It is insinuated that love needs lots of (preferably expensive) gifts to be maintained, thereby creating the impression that not only should feel obliged to give something to your loved one, but that we also should be concerned if nothing (expensive) is given. And while this latest incarnation of Valentine’s Day has its origins in the USA, these days it’s a pretty common thing around the world, especially in the Far East.
It appears that – just like Halloween and other originally pagan festivals – the origins of Valentine’s Day might be a mix of a pagan festival (in this case Lupercalia of Roman tradition) and a Christian saint that was superimposed on that pagan festival in order to strengthen Christianity and suppress the practice of the pagan festival. As is often the case in these situations, the facts have been muddled intentionally or through the course of time. Suffice it to say that Lupercalia was a festival to honour fertility (a spring thing), and St. Valentine had nothing to do really with love, until the times of Chaucer, when the whole thing came together as a St. Valentine’s festival that honoured (chaste) love.
Why bring this up in the context of decluttering? Well: a lot of what we give and receive on that day seems to be stuff that is specifically produced for that purpose, and a lot of it has a practical half-life of only a couple of days, weeks at best. Valentine’s Day advertising and consumption is one of those times when consumerism not just overrides common sense, but it tries to engender an artificial sense of duty to buy and give things in all of us. That has never really been an issue as long as we gave flowers or self-crafted cards. However, with the growth of the hype, this ultimately leads us to cheap things being mass-produced only to be given, to last for a couple of days and then be disposed. By following that road, we add to the ever-growing dumping grounds, over-use of raw materials and mindless consumption that our world is being inundated with already.
I’d like to draw your attention to another choice you could make, which is giving an experience rather than a physical gift. Show your love in ways that are not necessarily tangible, that do not come in the form of some well-meant yet ultimately useless gift, but is something to cherish in memory for a long time.
I’d much rather be having a romantic candle-lit home-cooked meal than something useless to put on a shelf. I’d love to receive the gift of time spent with me without distraction by phone messages or calls being taken. Or a simple surprise picnic on the beach, on a mountaintop or simply the living room floor. Maybe my partner does something I love with me, even though he does not usually enjoy this activity. I strongly believe that the best and most relevant gift to be given is your presence, and creating memories together: that will not only fulfil the ‘requirements’ of Valentine’s Day, but it will strengthen the bond between the people involved much more than some ‘thing’ that more likely than not has been chosen just because it was in front of someone’s nose when they were desperately searching for a gift.
Giving a thoughtful gift seems like a difficult thing to do, and outside inspiration (i.e. advertised stuff) is often required to fulfil that obligation, but beware that ads are made to lure you astray into the realm of consumerism and useless stuff. If you take a moment and search your soul, you usually know what the other person would enjoy. Very often this turns out to be something very small, unexpected and non-corporeal as a little tenderness, time spent together, a foot massage or having a bath drawn for you (candles help!).
Receiving the gift of someone’s undivided attention and presence is probably the rarest of gifts you could be given overall: not only will it be memorable, and it will not physically clutter your home, but – most importantly – it will cleanse your mind from your daily goings-on. That being said, a small bouquet of flowers (self-picked?), some self-baked biscuits or a small box of just two or three select chocolates will never go amiss, of course. However, the sentiment, timing and your full engagement at the moment of giving is where you really show your affection.
It’s the things you do that count, not the things you give. And that holds true always.
If you are interested in the subject of overconsumption, here is an interesting blog entry by George Monbiot you might want to read. The video "Story of Stuff" is pretty thought-provoking, too.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache and it is my mission to help my clients declutter mind and space. This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.