My daughter-in-law asked me the other day what I’d like for my birthday. I said that I had no idea. She suggested then that she give me money so that I could get something that I want and I had to tell her that that’s the problem – there is nothing. She tried again; how about something to wear? Again, I had to say that there was nothing I want. I look around the clothes shops and feel totally uninspired by what’s available. Most things that I like are too similar to something I already have. In fact the only clothing that I ever seem to covet is beautiful evening-wear but that would be a complete waste of money since I already have plenty of this even though nowadays I hardly ever wear it.
Receiving a gift is lovely but I’m not being ungrateful or difficult when I say that I do not want ‘things’. I already own those things that I want to own. I’m not a great one for jewellery. Yes, I have a penchant for chunky clip on earrings but I have perhaps twenty pairs – I don’t need more. I absolutely love the necklace that my younger son and daughter-in-law bought me as a gift for having their children when they went to America for a few days, and I was blown away by the beautiful watch they got me for my 60th birthday, but that’s enough. For some years now I have been asking for experiences (a back massage, facial, manicure etc) or consumables (the specific perfumes, make up or skincare and bath products that I use, or vouchers to buy same, chocolate (but PLEASE…not too much!) or flowers). For that same birthday, both my daughter and my elder son (though I suspect it was actually assembled by his kindly girlfriend) put together wonderful, generous selections of all those favourite consumables. And for Christmas they gave us a voucher for a meal out at a place they know we like – perfect.
We have a house full of far too much and bit by bit I am forcing myself to get rid of some of it. Too many books, too many shoes, too many clothes, too much of everything. I’m struggling a bit with parting with my university text books (too many good memories that are very recent) but it will happen. I find the idea of filling my home with yet more ‘stuff’ rather depressing. Husband has been slowly downsizing the abundant contents of our large loft. Honestly, if something has been in there unused for years, are we really likely to develop as sudden need for it?
Later on that same morning that d-i-l asked what I’d like for my birthday, I happened to mention that my purse lining had worn and that coins kept slipping into a ‘difficult to extract from’ place.
“I’ll get you a new one for your birthday,” she said excitedly.
“NO!” I told her. “I’ll mend it.” I like my purse, it has exactly the right combination of pockets and pouches and I really don’t want a different one.
Mend it! This she could not believe. “But I’ll get you a new one.”
I’m hoping that she took my further insistence that I actually wanted to mend it, seriously. (And in case you are reading, d-i-l, I’ve already done it). The old saying about making do and mending seems to have fallen so far out of fashion nowadays that I wonder whether many young people have even heard the expression.
My keenness for making do is borne from an inherent dislike of wasting anything. I sometimes alter clothing that I am fed up of wearing – perhaps shortening or remodelling a dress, or replacing existing buttons on a cardigan for more interesting ones. It’s not because I’m mean. Part of my role in my previous working life in the energy industry was to obtain qualifications in, and carry out environmental audits. As such, I am a great believer in the reduce, reuse, recycle philosophy. Too often people talk of recycling in terms of putting waste in the correct bin, when the first consideration should be reducing. It is the easiest thing ever to reduce the amount of things we own by choosing to not buy more and that’s why I don’t want tangible gifts.