More and Less is a monthly column that explores sustainability and conscious consumption when planning a wedding and also building a life with someone.
February brings an onslaught of pink and heart-shaped paraphernalia we are instructed to want. Although I can specifically recall walking into a drugstore and very earnestly coveting the teddy bear nearly as tall as me, I’m generally quite wary of token gifts. I know that had that enormous teddy bear entered my home he would have been almost immediately re-homed elsewhere. And that, likely, after a succession of re-homings, would have ended up in a landfill. (Although when it comes to stuffed creatures, I suppose, who knows? I have a now-cyclopian spherical sheep that my dad bought for me at the hospital gift shop on the day I was born, and he’s not going anywhere.) Maybe it’s the giant stuffed bear you want, or maybe it’s something else. The point is, things we only want when we see them aren’t really what we want. What we really want, underneath all the ideas of wanting, isn’t the stuff at all.
The point is, things we only want when we see them aren’t really what we want. What we really want, underneath all the ideas of wanting, isn’t the stuff at all.
I learned over the holidays last year that my uncle and his husband made a point early in their relationship not to exchange gifts. They decided they would rather have the money to spend on travel and shared experiences. I don’t know that this paradigm is for me right now, but it brought home the realization that as a couple, the way you exchange gifts doesn’t have to look any one particular way. You can give each other gifts, or not. They can be objects or they can be experiences. You can tell each other what you want, you can surprise each other, you can give practical presents… the possibilities are endless. This is coming from someone who happily received a jar of garlic sauerkraut for Valentine’s Day. I’m not saying you should want this (although Farmstead Ferments is delicious!), I’m just saying we – myself definitely included – sometimes get fixated on the gifts we feel we are supposed to want on this or that occasion.
I think this holds true for other relationships as well, and I’ve been trying to reconsider the ways I both give and expect gifts – whether these patterns and traditions are important to me and the people I love, or just habits and reflexes that could be reimagined.
Wedding favors are, to borrow from Emily Post, “a charming custom but in no way required or expected.”
Again, what we actually want is not the stuff. We know that. What we want is the celebration and the joy. I propose a creative challenge to those planning a wedding who might be inclined to give favors (which again, are “in no way required or expected”) to consider what a future guest’s experience of that favor would be. Maybe you can go with something ephemeral that doesn’t ask your guests to add to the clutter or the number of objects they need to tend to in their lives and homes (or by imposing on them something they may just feel bad about throwing away). And if you can make it yourself, that’s awesome. One wedding favor I cherished was a jar of blueberry jam, made by the bride. The jar is on my kitchen window sill, and I use it as a candle votive.
As someone who both makes things and resists the accumulation of more stuff in an already overstuffed world, I have an ongoing dialogue with myself about consumption. I love beautifully made objects, and I want to continue to support the people who make them. I also desperately want to respect the limited resources of this shared planet we live on. There are some areas of life where purchasing conscientiously is very difficult. But when it comes to gift-giving the options are wide open. So let’s rethink what we give and why. Not because we don’t want to give each other beautiful, thoughtful presents – but because we do.
Rebecca Perea-Kane is a writer and designer based in Charlottesville, Virginia. She spends her time working on her jewelry line, Thicket, traipsing through the woods with her dog, Arthur, practicing yoga, and writing poetry. She works as the production manager for Mi Ossa, a jewelry and leather goods company.