As we head into the gift giving season that it is for so many, I wonder how many people will give things that will last for any length of time. In The Story of Stuff Annie Leonard tells us that most of what we buy only stays in our homes for about 6 months. Will the items you are fretting about buying right now in order to make this ‘the best Christmas ever’ be out the door by July?
In many ways this is unavoidable because so much of what is for sale is made so poorly. I’ve seen $80 sweaters begin losing their sequins after the first wear. I’ve seen threads coming out undergarments’ waistbands after the second wearing and cooking utensils that break after only a few uses since bringing them home. In a news article I read a number of months ago, someone’s 20-year old jeans were compared to the new ones they had just bought. On the newer ones, a pocket had fallen off. On the 20-year old ones the only thing wrong was worn out knees from lots of wear. Are designers less smart than they used to be? No, smarter. So many items we buy today are engineered to fail sooner rather than last longer. It takes work, and usually a little more money, to find something that will actually last for any length of time.
Why would engineers and designers “build to break”? It’s pretty simple. If they “built to last” we wouldn’t shop as frequently and part with our money. But it’s pretty annoying to spend money that is hard earned on something that barely makes it out of the bag in one piece when you bring it home, let alone will last a few months. We’ve almost come to expect that it won’t last. But I speculate that anyone over 40 remembers when things lasted longer and quality was more obvious. But more and more over the last few years, quality seems to be decreasing. But given we love to shop anyway, do we really mind the extra trips to the store to replace yet another item bought only 5 months ago that is falling a part? I do. (And it isn’t just the extra trips; it’s the thing coming a part in my hands that I also hate!)
This year as you shop for gift items, see if you can find things that will be around longer than the next 6 months. Those items are out there and sometimes it is just a matter of what kinds of things you choose. As you contemplate your purchase, I challenge you to picture it a half a year from now. Will it still be in a drawer or on a shelf, still played with, enjoyed or admired or will it be lying with other crap in a landfill or floating in some waterway with the other trash? That stuff used to belong to someone.
This season let’s show greater caring for our loved ones (and our planet) by giving gifts that last. It’s no fun throwing away a gift we’ve received when it breaks only a few short months later. And, tell the producers of substandard items that this is unacceptable and ‘we won’t buy it’. Say ‘no’. Buy fewer items if necessary but give gifts not garbage. The goal of the season isn’t to trash the planet a little more this year. But it may to take little more creativity to give a better gift: go for quality rather than quantity, make a donation on their behalf or create a certificate that offers the recipient a ‘service’ like a homemade gourmet meal or snow shoveling for a month.
Gift giving and receiving can be a lot of fun and I think we can do it in a way that is kinder to our planet. In the end we’ll all benefit more from the joy of the season.
What ideas do you have for gentler gift giving? What other kinds of creative things can we do or make? Please share your thoughts in the comments section so others can benefit from your creativity.