The (almost) no present Christmas

This Christmas things are very different in our household. The decorations will be up, the cards will be written and sent, the mince pies are already being tested, but there’s one big change. We’re not sending and receiving presents.

With the exception of a secret santa, and a few homemade biscuits for our families, we have made the decision not to give or receive gifts this year. This has caused some upset, and has made us seem probably a bit like a 21st Century version of Scrooge to others. Yet as I investigated the internet to see if we were the only ones, I came across people time and time again agonising over whether to give or ask not to receive gifts, for many different reasons; finances being a big one, but also the over consumption of ‘stuff’ for themselves, their children and the vast wastage of goods when you either get something you really don’t like or won’t use, or even the fact of just having to remove the enormous amount of packaging that comes with everything.

For us there are a few reasons we took this decision. We are trying to be minimalists, and we have a small home. Every Christmas although we’re extremely grateful people want to give us presents, we have to find room for more and more things. As the years are going by our wants are getting so few, it’s harder to find anything we need or desire and so we end up wasting people’s money.

Secondly present giving is often a ‘I’ll spend £30 pounds on you, and you’ll spend £30 pounds on me. What do you want for Christmas?’ Given what I’ve said about being hard to buy for, it’s no wonder poor people ask everyone what they want for Christmas so as not to waste their hard earned cash, but it begs the question to me, if you don’t know what I want, please get to know me better so you know what to buy me. I’d much prefer that. You see to me the gift of showing up, the gift of time, the gift of being there for the shitty bits far outweighs any gift I might get. I’m not being glib, I do love presents sometimes, but I also prefer to spend time thinking about the person I’m buying for, get some nice wrapping paper, or buy them an experience they’ll remember. I would prefer it when times are down that someone says ‘What can I do to help?’ That to me is the greatest gift anyone could give. Their time and their love.

Christmas was once (in case any of the younger generation aren’t clear) a religious festival. I’m not religious, I don’t celebrate Eid or Ramadan, so why would I celebrate a Christian festival? Now it’s just an orgy for over consumerism, and getting worse each year, and I don’t celebrate that either.

I like to give gifts but on my own terms. Something I spot for someone that makes me think of them, something that cheers someone up like a bunch of flowers or a gift that I’ve really thought about. I didn’t ever want people to think I don’t love them. I’m a big old ball of love, but I just want to express it by showing up and being there, not by buying a Boots 3 for 2.

The other key aspect of not buying gifts is of course the finance. This year if I’d bought all the gifts I’d done in years before I would have had to use my credit card. Money is all budgeted out for us, and a big expense like that just can’t be taken out of a monthly budget. Yes I could budget for 12 months to pay for a days worth of excess, but that just doesn’t work for me right now.

The result is although it has been hard to explain to the people I love why I am not buying gifts this year, it’s been worth it. I am far more enjoying Christmas without worrying who to buy for, what to buy and how I’ll pay for it. I feel festive, and free and for the first time in years, I am looking to enjoy Christmas for the key parts for me; family time, good old films and mulled wine! So now off to perfect the homemade Christmas biscuits…

The valuable lesson(s) I’ve learnt from dropping my phone down the toilet

You might think this is going to be one of those posts with helpful, practical advice on what to do if you drop your phone down the toilet…sorry to disappoint. This is more of a deep and meaningful realisation about the phone as a tool and how I’ve allowed myself to disappointingly buy into the big sell on phones.

However I can share with you that apparently everyone other than me knows the rice trick for if you submerge your phone in water (turn off your phone if you can, place it, submerged, in a storage container full of rice, leave for at least 48 hours) . Apparently many people I know have resurrected phones in this way. Not such a happy ending for my phone.

So back to my phone, RIP. Sadly on Thursday whilst I was holding it on the way to use the loo (I am one of those people who use their phone whilst on the loo – another lesson learnt there) I managed to drop the phone in the toilet (pre-use thankfully). Although I rescued it pretty quickly, the screen srarted flickering and it went black. Submerged in rice, it’s still flatlining and will need to be removed shortly for burial.

However even though I have only had the phone five months and I am still paying it off (Samsung S6. – bought sim free so rather expensive) I am actually really glad this happened. It’s woken me up to where I was at with the phone.

You see I’d bought into this materialist mantra that the latest, most up to date phone from one of the two lead phone manufacturers is the only way to go. I believed the hype…I justified, my phone is my diary, my camera, my notebook. It’s OK to buy the most expensive. It’s an investment…and I guess it could be if you don’t drop it down the toilet after 5 months if having it.

During the 48 phone-less hours I lasted before giving in and getting a new phone I had a pretty amazing experience. I wasn’t connected to the rest of the world any more. Adrift and alone I ended up alone at a dinner where my wife’s train was cancelled followed by a tearful wife who had imagined a catastrophe after not being able to get hold of me for a couple of hours. I had time to really think, rather than ‘just quickly checking on Facebook’ or Pinteresting before bed. However I also couldn’t remember a thing on my task list, and I couldn’t connect as easily to people and places.  It’s given me an insight into just how much we rely in our phones for so many things nowadays. I rely on mine to get me up in the morning, to remind me of what to do, to capture photos of moments, to bank, to shop, to meditate and and even that old fashioned thing of keeping in touch with people. It’s become, I believe, a necessity now. Certainly in York on the fateful day of a delayed train and a dinner eaten alone I couldn’t find a phone box to make contact. The mobile phone is now as much a part of our infrastructure as roads and electricity.

The other really important life lesson for me was that I hadn’t realised how much I had bought into the hype about branding. I speak so much about our materialist culture that to find I’ve fallen prey to it is a little disappointing. When I got my last phone I never asked myself, what do I need a phone for? What’s the best out there for me?  Can I find something that will do the job that doesn’t cost nearly £500? My feeling then was if it’s one of the top phones and that expensive it must be what I needed.

So picture the scene.. without a phone which I have found I need and with £300 still to pay off my other phone that has dearly departed there is no option but to get a cheaper phone. So I start looking and here’s the thing…there are much cheaper phones out there that have similar functions and I could have bought outright. There’s a whole range if good quality budget smartphones I wasnt even aware of because their advertising hadn’t reached me. £160 later and I have a phone that does everything I need it to. Granted it’s not all glass and I can’t wirelessly charge it. It only has half the memory of my old phone but I can use a memory card and it’s affordable for me. I could have bought it outright without being in debt. That’s what I’ve learnt and that’s what’s invaluable and why I am glad I dropped my phone down the toilet!