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All I want for Christmas is less

We were sitting around the dinner table last week, when Triton’s ever profound mother declared, “All I want is less”.

 

Leading up to the astutely titled silly season, we’ve been considering her sentiment.

 

According to recent research by the Australia Institute:

  • Australians are expected to spend over $30 billion on xmas this year, up from 2022, despite rising cost-of-living pressures.
  • Yet an alleged 20 million of the gifts we give are unwanted. The biggest culprit being pamper products (cinnamon reed diffuser, anyone?)
  • The estimated value of this waste is $921 million.
    And about 50% of that goes directly into landfill, according to the ABC.
    All the while, 86% of people experience significant financial stress in December.

 

Humbling, isn’t it. 

All of this begs the question, how much is enough?

Somewhere between baby Jesus and jingle bell rock, humanity got swept away with the giving and receiving of STUFF. From frankincense and myrrh, to trinket-laden santa sacks, we have conflated the expression of love with the frenzied bequeathment of crap.

 

Don’t blame yourself. We live in a culture that trains us in not-enoughness. Where bigger is better, more is more, and the cost of being alive forever rises.

 

A culture that leads us to believe that buying more thneeds (things-we-think-we-need) is the answer to contentment.

 

The great prophet Dr Suess explains it brilliantly in his book, ‘The Lorax’.

Perhaps one of the most profound narratives on consumer capitalism and environmental injustice ever written? Stay for the ending. The Lorax, by Dr Suess

Perhaps one of the most profound narratives on consumer capitalism and environmental injustice ever written? Stay for the ending. The Lorax, by Dr Suess

As a system, capitalism survives by generating a sense of scarcity, to keep us in the market for more thneeds. Yet it dangles the carrot of contentment forever out of reach.

 

And it must be said, that the truest victims of neo-liberal capitalism are not those nabbing bargains at the mall, but those trapped in modern slavery at the other end of an unjust supply chain. The harsh reality is that festive shopping frenzies make us complicit in perpetuating this ‘banality of evil’.

 

Please don’t feel guilty. Systems work insidiously. David Foster Wallace explains it this way:

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

Capitalism is the water we swim in. Seeing the truth of the world around us, and inside us, is the work of waking up. Once you see, you can’t un-see. But it takes great courage to question cultural norms. And even more to act outside of them.

 

Here’s a firsthand example of how, from our very own H.K Communications Coordinator (and social changemaker), Tess Fuller:

“Much of my consumer behaviour this time of year is propelled by the desire to be seen as good. Capitalism makes me feel bad for not buying my loved ones enough. I fear being caught empty-handed and a bit ‘cheap’ if a distant aunty buys me something, so I wrap a few extra scented candles just in case. Even when jarring up my annual batch of chilli oil, I anticipate it will feel bitterly lame next to whatever I am given.

 

We swim in this polluted water together. You know you’ve gulped in the systems when you feel guilty for not adhering to them.

 

The Real Good News of Christmas is that you’re probably not alone. I shared my festive fears with my family earlier this week. My mother affirmed that I could still be a good daughter without spending $100 on her. Fancy that! My brother confessed his shared antipathy for the ‘giving season’ and we decided to make a concerted effort to organise a sibling date instead. Presence, as a present! Genius!

 

If you resonate with these financial/relational/environmental/mental/spiritual burdens, forward this email to a family member. You might soon be lifting weight off one another’s shoulders, singing “it’s beginning to look a lot like… capitalism”.

Now, to make it all a little tricker, emotional spending is a proven self-soothing technique. There are links between depression, anxiety and compulsive financial habits. When feeling despondent, a shiny new purchase can activate the brain’s reward centres, gifting us a hit of temporary euphoria. Eg. “I was sad but then I bought something online and I feel better now!”

 

Meanwhile, research shows that life satisfaction is at a 21 year low, while consumer spending is at an all time high. It is worth pondering this relationship.

Probably not. Cartoon by Eric Lewis.

When my nanna died earlier this year and our family sorted her things, it struck me that after all those decades of family homes and christmas memories, it all boiled down to a few photographs on a nightstand and a dusty jewellery box. I kept some clip-on earrings.

We can’t take any of it with us, you realise? 

The Egyptian pharaohs tried, entombing themselves in pyramids laden with treasured possessions. My friend Charlie often points out how not much has changed on that front.

 

There’s a line that always stuck with me, from the beautiful Jim Carrey MIU speech, “Everything you gain in life will rot and fall apart, and all that will be left of you is what was in your heart.”

 

Or as the Buddha says at the end of the 5 Remembrances,

“My actions are my only true belongings.”

Our fourth guiding value at Human.Kind, is that ‘we hold space for the chaos and the beauty within ourselves and the world’, and that includes the silly season. Inner grinch aside, I too speak the love language of gift-giver. And must admit I find immense joy in the sharing of the things.

At the heart of it, secular xmas is about expressing care for loved ones.

So as generous beings, how can we give and express our love in ways that aren’t beholden to materialism? It’s a cliche because it’s true: the most powerful thing you can give others is your presence.

 

Research from Deakin Uni shows that connectedness is ranking lower than ever on the Personal Wellbeing Index. People are craving connection. Quality time, shared experiences, and meaningful interactions will last much longer than anything that comes wrapped in plastic (well, except the actual plastic, which will long outlive us all.)

 

If you’re still two boots into the Christmas spirit, there are ways to do it wisely. Awhile ago we asked our team for their top gift ideas that are heartfelt, low-waste, second-hand, plastic-free, and home-made.

 

 

Of course we have Human.Kind Gift Cards too. Bring somebody into the folds.

 

Our studio doors remain open for you every day, including 25 Dec and 1 Jan. Come in if you need some respite from the silly season, some refuge in community, or somewhere to just be.

 

Wishing you peace, presence, and enough.

 

With love,

Tessa Leon

Enough, already. Pic by Adam Whiting

References & inspiration:

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