I read this awesome article recently- The Gift of Not Giving a Thing. It summed up many of the themes and ideals I’ve been thinking about a lot since my daughter was born 6 months ago.
I’m not sure why her birth triggered this way of thinking. I suspect the upheaval and the change in dynamic that comes with the arrival of a new family member subconsciously prompted a re-evaluation of what’s important. Not just in a conceptual way but also from a practical point of view. You have stuff arriving by the armful if you’ve just had a baby girl when you already have a boy. “Whatever will she wear?!?!” Not only does this little creature seem to outgrow a size of baby clothes every month but she must apparently wear pink and you only have blue!! (Actually I had white and grey, baby number 1’s early clothes were all very unisex as we didn’t know what we were having the first time round- perfect for handing down to a baby sister, or so I thought, but our friends and relatives seemed to have other ideas and went shopping all over again- in pink and purple.)
When Master L was a baby, I remember spending time looking through his clothes, moving the things he’d outgrown to the “too small” box with mixed feelings of loss (he’ll never fit into a 000 again!) but also excitement that he was gaining weight, getting bigger and stronger and more interactive (and therefore more interesting) with every 0 he dropped. Plus there was a whole wardrobe-full of fresh, never worn, bigger sizes to be tried on. With Miss L (her older brother now an inquisitive toddler) I had significantly fewer opportunities to be sorting through all this stuff, clearing it out, keeping it tidy etc and so the extra stuff actually became work, not just an unnecessary luxury. Not to mention the space issue.
So after Miss L’s birth, I became quite interested in minimalism. A passionate de-clutterer already, I was still constantly amazed at the amount of STUFF we somehow accumulate, how little of it we use and, when we go away on holidays, how little I miss it and how much simpler life seems to be. My preoccupation with “organising” blogs gave way to a new passion for “minimalist” blogs. The best thing is, you don’t feel bad erasing them from your bookmarks bar when you’ve got the gist of their message- it’s decluttering!
I have friends and relatives who are major clutter-bugs. Some have small houses, a bit too much stuff and are just a bit messy, but can clear up when necessary. Others live in houses where you can hardly move for all the stuff and when you do, you tread on something or knock something else over. When I visit these people I indulge in de-cluttering fantasies. I imagine going through their houses with sturdy garbage bags, and THROWING STUFF OUT… shopper dockets, junk mail, old magazines, expired food from the fridge, worn-out towels, dishes whose patterns have been washed off over the years. Chipped mugs and glasses, little plastic bits and bobs from the kids’ board games. Paper clips and elastic bands, mismatching plates and bowls, plastic takeaway containers spewing from the kitchen cupboards. The almost-empty bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body scrubs, moisturisers from the bathroom! GET RID OF IT… ALL OF IT.
Anyway, I digress. But not far.
Ironically, babies and all their associated paraphernalia are partly responsible for my newly invigorated intolerance of clutter. Nothing prompts people to go out and buy you STUFF like a new baby. I should know, I have been the offensive buyer for years, I love buying baby stuff. Don’t really know why… but the fact is people feel compelled to BUY things every time anyone they know has a baby. In some ways this is good. You don’t need to buy any baby clothes, other people do it for you. Your child could easily last until its first birthday without you dressing it in a single item of your choosing. They also buy you all sorts of other stuff, which can be broken down as follows:
- 10%- really useful. About half of these things you would never have discovered if it were not for your generous friends and you are really glad you did, because they are really useful. I put my Big Softies cloth nappies (which I use for just about anything except wrapping my babies’ bums in) and my L’il Fraser wrap in this category.
- 70%- not especially useful but you feel compelled to use it anyway, the cloth bibs that hang too low or soak through straight away, that kind of thing.
- 15%- stuff you hate but feel obliged to use as you feel too guilty to just shove it in the cupboard unworn. Many items of clothing fall into this category. That brown all-in-one that’s the wrong season, wrong fit, wrong shade of brown, in fact, just WRONG but you put your child in it once and spend the whole time apologising for it when you imagine other people give your child funny looks.
- 5%- this stuff goes totally unused. It’s just too hideous, or too complicated, or too weird. Those pre-shaped Velcro-fastened wraps you can’t figure out how to put on your baby. The breast-feeding modesty cape (I refer you back to back to Big Softies- that’s one of their uses should you, rightly or wrongly, feel the need to be modest).
Most of my friends, my sister and my sister-in law have children now. Nothing strikes me as more futile than buying stuff for OPCs who you know, full-well, already have too much stuff. You aren’t sure what to get them but feel you have to get them a gift every birthday and every Christmas. You buy them stuff you don’t really like that much and you know the kid doesn’t need but you hope the parents will think it great nonetheless. You don’t really care what happens to your gift, you have Done Your Duty. And that duty arises largely because they will buy your kids stuff and chances are it will be useless.
So, in effect, instead of buying your own child something they need (which, generally, is nothing) and something that you also like, you traipse to the shops, wander round, hand over your money, wrap and give someone else’s child a gift and, in exchange, receive stuff you hate. This is stupid. Sorry, but it is. Yet remarkably few people have the guts to say “Let’s not exchange gifts this year, we have enough, the kids have enough, and what’s more I’m sick of taking all the stuff you give us to the charity shop when I can’t sell it on Gumtree or bring myself to re-gift it”.
I spent the day before Master L’s 2nd birthday sorting through his toys, getting rid of things that I never liked but had kept to be polite, making way for the influx of stuff that I knew would arrive on his birthday. He was overwhelmed on the day. He only learnt what a present is this year. We held some of the gifts back, unopened, for Christmas. We held some of them back as he received duplicates and now we have to spend time returning or exchanging them. Nice thought, but now for a birthday treat he gets dragged to the shopping centre (not his favourite place) while I exchange it…. And buy bribery smoothies and fruit buns and rides in Wiggles cars (well actually they’re free because I’m too mean to fork out the $2 to put in the slot, he doesn’t know the difference). Awesome present, thanks.
So for Christmas this year, we tried to go as much as possible for experience gifts or vouchers:
- Parents- restaurant voucher
- Sister & kids and also sister in law & kids- zoo passes
- Mother in law- spa voucher
- Father in law- clothing voucher
I hope to go to the zoo with my nieces and nephews, spend time with my sister & sister in law and really enjoy the experience instead of just feeling like a dutiful sister. We haven’t added a single item of clutter to anyone’s house and I’m giving them something they can enjoy, remember and talk about afterwards, which they probably wouldn’t otherwise have done. (Ok, so my father in law will be wearing his gift but at least he gets something useful that he likes.)
My friend with kids who we usually buy for (each of us trying to guess the other one’s tastes and never getting it quite right) said “Let’s not bother this year”. And so we plan to spend the money (in fact, probably less) on a girly afternoon tea in the New Year and a couple of fun hours enjoying each other’s company, sans children, rather than rushing round the shops, kids in tow, buying stuff in desperation and then swapping.
Do I go and buy extra stuff to make up for the presents my kids and I did not receive? No, I don’t think so. A good indicator they don’t really need anything in the first place. Do I make an effort to see people instead? I intend to. And if it’s too much trouble to meet up, well then I’ve gained on two fronts.