Gifts, Clutter and Embodied Resources
'Tis the Season - you know, the one where we all dash around like recently-beheaded poultry looking for the "perfect" gift for those special (and not-so-special) people in our lives. After hours (or minutes, depending on our tolerance) of searching, we settle for novelty items for the person who has everything. Uncle Johnny likes to fish, so we buy him a robotic fish on a plaque that sings a fishy tune every time you walk by (side note: I wonder if the fish could be considered e-waste? I'll have to check...). A cute item, it makes us laugh the first few times, and then what? Uncle Johnny is stuck with this thing, which took considerable resources to create (latex, plastic, wood, three motors, mini-CD player, motion sensor...), and will likely end up, after a few years of purgatory in the closet, in a local landfill.
Every time you buy somebody a thing, you are giving them not only a gift but also a kind of burden. Once the thing is brought into the household, it will demand time, attention and space. The recipient will need to find a place to keep the thing, they will need to take care of it (dust it, keep it in good repair), and will eventually need to make a decision about the thing's after-life (recycle, give away, garage sale, landfill).
Things also contain embodied resources - all the materials, labour, energy and waste that go into the resource extraction of the components, the manufacture, transportation, distribution, retailing and purchasing of the thing. All of that so that it can sit on a shelf for a reasonable length of time before it can be sold in a garage sale or thrown away. Not to mention the guilt it produces if you never really liked it but felt obligated to keep it on display.
Another approach is to give experiences as gifts. This can be anything from tickets to a concert or sporting event, to a vacation, to membership in a club, to a gift certificate for a massage. These will (hopefully) use up fewer resources and mainly create memories. The most you might have to bring in the house is a few photos for the album.
You can also give your time - babysitting services, housecleaning, dog walking, tax preparation -whatever the recipient might appreciate. These gifts have the advantage of not costing money, although time is often an expensive commodity these days.
So what if you had given Uncle Johnny a fishing license? Or a home-baked pie? Or a commitment to a few hours of yard work in the spring? Or a gift certificate to a local fishing store so he could pick out his own thing? Fewer embodied resources...less waste...less guilt...the same love shown and received.
(Source: WasteWatch, December 2003)
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