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.