Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dear John . . .

Have you been naughty or nice this year? Have you been direct and to the point or have you beat around the bush? Have you done one of the toughest things one interested in reducing holiday consumption can do? Have you had "the talk" with family and friends?

There are several ways of talking to your family and friends about dropping out of the holiday shopping madness. The most obvious way is straight-forward and courageous.

The Dear John letter or the phone call that lays it all on the table. George Orwell once wrote: During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. I wish I could say that I took this approach this year. I didn't. My sister and brother-in-law, however, did (with his family - a collection of people who already care to different degrees about the environment). Here's the email they sent:

Dear Family,

The recent oil spill [in San Francisco Bay] and the release of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 7-year study have us thinking about our carbon emission lifestyle. Also, did you know that between Thanksgiving and New Years Americans throw away 25% more trash than the rest of the year? We want [our children] and their children to grow up and be able to see the wonders of the California environment that we have all enjoyed. We are trying to reduce our carbon emission consumption and contributions to the land fill, including during this Holiday season.

Could you please buy the [children] toys that are not made out of plastic or are poorly made? You could also give them things that will not fill up the landfill such as tickets to an event that you would take them to or a voucher for an afternoon together. If we are doing stockings for the adults, please give us consumables (paper pads, edibles, etc.) or green items (locally made, organic, sustainable, handmade and/or products made from recycled material, etc.).

We see this as an opportunity to be creative and responsible, yet keep the good ole' Christmas spirit burning bright.

Happy Holidays!

Way to go, sis! She reports that the email was well received and that everyone agreed it was the right thing to do.
Unlike my brave sister - who was also not brave enough to send it to my family ;-) - I didn't get up the guts to write a Dear John letter like this. Instead, I laid ground work early on. I discussed how important it is for children to have a few quality toys that encourage imagination. I wailed over how many material goods children have these days, how many of them are not played with and end up in the landfill and I played up the fear of "toxic toys". I worked up the courage to cite a few frightening statistics: Did you know that for every truckload of new product that goes to market, 32 truckloads go to the landfills? I asked for more tradition and fun and less stuff.
In addition, I persuaded my family to do away with an adult gift exchange (we used to draw names) and to limit gift giving to a white elephant (give an item you already have in your home). My reason: we are all so busy and all have more stuff than we need. I was less successful in implementing a limit on the number of kids' gifts from extended family - though, within our immediate family, we are limiting stockings and gifts. As far as my husband's family, all I worked up the nerve to do was to praise experiences over goods, to ask for quality items and to ensure that the few gifts we give are consumable.
Do I feel that, in terms of gifts, my family and extended family are going to a "greener" Christmas than seasons past? Yes, absolutely. I think we've made a lot of progress and hope to keep whittling away at the number of items exchanged as the years go by. Was my sister and brother-in-law's more direct approach more immediately effective? Probably. Maybe next year, I'll work up the courage to tell the truth about consumption. For now, I'll be happy with the Christmas we'll have. It will be one spent with dear family and will generate happy memories and traditions for years to come.


Cindy said...

Your sister is really brave. I talked about having a gift truce with family members last year, but did not have the courage to implement it. This year, I backed out too. Shame on me. My sister is totally on board, but my husband's siblings are mega consumers (one remodels the home every 3 years and one owns 3 suburbans for a 5 person family). But come to think of it, they are the people I really should declare my intentions. I have had this crazy idea for a while: we plan to take our kids on a long trip every year (to see the world so to speak). I am going to set up a website with the next year's destination marked before each Christmas. Family members can "sponsor" a segment of the trip for the kids. They will get photos and/or "reports" from the kids after the trip. I know, I know, it probably involves more work than I can manage. Who knows, next year, I may just make it happen. Then my dear John letter will be that much easier to write :) Wish me luck.

Burbanmom said...

Yes this is a tricky subject, GB. Nobody wants to tell someone else what they find "acceptable" in terms of gifts. It's a gift afterall and the giver should be free to choose.

However, it doesn't hurt to point out, as you did, the lead paint issue, the cheap plastic issue and the fact that most kids already have too many toys and would prefer an "experience".

My family is ALL on board with it. In fact, the young cousins (all under four) will be getting used presents from each others' homes (FREE) and a 529 college fund contribution. The kids don't care if the toy is used and us moms REALLY appreciate the extra college savings!

Very Merry Christmas!

Green Bean said...

Cindy, what a wonderful idea to have family sponsor part of a trip! That's really awesome. You should totally go for it - and, if you do, please blog about it. More to add to your to do list.

Burbanmom, LOVE the swap of hand-me-downs. We're doing that to a certain degree but I wish we were doing it more. The kids really don't know the difference.

Happy holidays everyone!

Cindy said...

Thanks for your encouragement, Michelle :) My husband thinks I am nuts, but what does he know?! I will definitely try to make it happen for next year :)

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