Stuff. It’s everywhere. We live our lives in it. We need it. We love it.
Or do we?
As the approach to Christmas begins the argument that we have too much stuff is re-emerging. In fact this year it seems to be popping up all over the place. George Monbiot is questioning it, #GivingTuesday is getting more popular and James Wallman is asking where we get our meaning, status and happiness from if we do avoid buying more stuff? A good question. You might turn to Hermione’s blog reflecting on her twenties and the things that really mattered. It was experiences that really counted for her: can we draw our meaning and happiness from them?
It is already getting more common to buy ‘experience gifts’: a trip to a spa, a drive around a racecourse, theatre tickets. Those things make us happy right? And they can certainly bring some meaning to our lives if enjoyed with a loved one.
But is there a way that we can indicate status without stuff? That one is far trickier. Some argue that status is not important, that we should rid ourselves of it. However, I suspect that it will not so easily be done away with. Our status in society is inherently linked to how we identify ourselves and breaking that down is a much greater task.
But could it be done in another way? We know we need to stop consuming at the rate we do. We know we lack time and energy in our everyday lives. We know we are increasingly disconnected with others and yet simultaneously we never switch off from our phones; our email and social media sites. This applies to far too many people these days. And the thing that connects us all, the thing that drives us is the desire for more stuff.
But, there is another thing of course: love. Ok maybe I sound a bit cheesy, but the love we have for friends and family is a constant driver and dictation of how we live our lives. And because we love them so much, we shower them with stuff. When Christmas comes, we communicate our feelings by buying (sometimes outrageously expensive) things. Mountains and mountains of things. We have come to believe that not doing this would be an indicator of not caring. Or, an indicator that you have not been successful enough to afford to show that you care.
Of course this is well-known by advertisers – they play on the connections we have and make us feel we ought to purchase the world for our nearest and dearest. But is that really true?
Think about the best present you’ve ever received. Something that really touched you, made you cry or scream with joy. What was it? A new car? A piece of jewellery? Do you still love it to this day? Some things will undoubtedly be special, but I suspect that is mainly because we attach meaning to them. Why do you love that present so much? Is there a story or a special moment that lies behind it? I’d wager that there is.
When I try and think of my favourite ever present a few things pop to mind. A lovely cashmere scarf from my boyfriend because he knows how cold I get in winter; a treasure hunt designed by my mum to find our Christmas presents (I don’t remember the actual presents!); a show put on by friends and family for my 18thbirthday, which included a hilarious poem, a slide show of my life and a dodgy rap song.
I certainly don’t remember all the stocking fillers, candles and bath salts I’ve received over the years. So my point is this; think about what you ask for and what you buy for Christmas this year. Think about what is important to you and those around you.
Could you do something different? Could the status with which we identify come from doing good? Could we be recognised by what we achieve, not what we have?
So what if you use The DoNation as a gift list this Christmas? A few years back, the lovely Maria used it instead of sending out the traditional list. She raised 11 pledges and saved a potential 900kg of carbon (that’s the same as driving from London to Edinburgh 4 times!).
Surely that is truly the meaning of giving – of giving back, and of giving for good?