What was your child’s favourite present this Christmas? If they’re under three, I’m willing to bet it was probably a cardboard box – the container, perhaps, for that pricey trampoline, or the polystyrene tubes protecting their brand new drum kit.
For my son, who’s two, the joy of tearing wrapping paper off of things far outweighed the things themselves. But it was my six-year-old daughter who really got me thinking.
On Christmas Eve, a pile of ‘presents’ appeared under the tree: spheres wrapped in tinsel, oblong shapes lovingly mummified in half a toilet roll. She’d even made her own wrapping paper – paper covered in stencil shapes, cut-out stars and glitter glue.
Every single member of the family got one – from her great-grandma to her baby cousin. Of course, what was inside didn’t really matter. I received an old hairband, a broken rubber from her pencil-case and a furry pipe cleaner. She’d spent hours painstakingly recycling bits and pieces from her bedroom, writing labels, making sure we each had something we definitely didn’t need. But the look on her face as she handed out her ‘gifts’ told me all I needed to know about the joy of giving.
At the beginning of 2017, I made a resolution to quit shopping – but only for myself. I couldn’t do it for the kids, I reasoned: they grow too fast. They need school uniform, new shoes, the latest toys. But I found it surprisingly easy to go without. I had more than enough clothes, books I’d been meaning to read for years. Other than food and essentials (toothpaste, tampons) – what did I really need? So I didn’t buy anything, and as 2018 dawned, I (mostly) kept it up.
On the cusp of 2019, I’m thinking again about my consumerism. If it was so easy for me, why shouldn’t I extend it to my family too? It’s not as though they’ll knowingly miss out – as well as cardboard and paper, my son couldn’t have been more delighted with his sister’s second-hand balance bike, which we reclaimed from the cellar and wrapped up to give to him this December 25. His other favourite toy? The well-loved tool box bequeathed by a four-year-old friend.
He isn’t at school yet, and has bags of second or third-hand clothes handed down by the parents of older kids. He can wear almost all of his sister’s old outfits (and he’s not averse to a sequin or two, either). As for my daughter – well, unless she has a significant growth spurt, the school dresses and cardigans I bought at the start of the new school term in September should keep her going well into 2019.
Which only leaves... toys. But the more I think about recycling, the more it makes sense. When my daughter was small, she’d play with something for a while then quickly get bored. I would do a ‘sweep’ of the local charity shop: take a bunch of her old toys in, buy new ones, and repeat the cycle a few months later. They might be a little older, now, but provided they take good care of the things they borrow, there’s really no reason not to pass it on.
We could make better use of local ‘mobile toy libraries’, and I’m going to suggest more ‘toy swaps’ with parents of similar-aged kids, too.
I’m hopeful. If we all try to buy less and recycle, we might put a stop to the relentless demand for more, more, more. But the first thing I’m going to do? Stockpile those cardboard boxes.