From an over-stuffed to a stuff-less Christmas

Published Tuesday, December 6, 2016 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

Look up ‘stuff’ in the dictionary, and among the definitions you’ll find: (verb) to pack or fill completely; and (noun) worthless things or matter.

Look up ‘stuff’ in the thesaurus, and you won’t find ‘Christmas’ among the synonyms listed – but it almost could be.  Somehow, a holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ has come to look a lot more like a shopping spree that can leave our homes stuffed with stuff. 

There’s got to be a better way.

The price of stuff

Early this year, IKEA’s sustainability VP mused, “In the west, we have probably hit peak stuff.”

His point: in this part of the world, most of us have pretty much all the material possessions we need for a safe, comfortable and prosperous life: furniture, appliances, clothing and more.  We don’t need more stuff.  For proof, many of us need look no further than our closets, basements, garages and self-storage units.  

Too much stuff clutters our homes and complicates our lives.  And, at this time of year, the compulsion to buy still more of it (all with good intentions, of course) leads many of us to spend more than we should.

Plus all that stuff tends to be bad for the planet, because manufacturing, packaging, shipping, retailing and disposal all have environmental impacts.

There’s got to be a better way.

The importance of giving

Make no mistake – gift giving is a language of love, and love is something we’ll never have too much of.  

But perhaps it’s worth re-evaluating what we give in the name of love.  Are we really adding love and value, or are we, with best intentions and a nod to social expectations, merely piling on more stuff, much of which is in the landfill by springtime?

I recently read a piece where the author confessed that her most vivid memories of childhood Christmases were not of gifts, but of people and traditions.  Another author wrote that her own transition to a minimalist Christmas was prompted by waking up on too many boxing days with the sinking feeling that somehow, in the flurry of consumerism, the very best of Christmas had been missed yet again.

All good reasons to aspire to a less stuff holiday.

Alternatives

If you’re struggling to find a respectful middle ground between the need to give and the desire to minimize stuff, here are a few ideas.

  • For recipients of similar mindset, consider giving a “one less gift certificate” – a certificate that absolves them of the obligation to give you a gift.  Sweeten the deal with fair trade chocolate.
  • For the outdoors type, buy a commemorative meter of the TransCanada Trail.  Or make a donation to the Nature Trust of NB or the Nature Conservancy of Canada, both of which set aside land for permanent preservation.  Or Habitat for Humanity or your local shelter (Jesus would approve).
  • To inspire and promote renewable energy, give a green electricity certificate (a supply of power from renewable sources like wind and solar) – to power a laptop, or even an entire home.  Bullfrog Power, a trusted provider, offers special Christmas gift certificates.
  • For the senior on your list: instead of spending money that took time to earn, why not shortcut the process and just spend time with them?
  • Think quality over quantity; needs over wants; experiences over products.
  • Make rules like used gifts only or everything has to fit in a stocking.  Set a reasonable spending limit.  
  • Think games, classes, memberships, subscriptions, books.
  • Think dinners, spas, the symphony and shows – or a special weekend away.
  • Share your expertise in baking, knitting, canning, brewing or winemaking.
  • Give a gift certificate for snow removal or home cleaning.

Less stuff.  Less stress.  More time.  More money.  Better for the planet.  A good plan for this – and every – Christmas.