"I don't want to give or receive any Christmas gifts"

Is it <i>really</i> necessary to give and receive gifts?

Is it really necessary to give and receive gifts?

There’s nothing that I want for Christmas. Absolutely nothing. Peace on earth would be nice, or even a modicum of politeness during Question Time, but I’m not holding my breath.

Same goes for my birthday a few weeks later. A nice meal with loved ones would be lovely, and I’ll even settle for a mediocre meal with people I’m vaguely fond of, but I don’t want gifts.

That’s because the honest truth is that I simply can’t think of anything I need or want. I’m by no means fabulously wealthy, but if you get to your mid-thirties without a family of your own, and aren’t the world’s greatest saver, you tend to accumulate most of the gadgets and thingumajigs you could ever want. In fact, I’m already oversupplied with items I can barely justify having bought in the first place. (Top of that list is my Wii, which I haven’t switched on in over a year and, what’s more, has a really, really dumb name.) And I’m not even a proper hoarder, I’m just a bit lazy.

Rethinking my approach to possessions is the only sensible conclusion from what I’ve been doing this week: clearing out a storage cage in the basement of my apartment building. To make a somewhat embarrassing confession, I haven’t actually entered the space in something like six years. Which means that a fairly large cache of my earthly possessions have been been sitting and gathering dust for as long as I was in high school. Which surely means that there simply can’t be anything there that I need.

As a helpful confirmation of this assumption, my building used to have security problems, so a number of thieves went through my cage and concluded that I had nothing with any resale value besides an ancient laptop, which they kindly saved me the trouble of chucking out.

I was sure there must be some precious mementos in there, though, so I decided to sort through the carnage instead of just chucking everything out. The vast majority of it was paper. Dozens of books, reams of old lecture notes and a few decaying school exercise books, for starters. The latter I decided to keep, to one day be donated to the museum that will doubtless be set up to commemorate me. For instance, I wrote a rather cheerful school report on my Year Six trip to Canberra, even though I firmly remember spending the entire time moping because my eleven-year-old crush had a thing for the Vice-Captain.

There were hundreds of pages of old bills, bank statements and receipts which I suppose might be of use to an identity thief. (Honestly, anyone’s welcome to my identity – it’s not like I’ve been doing all that much with it.) There were all my textbooks course readers from six years of studying law, which I very much hope never to use again. And there was an extraordinarily detailed collection of utterly random crap, from receipts to business cards, to various technological knick-knacks that are now obsolete. My MiniDisc copy of the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness turned out not to be so infinite after all.

Furthermore, my storage cage once had a vermin problem, presumably due to my own negligence, meaning that a significant volume of the stuff has rodent poo scattered throughout it. There’s also a strong smell of urine, either from the same rodents or perhaps the thieves, irritated that their hard work opening all my boxes yielded so little that could be resold in exchange for narcotics.

The various ransackings over the years have led to the partial ruining of a few precious things, sadly, like the trove of photos I found from my uni days. I’d like to think that the digital photos I now store in the cloud will outlast me, whereas these photographic prints have faded away at roughly the same pace as my hairline.

One conclusion I couldn’t help making is that the sooner that all documents are electronic, the better. There were literally kilos of official pieces of paper in there that I will never need again unless there are questions over whether anybody deposited $5000 into my bank account 15 years ago. And I’m not sure they’re worth keeping on the off-chance that I become Prime Minister.

On returning to my apartment, I couldn’t help asking myself what the point is of the possessions I give pride of place in my living space. I’ve got dozens of DVDs which I carefully accumulated in my early twenties, but I never watch now that I have cable and streaming devices. Nor do I listen to CDs anymore – these days, nearly any album I could possibly want is right there on Spotify. I used to love getting CDs for Christmas, but now there’s no way anybody can give me an album that I can’t already listen to for the same flat fee.

Besides, my tastes have changed since I accumulated most of my record collection. Once upon a time, I used to be a massive fan of Sting’s solo work, whereas now, I scratch most of his CDs intentionally.

The exception to this is my book collection, which I couldn’t bear to lose. But even there, there’s no denying that it’d be a lot easier to move house with a Kindle.

Most of the clutter in my life, then, is in the process of being replaced by digital media. What other possessions do I care about? There are a few artworks by friends and family which are undoubtedly my most precious possessions. There are my musical instruments, even though I barely play them because I never managed to start that credible indie band I was planning. And that’s about it.

What’s more, when I think about the people I’d usually give Christmas presents to, I can’t really see that they’ve got any room for more stuff either. Even – and indeed, especially the children in my family. Now that our toy aisles are full of dirt-cheap, plastic items from China, I can’t imagine how any kid manages to play thoroughly with every item they’ve already been given, let alone getting more. There’s barely enough room in most infantile bedrooms for a cot, let alone yet another train set or Toy Story figurine or Octonaut Underwater Base Thingo.

Consequently, I’ve decided that the gifts I give will be intangible. Tickets to an event, or something like that. Something that doesn’t take up space in our lives before being consigned to the tip, the way I’ve just consigned a large volume of the flotsam and jetsam of my life to landfill. Something that guarantees I’ll spend time with the people I want to spend time with. And that’ll do.

So this year, I’m entirely comfortable with the prospect of Santa’s sack being empty. As long as there’s the usual abundance of ham, turkey and miscellaneous relatives, I’ll have an entirely happy Christmas.

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46 comments

  • My girlfriends and I are also beyond the tangible gift giving, we're all at an age where we have everything we need/want and if we dont, we can buy it ourselves, so last year (and carrying our new tradition onwards this year) we decide to all do a spa day together, and each person pays for the next and then a nice girly dinner after we've all been pampered, perfect!!!

    Commenter
    Cam
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    November 29, 2012, 8:07AM
    • Couldn't agree more...it's always been that way in our house even with the arrival of kids.

      Commenter
      Bah humbug
      Date and time
      November 29, 2012, 8:36AM
      • Agree 100%. I alwys cringe around Xmas, birthdays, anniversarys etc and have ever since I was a kid. I hate being given gifts and hate giving them. Th ewhole thing of me spending my money to give you something you don't want, and you spending your money to give me something I don't want puzzles me. Oh, and I'm not all bah humbug - liove teh decorations, the meals, the cake, the party ... just cancel the gifts

        Commenter
        Craig
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 8:40AM
        • I agree with you Craig, gift giving and receiving is usually accompanied by stress and disappointment. The stress of traipsing through the shops clueless about what they want or making something from scratch to give it that "personal touch", then the awkward moment when the receiver opens the present with a feigned smile and exclamation of wonder and excitement. Then the awkward moment I have to open my present and feel equally disappointed. Funny, I tend to give people what I would like to receive each year! Like so many events throughout the year its just something economists and advertising agencies have embraced to stimulate the retail sector and if you dont want to get on board, then you are labelled a Scrooge or a Grinch. December=Christmas, February=Valentines Day, April=Easter, May=Mothers Day, September=Fathers Day. Bah Humbug to all of it!!

          Commenter
          mich
          Location
          newcastle
          Date and time
          November 29, 2012, 10:21AM
        • "the whole thing of me spending my money to give you something you don't want" - Craig, maybe you if take a different tack - one not so focused on your money and things - you might find something more positive in the this whole giving thing - because thinking about other people and finding something that you can 'give' to them is a tremendously satisfying experience. First, limit yourself to the people you know well. Observe them, observe their habits, observe their homes - and if you never visit their home, then maybe they shouldn't be on your gift list. What kind of things do they like to do? Favourite foods? Favourite colours? Favourite bands/TV programs/people? Are they someone who is stressed and time poor? (And frankly, who isn't?). Then think about what you can find/do that matches that person. Are you able to cook them their favourite meal or a supply of their favourite cakes/biscuits/Greek dip/pasta sauce? Can you offer a 'voucher' of your time for car washing services or ironing or gardening or dog walking or de-fragging and rebuilding their hard drive? Are you able to share time doing their favourite activity - going to musical, a sporting event, a band - a motorhome show? (While it helps if you are also interested, remember - this is about them, and their preference - but try to avoid something you will hate.) But don't go into a shop when you have no time or idea and just pick upon something clichéd for the sake of it - that won't be satisfying for anyone. As the saying goes, it's the thought that counts . . .

          Commenter
          Susan_66
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          November 29, 2012, 1:18PM
        • Hi Susan. Thanks for that and I agree. I do those things - happy to cook somone a meal, take them to lunch, buy tickets to a show etc. But that has nothing to do with the EXPECTATIONS around Xmas, birthday, Valentines etc. I do things for people whenever it seems right. I am also a dreadful receiver - whether its gifts, praise at work whatever.

          Commenter
          Craig
          Date and time
          November 29, 2012, 3:37PM
      • The phrase "exchanging gifts" is a contradiction, and generally driven by appearances. In ancient times rulers exchanged gifts to show they were richer or more generous than their ally or rival. A gift is something you give, or get given, with no thought of return. If you want to give Christmas gifts, then give some time, or something of material value or beauty to those who have little or nothing. For example, at my place of work, this years "Kris Kringle" (oh how I usually hate that term) will involve participants purchasing something of reasonable minimum value for a girl or boy in need (we will be given suggestions, an age and gender to buy for). It's easy enough to find other options for giving unconditional gifts.

        Commenter
        LoLo
        Location
        Footscray
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 8:57AM
        • My family decided last year that we'd not do gifts at christmas because we'd reached crapp saturation point and noone needed anything. You know how many clapper board bath mats can you have

          Commenter
          caro
          Date and time
          November 29, 2012, 9:04AM
          • Our family made an agreement to stop giving gifts at Christmas a few years ago. We now all pick a charity to donate to instead. Christmas is now a stress free, enjoyable time of the year!

            Commenter
            moph
            Date and time
            November 29, 2012, 9:17AM
            • Oh don't be so grinch like!!

              I really don't like this concept that seems to pop up every Christmas about Christmas being all about possessions and giving of meaningless crap. Its just anti christmas and just plain grinch like!! The act of giving presents is to show that you care, love and think about other people and what they may like and enjoy. I know most people these days don't have anything they need or want (and they stuff they do is most likely out of there price range so is unlikely to be given as a gift anyway) so get creative in what you give!!

              For christmas this year I am making most of my presents in the form of Christmas puddings and other Christmas yummies. I am spending my time and efforts on something that I know the receivers will, appreciate, consume, and will remember. For my family members I am also make a really nice calendar using photos (that they have sent me) from throughout the year. This may seem tacky to some but I have been doing it for years and my family LOVE IT and they get to see really nice photos of the rest of the family, not to mention a good reminder of sisters, brothers, cousins and nephews etc birthdays and special days. So please stop with all this grinch like talk and get creative with what you give!! it will most likely save you money too :P

              Commenter
              no grinch in my home
              Location
              Melbourne
              Date and time
              November 29, 2012, 9:21AM

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