Tuesday, December 08, 2009

advent season: day eight: wishlist morality

Working at Topshop, I am, quite naturally exposed to a fairshare of materialism. This is not to say this is something only encountered whilst working in retail, or even to try to pretend I am an anti-capitalism saint (I have a fashion blog afterall..) but at this time of year, with the christmas rush, the demanding nature of people's material needs is increasingly apparent and well, all a bit distasteful.

I've lost count of the amount of flustered mothers and boyfriends I have tended to over the past fortnight. They are armed with wishlists and flailing their shaky hands with a fear of giving gifts that have not been previously specified as wanted. I can identify with that sense of hopelessness during present shopping, the task swamped by cluelessness when facing the idea of buying for a tricky family member. However, hearing resigned Fathers sigh 'these days she just tells me what she wants.. at least then I know she'll be happy..' is all rather heartbreaking and quite frankly tiresome. I hate to come over all Scrooge, but what does this Father's statement (and I've heard numerous identical echoes) say about my generation? That hoards of little Princesses are being bred with a sense of entitlement to receive perfect christmas presents exactly as they wish, is the impression I'm under.

Of course, I know relatives like suggestions to ease the burden of shopping, but when did giving a gift to somebody you love have to be a burden? Any other time of the year it would be both a pleasure to give and receive a little token out of the blue. A little 'I thought this and thought of you, but hey, no worries If you don't like it' gift. This is an era clouded by environmental and financial issues; we're producing more than we need, creating hair-raising amounts of waste and being swept away by the 'instant gratification' ideology. It is with this in mind, combined with the daily sprinkling of the word 'recession' across our newspapers that this mindset seems particularly unsettling.
Can't we look back to bygone eras (I know, nostalgia in such situations can seem cliched and romanticised..but..) and adopt that spirit of quality over quantity? Perhaps a thick paperback and a modest slab of chocolate for christmas time reading and rustling over a stack of shiny new electronic goods (which come with financial heartburn come January..)

When my friends hear that myself and my parents will be exchanging just one book and one food/drink related piece this year, they indeed call me Scrooge in jest and I hate to think I sound self righteous, but why can't this be enough? Less can be more, the element of surprise is refreshing, and most of us live surrounded by enough accumulated clutter. The worse case scenario is that you get lumped with a couple of gifts that aren't your cup of tea. I really can't see that this is true hardship.

Now, this isn't meant to be a rant, though I suppose it is a bit of a vent. I am interested to know your attitudes. I used to write wishlists when I was younger, but since the age of 16 I've been encouraged to buy my own gifts and receive the same amount as the 'adults'. Perhaps you feel differently and can stand up for your traditions or I've overlooked something. Either way, do have a gabber in the comments box!


WendyB said...

Would you mind just barring the door and giving people my biz card instead? I could use the customers. I admit it's not the best career move for you, but sacrifices must be made.

no lenses. said...

you are so right. finally, someone sees it like i do!



Sarah said...

I completely agree with you. Sadly however, my mother INSISTS on always having a list created by me. Otherwise, she goes mental trying to think of things. She's not a "shop around, and see what there is" person. But that's not to say she doesn't get me thoughtful randoms. So, it's a win win I suppose?

Faith said...

wishlists,though,keep people from getting cash&a card with "hey,get what you want kid" written on it thrown in their face
&if you're tough to shop for(as people manage to tell me several times)then it is much easier to crank out a list&hope for the best
plus,dunno about anyone else, but sometimes list items are scrapped&people buy you what you said you need(this was how i ended up getting a digital camera)
i think there's only a "burden" behind a wishlist if a bratty child is behind it...i personally wouldn't have a bitchfit if i didn't get EVERYTHING
but if a paperback&chocolate is what you WANT then it is enough
i think gift giving is(or should be)more about making someone happy more than "Jesus, Susie will EAT MY HEART if i don't get that blazer she's dying to own!"

Ringo, have a banana! said...

I grew up in a family that always wrote out wishlists, not sure why we just always did. Now that I'm older, I for one have chosen to continue doing so because I would rather my family spend their hard earned money on something that both they and I know I will truly love an appreciate and actually use, instead of something that will just get taken to a thrift store, or worse, thrown out in a flurry of frustration.

I know that making wishlists sort of seems like it diminishes the "spirit of Christmas," and I know that essentially it should be the "thought that counts", but nothing breaks my heart more than thinking that someone I care about essentially threw away money on me. I really loathe that feeling, and the guilt that comes with it. It would be one thing if my family really had a better understanding of each other's likes and dislikes, but unfortunately we've never been a very close knit bunch.

Anyways, that's my two cents.

A. said...

*round of applause*
whatever, i agree sister.


Ally said...

I agree with what you are feeling wholeheartedly. This year (and in fact for the past few years) I have exchanged only small, carefully selected or homemade gifts with my family. There is so much unnecessary stuff being produced these days, and if I really want something specific I usually save and buy it for myself. I feel gifts should have thought and effort put into them, and that all gifts should be appreciated regardless of one's first impression. It seems lots of people have lost the ability to be gracious and thankful. If someone has put the time and thought into buying me something, even if it's a pair of socks (ok bad example, I love socks, but you get the idea) it is the act of giving that should be noted and appreciated. Maybe it's because everyone has high expectations these days, that we want it all and think we somehow deserve it. Maybe as gift givers we should all try investing more time than money into the gift, and as receivers we should just be grateful! I feel self righteous when discussing this topic too but it sickens me the mindless consumerism displayed not just at Christmas but all events like birthdays. I guess I can only hope quality over quantity will return in all areas of life asap!

dolldust said...

couldn't agree with you more.

HELI said...

i work in retail to dear i love this post<3

HELI said...

i look forward to reading more post from you
i'm following your blog follow mine too

frillies for fillies said...

I really do agree, I have recently downsized from a whole house to a room in a shared house, and I wonder to myself, do I really need all this stuff in my life. Apart from the precious things, everything else is just stuff, clogging up my room.

Give me a little thoughtful keepsake, or handmade item from the giver anyday over something that isn't thoughtful and just clogs up my life.


Gem said...

Great post!
Props to you and your family for your unmaterialistic christmas, that's amazing!
I'm thinking of heading that way, me and my boyfriend seem to have everything we need but he's still 'racking his brains' for stuff I could buy him and I keep saying 'if you don't want anything, let's just not do presents?!' Because the whole buying for the sake of it really bothers me.
I will gladly accept christmas money though, because that can be spent throughout the year when I see really special things my student budget can't stretch to!
Are you anti-Christmas money or is it just the gift side of things?

darwin said...

i see this all the time aswell...also working in a high priced clothes shop, the amount of 12 year olds coming in with their parents demanding the £100 tracksuit is ridiculous..the mother then buys the wrong one to have her kid tell her she doesn't want it and has to come back in to exchange it, you can see the frustration in her eyes.....
im with you on this, christmas is the time for thought and token gifts i think, something small and special with alot of thought gone in to it.... sorry im almost having a rant now! hehe hope you have a good christmas, im loving the book and food idea!x

lc said...

ahh i completely agree! i have an aunty that is obsessed with buying a more expensive present than you bought for her. and if she doesn't like your present, she will tell you! what happened to gifts being a thoughful gesture that you are happy to receive! its cliche but it really is the thought that counts xx

mademoiselle, coco said...

Quite a lot of people I know think I get a lot spent on me, I usually get £250-£300 each Christmas in presents, but I'd never dreeeam of throwing a paddy when I didn't get the present I wanted. I've asked for one thing this year, which is a camera that costs around £120, and after that all I want is surprises, anything, nothing really..

What that man said, you can just imagine some teenager girl throwing an absolute toddler tantrum because she didn't get what she wanted, and not being thankful for what she actually did get, which definitely isn't the way it should be.

I'm thankful for every single present I get, because my mum, as many other single parents will do across the country, absolutely skints herself for Christmas, and people should be thankful for what they get. It's meant to be a religiously holiday, and it's turned into a day where little madams think they deserve the world, as a 'reward' for probably being a brat throughout the rest of the year too.

leilani.e said...

Alrighty, so I"m going to play a bit of devil's advocate here, not because I disagree with you (I fully agree with you), but because I do see some merit in the wishlists.

It's an unfortunate kind of merit, too, because if one has to give family members a specific wishlist it most likely means that one can't trust those family members with your likes & dislikes. Gifts are meant to be "a little token" of I-thought-you'd-like-this, but so many families are not close enough to know what would be liked.

I know my parents had me pegged for years as a horses-and-books tomboy-girl, which I was when I was six and seven. It got to the point where I was 16/17 and christmas gifts didn't show that they knew I'd grown up or changed in my tastes at all. If I'd told them what I really wanted (tea and maybe a dress), instead of the usual book they would have been shocked, or worse, laughed it off. They started resorting to gift cards, because it's hard to hide your disapointment at the tenth History of the Roman Empire.

In this sense I can see why lists can be useful for families - it's hard to see that your daughter's growing up sometimes without her really showing you. Unfortunately, that growing up coincides with the most princessy teenage years where the lists are kind of odious and absurdly materialistic.
So I can defend the lists - I just can't defend the length of them, which I guess is what you're really getting at. And sorry, that was waaay too long. :s

Francy said...

I love this post. My family does one gift per person, and I usually do something special for my parents like buy them a bottle of wine in addition. I guess we are more about good food and good coversation during the holidays. Plus, if I need or want something, I can just get it myself so I'm not relying on gifts. I don't consider myself a shopaholic or anything, but this independence makes 20 Christmas gifts a little unnecessary and overwhelming to think about!

Cool post.


Retro Chick said...

Hmm, I know exactly what you mean!

(Though I might have just written a wish list post on my blog, but I have no realistic expectation of receiving anything on it!)

I really hate being asked "what do you want for Christmas" because it makes me feel like a greedy cow. To me present buying should be about looking out for something you really think someone will like and love and will enhance their lives. Otherwise you might as well just give them the money!

I'm suffering this year as I have very little money and I'm feeling a lot of pressure over presents.

All I really want for Christmas is to have a nice day, a rest,(and eat lots of food)

It's a shame that there is so much pressure over gifts and it's nice you're putting your foot down!

khelsaoe said...

Bravo! You have written an excellent editorial. I feel exactly the same way. Being a graduate student, my husband and I have no money, and we told everyone we would be buying no gifts this year and would appreciate the same in return. There is no reason for us to go into debt to buy people some crap they really don't want or need.

Thankfully, there has not been too much resistance. We are going to celebrate the holiday by having a meal together and spending the day with our family.

Lacey Starr said...

I really quite agree with you. The rampant materialism is especially tacky given our current economical climate. And I certainly don't approve of demanding children, of any age. My husband and I do not exchange gifts (well not the coerced gift giving of the holidays, we do treat one another throughout the year). I beg my parents not to get me anything as I'm an adult and really have everything I could need or want and a basement full of stuff I don't want but feel to bad to get rid of. But Mom never listens and still thinks of me as a child. she always buys way too much and its rarely ever anything to my taste and usually something I already have three of in the basement. How can we convince people that it's quite all right not to buy, or to buy less?

Anna Jane said...

Good post.

And I have to say, it is really sad to see people getting in such a fluster over Christmas. I mean, I admit to being really quite specific when telling family members what to get me for Christmas, but I accept that if they don't get me what I want, then I really really don't mind. It's just sad that some people seem to think its the end of the world if they can't get their loved ones exactly what they want.

I feel for you working in Topshop at this time of year!

- Anna Jane xxx

tastes like disco said...

I understand very well. I m also not very comfortable with too much materialism and try to go with "quality over quantity". Obviously it doesnt always work and i love having a lot of things when it comes to clothes... but that s why i love vintage and secondhand. It is recycling with the extra that the piece is unique.

And I try very hard this year to only make gifts which I really like and are actually useless. I dont want to make presents which the other doesnt like and is just adding to the massive amount of things we already have! I also like making secondhand gifts. I bought a lovely handbag from the charity shop for my sister and for my dad`s girlfriend I made an apron out of vintage fabric. The other presents gonna be things like a good book or a good film. I find it very important to make gifts which you like yourself not only the other.

Anonymous said...

completely agree with you. our generation are a load of princesses who expect to get what they want ALL THE TIME. especially really expensive gifts for christmas.
you and your fam have the right idea, it isn't being a scrouge at all.

Isabel said...

I every with every word you say. These days it seems like everything has become a little bit excessive. There is nothing wrong with scaling back, for the sake of the environment and your pocketbook!

Siru said...

I think alike a lot, I love giving gifts, but the burden sometimes gets me and it's not a nice feeling. I love surprising and being surprised and I think strict wishlists are terrible.

juliet xxx

All Women Stalker said...

Perfectly true. This is why I like the traditions where you put a cap or limit the prices of gifts. A theme is perfect, too.


KP said...

wow, working at topshop during the holidays must really try your patience! I totally agree with you-it had gotten to an insane level, especially since no one can afford gifts about now. My fam all chose one name and a fifty dollar limit this year xo

corrie said...

I'm actually surprised so many families ask each other what they want for Christmas. Neither of my parents ever directly ask me this. They'll take some hints here & there, but ultimately are pretty keen on things being a surprise. I know people who's parents give them money to go shopping, then they give the loot to their parents to wrap. Ridiculous! What's the point?

The idea of expecting people to buy me things kind of weirds me out too. Though gifts are always appreciated, handing someone a list just seems rather demanding.

All in all though, if someone is really stressed out and asks for gift ideas, I don't see much harm in that. But a whole list of crap. Eh, it's just too much.

Alya said...

I'm a bit undecided on this. I like the idea of recieving gifts of course. And I enjoy the element of surprise. Whether its a birthday present, christmas present, bridal shower or whatever.

However, it would really save people the money and effort if they had a wishlist they could go by. I, myself, have created numerous ones for my friends and family so that I dont bother them with anything. I know for a fact that they're going to bring me something, so I'd rather not waste their time and hard-earned money and instead give them a list.

Selina (Flying Saucer) said...

a great post, i love your thoughts. people shouldn't take the chance to 'find' things to receive for christmas when really there's nothing they were needing in the first place. i do believe lists are a good thing though, as i'd rather a miniscule present than a pile of strange and unwanted things from distant relatives that get sent to the charity shop straight away. i'd rather they asked! i write a list for my parents but kep it in the realm of what they can afford/is attainable and i was planning on buying anyway. i guess people can request specific presents now because there are so many products and variations out there,and especially since the shops make those overpriced gift sets especially for 'the teenager' or 'dads' that are easy to pick up but don't really contain a whole lot, just plastic packaging! i think it would be more sustainable to make a really specific list, almost like a wedding list! we have such specific tastes nowadays because there are so many things to choose from. but then again like you said it fuels the desire for consuming things rather than appreciating a gift. i read an article about a little girl who requested for all the money that would have been spent on birthday presents was sent to charity instead each year. sure made me feel bad!