It’s that time of year when we are not only expected to continue our mass gluttony of consumption, but also add to that gluttony by consuming for others. I have literally met people who take out massive loans in order to buy a bunch of garbage for their friends and families, and in the end feel just as empty after Christmas as before. In my earlier posts I talk a lot about the emptiness mindless consumption leaves in our souls. As if we are corporate owned robots with no personal willpower, the only willpower we (usually) have is dictating what we buy and what interests we find more enjoyable than others. But even the last vestiges of self control are thrown out the window around Christmas time.
Christmas is the time of year when 80 year old men and women need iPads and 80” flat screen TVs. When kids need new cars (hot wheels depending on age) and video games, (though they already have hundreds of each lying around. It’s the time of year when we pay thousands of dollars and take out new mortgages on our homes in order to buy the latest hush puppy or Nintendo. In other words it’s an absolutely soul crushing and ridiculous tradition the corporations have created for us.
I’m sure there are a few families out on the planet that still celebrate the birth of christ in the true sense of the word, or perhaps Hanukkah or some other tradition. But for most of us the mindless consumption is the norm and the Christmas dinner is simply a useless and time consuming delay before we get to rip apart those presents sitting under the Christmas tree.
Now before I get far ahead of myself let me make one thing very clear: If your one of the soulless consumption bots fighting over presents on Black Friday, or paying thousands of dollars for a trend toy that will cost $10 in January; your an idiot. My guess it’s not you reading this post, because those people have no hope, they have gone too far down the rabbit hole to actually be saved from themselves. No, I think that the people reading this post are ones that are already in the process of recognizing their own mindless consumption habits and really want to make permanent lifestyle changes for less mindless consumption, and more mindful living.
I can’t say that I have perfected the art of minimalism, my wife is not a minimalist and this impacts my consumption habits as well. But she is mindful of her consumption and is actually conservative in her shopping habits. So when Christmas comes around, we usually forget or don’t actually think about the purchasing gifts part, because we long for the company of our families. This year we have travelled 500 miles north of Stockholm to the village of Umeå where we will be spending Christmas with Elinas family at their farm. Our son Alexander absolutely loves to spend time with his cousins, uncles, nieces and grandparents. To us this is most important. Yesterday I made my way to a couple of stores to do some Christmas shopping – it ended with me getting frustrated by all the shit for sale, the lines and chaos of it all and in the end I didn’t buy a damn thing and went to the movies instead. I can’t say that I didn’t try.
But here’s the thing, Christmas is the time of year were people ”expect” gifts, expect you to purchase something for them. The rest of my family are not minimalist and I don’t want to pretend that I will try and convert them over Christmas by not buying anything. Instead I look like a cheap asshole. Which I am, and I own that, but still, Christmas requires that little extra effort.
So what strategies work best for me, what strategies keep me out of the stores and keep my family happy? I think for me the most important thing is to remember that it’s not about gifts, and the only way to break that trend, is to break it. If your christmases have been filled with gifts in the past, usually these gifts end up in the trash or forgotten about, break that trend now. Purchase just one item or even better, one experience. Buy a movie ticket or a ticket to a concert or some other experience. I wanted to just wrap up one of Alexanders toys that he already has, or a pair of socks, because kids don’t seem to be able to keep track of what they actually own. (I was voted down by my wife).
If you feel that giving gifts is equivalent of giving love and getting meaning. Think again, nobody cares about you because of the gifts you give. If your an asshole who doesn’t spend time with your kids all year long, they’re not going to love you more because you bought a thousand gifts. When it comes to kids, it’s quantity time that matters, you can’t make it all up with a gift or a day at the park. If you need to feel important, or to feel like life has meaning, mindless consumption is not the answer, it’s the problem.
Meaning and importance is felt by actually being meaningful and important. Meaningful is helping a soup kitchen, or volunteering your time for something you believe in. Importance is being a part of your families lives, giving them love and time, being focused on them and with them. It’s about making them the center of your universe. You can’t compensate meaningless behavior with presents.
I didn’t know it at the time, and it actually hasn’t been apparent to me until latter years that my parents gave me the best presents and gifts parent could give their children. I rarely got what I actually wanted for Christmas, in fact I rarely got more than one or two presents, and besides the one or two years where I actually got something like my first bike or a new Star Wars pistol, I can’t actually remember a thing about Christmas. But it didn’t matter, because I had so much time with my parents growing up, I loved being with them and even though we didn’t always have quality time, we certainly had quantity. My parents had changed their lives for me and my brother, and growing up I always felt loved and important. Sure, I got sad when I didn’t get the present I asked for and instead got a deck of cards, but in the long run, it didn’t matter. In fact I would say it made me a better person.
That is what I want for myself, that is what I want for my son and eventually kids. I want them to know they are the center of my universe, there is nothing more important to me than them. I can’t do that by focusing on them and their needs in the form of presents once a year. So the next time you feel you have to have that latest trend product, or video game or iPad for your grandparents, think instead, maybe I should give them my time and love instead. You parents or grandparents don’t want an iPad, they want you to come over for dinner and spend time with them.
Love is for giving. Leave the gifts on the store shelves.
Thanks for your message – I watched a documentary on minimalism and it really inspired me. Have a wonderful time with your family at Christmas 🙂
Love this post! I also consider myself a minimalist, but it is hard to practice this while living with someone who is not a minimalist. I have wanted to limit the crap that I buy for others who don’t really need it for Christmas. There’s so many people out there who truly need things that we take for granted… such as food and clothes … some people actually need company and someone to spend time with… Christmas has become a marketing event that feeds our egos and greedy lifestyle…
Thank you for this post.
I can’t say I’m a minimalist, but I try to be a mindful consumer.
I always try to plan my shopping out of an actual, or at least percieved need. I don’t buy things because they are on sale, but I can wait to buy something until it’s on sale.
However, I’m getting more and more intrigued by a minimalist lifestyle, so it’s not impossible I will sell more stuff than I buy in the year(s) to come.
This is a great post. My wife and I discussed the same thing just five minutes before I stumbled into this post. We’re not minimalistic by any means (especially not me, when it comes to buying outdoor gear) but we do try to conserve our shopping. For us it’s more out of a plan to become economically free (not to afford to buy shit, but to be able to cut down on work and spend more time together) and leave a smaller environmental footprint.
Our kids gets equally happy to get a 50SEK dress or a shirt from H&M as to get some expensive electronic gadget. For Christmas we usually buy things they need, like clothes.
For years now we’ve bought gifts from UNICEF to our parents and siblings, where they just get a card saying they’ve got watercleaning tablets, a refugee-package or blankets or whatever to people in need. If you have to give stuff to not look like a cheap asshole, that’s one way to go 🙂