A Drop in the Ocean: When Less is More

Creative gift ideas that cost little, waste nothing but mean everything

Last month, I wrote to you of practicality. Of reclaiming the “need” of gift-giving because, in delivering essential items, we are automatically reducing hazardous waste and corporate-fuelled climate change. Yet, to paraphrase Love Actually, most of us don’t want something we need, we want something we want. As a habitual “no presents” Scrooge, this is typically the part of Christmas I struggle with:  “want” is what causes us to produce and discard 30% more rubbish at Christmastime than the rest of the year. Approximately £42 million of unwanted Christmas presents end up in landfill in the UK while Ireland throws away approximately 83,000 tonnes of packaging waste every festive season.

However, this year I think the need for gifts has never been more important. Now is the time for more, not less. But more doesn’t necessarily mean more “stuff.” If there’s anything the past eight months have taught us, it’s not things we need: it’s people.  We don’t want a new coat, we want our friends.  We want memories – both the reminder and the creation of them. We want a full table for Christmas dinner. And that is the one gift we might not get this year. Thus, we need presents that will bring us together, even if only figuratively. While last month we championed the practical gift, now feels like the time to embrace the sentimental gift. Which, when homemade – as all sentimental gifts should rightfully be – is not only minimal waste but inexpensive too.

In short, hunker down into the creativity and disinhibition of this strange moment. Because if you have access to the Internet, a scissors, and old stationery from secondary school, you already have a gift that costs little.

Take the humble jam jar – not solely a vessel for sticky condiments but, when emptied, the versatile conduit for expressing eternal love or warm, neighbourly affection. Recycling a single glass jar will save enough energy to power an iPad for 15 days. What you put into said glass jar could sustain a loved one’s spirit for months – or even a year. It can be filled with the ingredients for homemade cookies – layers of flour, sugar, smarties, food colouring, cocoa powder, piled in aesthetic flair and wrapped in chequered bows – so all the giftee has to do is tip the mixture into a bowl and whack in the oven. It can be frosted, painted, stencilled then filled with tea lights to become a lantern – an amulet of tranquillity to ward off the tumult of these topsy-turvy days. Or, in its simplest form,  it can be filled with handwritten messages of love, encouragement, or hope so the receiver has on their bedside locker, their work desk or their kitchen counter, a year’s supply of friendship. A daily note to remind them that they are loved from a gift that costs nothing, wastes nothing but means everything.

Unearth the “crafts”  box of thingymabobs you keep meaning to rethread, recycle, repair but, inevitably, don’t. This box is your waste-free department store this Christmas: home to DIY dreamcatchers, hanging plant holders, charm bracelets, or even a collage of “found” materials á la Duchamp. Needing only an embroidery hoop or bracelet as your base and one of the billion online tutorials as your guide, weave feathers, ribbon, the colourful yarn from a long-ago knitting project into kaleidoscopic dreamcatchers.

Upcycle the old, shapeless t-shirt buried at the bottom into a funky plant holder. (The Useless Project has an easy-to-follow tutorial on this, as well as wonderfully helpful tips on ways to avoid waste and promote sustainability at Christmas.) Given all and sundry seem to be the proprietors of indoor Amazonian jungles at this point, no gift could be more on trend.

If there’s anything the past eight months have taught us, it’s not things we need: it’s people.

An unwanted bed-sheet and a needle and thread are all you need to begin a monogrammed handkerchief collection. I have always adored the regal sophistication of an embroidered hankie and, due to the exorbitant rise in tissue consumption, now is the time to make them the sustainable fashion accessory Jane Austen always intended them to be. Just make sure to add a stern warning about hygiene protocols.

Bake instead of buy. Choose homemade over the double-plastic-wrapped, Styrofoam-separated, palm oil-filled biscuit tins. Return to the kitsch nostalgia of photo albums, the somewhat cringy but deeply satisfying joy of a scrapbook. Fill it with the gig tickets and cinema stubs of our carefree past, the polaroids of past pleasure to remind both our friends and  ourselves of the good times shared…and the mischief still to come. Bring back the endless romance of a mixed tape or CD or Spotify playlist to fill with the collective anthems of a shared childhood – the ballads and obscure cult classics that have seen you and a sibling through break ups and adolescent phases, theory tests and Leaving Certs. Terribly sketch the much-missed family pet; gather the last of the leaves from the garden and print them onto canvases for a simple (and cheap) masterpiece. Write a poem. Write it terribly and earnestly and fervently. Make it soppy, filthy, bawdy, hysterical because if you can’t say it at Christmas, when can you, eh? 

Approximately £42 million of unwanted Christmas presents end up in landfill in the UK while Ireland throws away approximately 83,000 tonnes of packaging waste every festive season.

In short, hunker down into the creativity and disinhibition of this strange moment. Because if you have access to the Internet, a scissors, and old stationery from secondary school, you already have a gift that costs little. To our pockets, and the planet. But whose worth is inordinate, immeasurable, transcendent. 

These gifts aren’t solely for the receiver: this is a cathartic and soothing exercise for us too. In their making, they provide respite from news headlines and financial worry, they release the serotonin buzz of watching your hands take a nothing and make it a something, they proffer the chance to feel close to those who have never felt further away. They are testaments of friendship and talismans of hope, reminding us of the relationships that tether and hold us in this madness; of the fun, spontaneous, and impulsive souls we once were; of the boldness we are still capable of and that we will revel in again. In a greener, cleaner world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s