‘Tis the season. The big marketing push for people to go out and buy lots of plastic things with plastic money for people they wish they could spend more time with. I like Christmas. I enjoy Thanksgiving. I love spending time with my friends, eating delicious food, and relaxing with my family. I like the festivities and excitement this season brings. And this year, thanks to the help of Josh and Ryan, I’m looking forward to a more meaningful holiday season. However, each year, it seems marketers are taking their game to a higher level. In an effort to out-duel one another, the creep of spending and buying expands. It seems quantity, consumption, and the volume of stuff is getting the upper hand. Now that I am more aware of its effects, especially on children, I start to question the excess of disposable toys and plastic waste that has captured giving.
The ultimate irony is that I truly enjoy giving. I like to support people and organizations. I like to give great gifts to my wife, friends, and family. I think many people get stimulation from the buying process and the actual giving part. I’m working toward enjoyment of the utilization of the gifts and implementation instead of the process itself. I don’t mean this essay to specifically be a tresses against plastic toys; but merely to start a discussion about the disposable excess that permeates western culture and specifically manifests itself during the holiday season. And honestly, my push back to the giving season is based in its implementation. The combination of expectations and marketing that now are such an excessive part of the experience that it can diminish the joy of quality time and simple generosity.
Disposable Toys, Disposable Happiness
Kid’s toys are actually a great metaphor for life. Especially, those cheap plasticy toys that will break before they actually get used. America has a tendency to emphasize the excitement of buying and giving at the cost of actual enjoyment of the products being peddled. We get all pumped up about fancy packaging, flashing lights and good deals. But, if we are not careful, we end up with cheap, unfulfilling objects that clutter our lives and do not bring us lasting happiness.
Kids love toys. Adults love toys. We enjoy spending time with people that make us happy. And we also often enjoy spending time with quality objects that make us happy. Again, we must train ourselves to look for value when we shop and discount throw-away objects that do not provide us with lasting joy. I still prefer to give experiences, knowledge, or functional gifts when the opportunities arise. And I’d still prefer my child (or me) receiving a quality used toy or outfit than a new plasticy version or poorly stitched cheap garment. When it comes to giving objects as gifts, I tend to look for quality made objects that are useful and give children or adults a way to express their creativity. Things that can be used for years and have high replay value. Simple quality objects like balls, building blocks, bikes, books (or library cards), or games often can be used for years and still be enjoyable. If you have trouble finding ideas, ask your parents what their favorite toys were as kids.
Advertising and Kids
I have a strange combination of admiration and disdain for advertising in general. I am often amazed at its power and how well it is often done. If you have ever watched a child watch television in the months of November or December you will be blown away at how effective advertisers can be. They do their craft well and can elicit an immediate response and desire of these young and impressionable minds.
But wait, is it only the kids’ tender little minds being affected? Those fancy holiday decorations, big screen televisions, and cars with bows might be an indication that advertising works just as well on adults. Most people, myself included, tend to believe they are not affected tremendously by advertising. But anytime we step away or observe the effects of advertising on others we are reminded of exactly how powerful advertising can be. Advertising has its purpose, and if done well, can actually be a useful part of societal awareness. I enjoy advertisements for products that I am unfamiliar with and I’m happy to be notified about relevant products, events, and services. However, due to the sheer amount of information being thrown our way we must be extremely careful about limiting our exposure during the holiday season. How do we do this? Well, television wins hands down in terms of its advertising prowess, but also we may be subtlety aware of the other sources such as facebook (what our friends are doing/using/decorating/buying), online shopping sites, pinterest, and print media.
Efficient Gift Giving
Again, I actually really enjoy giving. I like to give gifts that provide true enjoyment or utility for their recipients. Giving gifts can be fun and, when utilized correctly, can bring lasting joy to individuals and families. If you must give gifts, concentrate on objects that promote activity, encourage creativity, and can be enjoyed year round. I still remember the first bicycle I received and how many hours I spent riding it all around the neighborhood and in the woods. I remember my red rider and shooting lots of cans and targets for hours on end. I remember the concert tickets my wife bought me and the wonderful back rubs that I received last year. For even more awesome ideas Josh has created a pretty sweet list. Spend some time to think about the things you really enjoy about giving. What are some ways you can leverage those ideas to make great experiences without a pile of waste?
I’m ready for the season. I’m looking forward to the excitement. However, I’m not too excited about the prospect of buying a bigger house and larger toy bins to accommodate the unused toy clutter that tends to accumulate. I’m ready to break the cycle of junk and waste and truly enjoy the excitement of wonderful company. I’m ready to suggest quality over quantity and time over money. It is time to push back against all the disposable plasticy crap and excess we expose ourselves and our children to, and spend some quality time with the people around us.