn’t think much about Christmas presents. It was just something you had to do. During my London years, I used to associate the appearance of Christmas decorations in Oxford street to the daunting awareness that I had to get people stuff. Every Christmas I would fly back home with a suitcases full of presents for my friends and family, and as much as I did enjoy buying nice things for them, I also felt like this was an obligation more than a pleasure.
December 2016 was our first Christmas in New Zealand, and since we were not going home I didn’t buy any presents to my loved ones. Instead, I sent them cards that I painted myself, and wrote them letters saying that I missed them. That was the most personal gift I’ve ever given them.
I realised all I was doing was taking the values I’d normally apply to my own day-to-day life and extending them to other people. I’m all about minimising waste and simplifying my life, so obviously I wasn’t going to forget about that when it came to present-giving.
But this posed another issue: what about the presents I was going to receive? I started to dread the prospect of unwrapping a present only to find the umpteenth birthday cake-shaped hat from Ikea (yes, that’s something I’ve actually received).
My main goal this year became to avoid superficial gifts that I didn’t need. How was I going to do that? I was gonna speak up. Thanks to finding the balls to tell people what I did and didn’t want, I managed to have my first (almost) Zero Waste, conscious-consumer-oriented, kinda minimalist Christmas.
And this is what I’ve learned:
- It’s ok to ask
A few months prior to my return, I wrote to my family members and gave them my Christmas wish list. I knew it wouldn’t make sense to ask for no presents at all as people still feel compelled to get you something, so at least I was going to ask for things I actually wanted or needed. This may be a bit blunt but at least you won’t end up with stuff you’re never going to use.
This also goes for wrapping paper: I’ve asked everyone to please not wrap any of my presents or to at least use old wrapping paper or whatever wrapping they had lying around. It worked!
- Presents don’t have to be a physical thing
Giac, for example, always asks for experiences for his birthday. This Christmas, his aunt and uncle told us to pick anything we want to do in Welly and they would pay for it – it can be anything from a theatre performance to a museum exhibition to dinner in a fancy place. That’s amazing because it’s up to us to decide, and it’s one less item we had to carry back to New Zealand in our suitcase.
- Cashy -cashy
If somebody really doesn’t know what to get you (and is kind enough to tell you), you can always ask for money. This obviously only applies to people you are particularly close to, but if they really won’t go for not getting you anything, in spite of you insisting, then just ask them to give you a little bit of cash – which you can use to cover some boring expenses like paying for gas or for some bills.
- Go with someone
My mum didn’t get me anything for Christmas. Instead, she said she would come with me to whatever shop I wanted to check out, and if I did want to buy something she would pay for it. I’m not gonna lie, it was amazing to feel this spoiled and I did end up buying a bunch of things. But at least they are all things I love! And I got to spend time with my mum 🙂
Now, you’re always going to get the odd relative who doesn’t listen to you or doesn’t understand why you have so many requirements, but that’s ok. There’s only so much you can do and you can’t demand that everyone gets where you’re coming from. Remember not to get upset (something I still struggle with) and maybe try to explain your position again to them. At least you’ll know you’ve done your part.
I actually had some really great conversations about Zero Waste with people I would have never thought would be interested in that, so another lesson I’ve learned is to never assume. People are always going to surprise you!