Have you done your X-word shopping yet?

If not, stop for a moment to consider the latest pail of cold water on this season of gift-giving. It’s happened to most of us, no doubt1. We’ve either bought something for the sake of giving something or received a gift, no matter how well-meaning, that we just have no use for. I don’t just mean those petrol station flowers and chocolates; at least those will look nice for a day or get scoffed when the other goodies have been finished. I’m thinking more on the lines of unwanted jumpers and costly gadgets that lie in a cupboard just because you’d feel bad about throwing away a present from your favourite aunt. The ones that get moth-eaten or go rusty in a few years and get thrown out anyway.

Some of my friends practice the “white elephant” method of gift-recycling, where they give unwanted presents to someone else the following year. I guess that goes round and round until someone who actually has a use for the item keeps it. Or someone like me, who is still bound by the culture of my childhood to accept graciously and find some use for a heavy crystal decanter2 even though it’s not my style at all.

Another method of gift-“disposal” I have observed benefits the charity shops. From gift-wrapping straight to Oxfam. You might even get a warm glow from “giving” to charity at this time of year. But think how little the charity shop will actually get from selling this second-hand item. Even a almost-new shirt goes for less than half its purchased value. Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to cut the middle man and give straight to the charity?

That’s the suggestion put forth in said article, with the finding that £2.3 billion is wasted each year on such unwanted gifts. That said, the research was commissioned by World Vision, who might have a vested interest in triggering some guilty feelings, which can be quickly assuaged by purchasing a cowpat stove on behalf of a Nepalese family3. This is not an entirely new concept. Both World Vision and Oxfam have offered such charity gift-giving in previous years. The goat went down very well with P’s parents’ neighbours; as part of the farming community, they understood the difference an animal could make to the livelihood of a family. We’ll probably follow-up this year with the vet care kit, which in hindsight should have been offered as an add-on from the start. Who knows whether that goat has survived the three years since we “bought” it. That said, not everyone will appreciate getting SFA other than a warm glowing feeling in return for a very fancy jumper that took them 6 months to knit, for instance. So we usually give a box of chocolates as well4. Since those early days of a choice between an expensive water tank, a goat and a chicken, the options have grown. For a casual friend, you might want to consider getting condoms. I’m putting AIDS prevention education on my wish list this year. I’d also really like a pair of llamas, but I suspect they won’t take too kindly to my diverting them from Bolivia to my backyard…

As us ex-cheapo students also know, another way of giving a present that will be truly useful, but low in monetary expenditure, is to offer certain certain favours, like of car washes, to ones parents. I think my brother tried that unsuccessfully one year. Yeah, great deal for my parents: give a Sega Mega II, get a car wash in return that would probably result in scratched paint anyway. While I’ve never been given such a favour-gift, even from brother, I once gave away a chequebook of kisses. Not a single one was cashed though. Funny, that.

Having a wish list can also cut down wasted spending on unwanted pressies. That said, no one has ever bought me anything off my Amazon wish list, which has been in place for donkey years. Admittedly, P is not a very internety person, my brother has been skint for donkeys too, and my parents, while perfectly capable of purchasing books from Amazon, just can’t navigate to my wish list nor my Flickr account. All other relatives are also not internety people. Which means that every year we all have to guess at what we’d each find useful or desirable. Fortunately, they all really like getting books, socks, chocolates, music, chocolates, my baking, scarves, gloves, rugby DVDs, handmade jewellery, chocolates… And they usually give me equally useful things like books, socks, chocolates, scarves, gloves, rugby tickets, chocolates… Both sets of families are practical people and give largely practical gifts. And chocolates. Everyone like chocolates. Give chocolates5.


Blurry shot of 2006's tree



1 At least those of us who participate in the wintry shenanigans of over-eating and over-spending, which would be a substantial percentage of the first world.

2 As seen in a previous entry, finally put to service decanting a full-bodied Russian River red wine.

3 As I understand it, you’re making a donation of a specific amount of money, which will pay for the “gift”, which I think they promise to deliver. Anyone know otherwise? On my cynical days, I think these could be donations of money to the charity, which end up in a big pot.

4 I can just hear the crafty people cringing at the thought of a box of chocolates being the equivalent of 6 months of knitting. But perhaps they’ve not had chocolates from Hotel Chocolat. And maybe what I intended was for them to have a good source of energy foodwhile they were knitting… At any rate, for the lazy amongst us, Oxfam even provides a tick box for an additional gift of fair trade chocolate so your recipient has something to unwrap. Holy cow. They’ve really thought this one through. But I still like my Hotel Chocolat, who make an effort to pay fair prices for their chocolate too.

5 But not to the dog.

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4 thoughts on “Have you done your X-word shopping yet?

  1. The trouble with wishlists – and I have a huge one – is that it does take the imagination out of present buying, and take it to the point when you might as well just stick a tenner with your Christmas card…

  2. It’s true. Then again, you don’t have to buy the exact item. And I kind of like the idea of sticking money in a card. It’s like red packets at Chinese New Year all over again!

  3. i sort of love the worldvision gifts myself, but it’s entirely based on faith that they actually do deliver the goods, rather than it being thrown in the pot; i tend to give more towards the goats and school supplies because i’d like to think the cash is going towards something more tangible and immediately helpful to the people in need. if they don’t actually use the money as promised, well, that’s santa-deceit level treacherous.

    and ooh. hotel chocolat. i had no idea they had a us site. trouble!

  4. I really hope they truly buy a goat for someone and it doesn’t get absorbed by admin costs. After all, that’s what all the other donations we make all year round are for.

    Ah, Hotel Chocolat. What can I say other than I will not visit the site myself, but will be forwarding the US address as a subtle hint to my brother. (I was unkind about him in the post; he brought a whole suitcase of Hotel Chocolat boxes from London last winter. My saviour!)

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