20 December 2010

Junky gift syndrome a.k.a. 'the plastic disaster'

Cruising across town on December 24, one can be treated to the sights and sounds of almost-but-not-quite-Christmas. ‘Tis the season for shimmering-glimmering red, green and gold tinsel decorations, multi-colored twinkling lights, decked-out trees and robust likenesses of a kindly-looking ruby-cheeked Santa.

Now more than ever, the finer details of neighbors’ and Main Street purveyors’ seasonal accoutrements are readily apparent in light of the unholy length of time that one is forced to sit in traffic. It’s amazing what you can observe when you have copious amounts of time (to kill) on your hands. Who needs sing songy carols and chiming bells when your auditory canals can be treated to the off-kilter tones of cars honking and cranky would-be shoppers cursing the day that you were born?

One of the most widely celebrated holidays in our culture, Christmas involves dutifully exchanging STUFF with one’s loved ones, extended family and worthy cohorts. As we descend en masse upon shopping malls, discount outlets, boutiques, emporiums and big-box stores with precious time remaining before our gift giving and receiving ceremony is launched, the look of panic on the sea of faces before us is palpable. We are among the deer-in-headlights-stricken, desperate to locate something, anything that will demonstrate our love/appreciation/obligation toward the recipient of our choice.

How is it possible that so many people, year-after-year, are chronically behind the eight-ball? Why do we repeatedly subject ourselves to the insanity that is last minute holiday shopping? It is within this moment of weakness that an inexplicable haze sets in and our judgment is woefully compromised. Face and ears become chronically flushed and light-headedness makes way for what can only be termed dumb-as-a-stick impulse buying.

How sad, then, that the majority of the useless plastic thingamajiggies that we lay our eyes on -- created in cheap labor nations fond of using copious amounts of toxic materials like lead -- are miraculously transformed into the most exalted objects of our affection. Singing-dancing fish on a plaque, anyone? Consider for a moment how much money we, as a nation, waste on the purchase of fantastic plastic doo-dads. In the sobering light of day, how many of these objects d’art are tossed mercilessly in the dumpster?

According to one recent study, 50 percent of our Christmas gifts actually hit the trash within one year. Boycotting junky trinkets altogether is a bold, albeit challenging step even for the most dedicated non-consumer. It’s admittedly tough when C-day is breathing down your neck and only yesterday, the motivation to cross people off of your list percolated into your consciousness. Aside from never setting foot in a store or shopping mall again, what can one do to resist the down-to-the-wire urge?

Planning ahead is the most ideal scenario. By thinking about the people on your list several weeks in advance and determining what their general likes/interests are, you can actually put together a gift (homemade or otherwise) that has heart and soul. However, if you're jonesing for a quick fix that involves none of the DIY commitment, here’s a tip that might actually come in handy during these final shopping days. Those who are hopelessly devoted to plastic might want to visit a local thrift store and for a mere pittance, purchase someone else’s mistake! Landfill disaster averted...at least for a while ;)

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/redeyetype