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All I Want For Christmas Is Something That Won’t Break Immediately

Christmas scene with a tree
Image CreditPexels/Brett Sayles/Public Domain/Cropped

If you must exchange Christmas gifts this year, let it be something old and sturdy. Let’s give the landfills a break.

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The current minimalism fad might be the only sane response to having so much cheap junk in our lives. When considering Christmas gifts to buy or receive, many weary shoppers find that the most appealing present seems to be nothing at all. It’s a weariness induced by material overload of items that just don’t work.

Writing on his Substack, author Walter Kirn bemoans living in “Generation Junk.” In painful detail, to which so many of us can relate, Kirn describes the catalogue of appliances, tools, and dishes that have quickly become useless. These items, he writes, are “ending their long journeys from overseas factories in unmarked graves in my local Montana landfill.” He adds, “I have a whole ghost kitchen in this landfill, and soon I will need to reserve a bigger plot.”

Don’t we all at this point? It is absurd that when neighbors ordered a new television that arrived cracked, the company simply refunded the money and told them not to return it. What’s more, not a single local appliance repair shop could fix it.

It’s not just televisions and kitchenware. Upon purchasing a sledgehammer (from an allegedly reputable brand for no small sum, I might add), you may find the first time it makes contact with concrete, the head of the sledgehammer separates from the handle. Again, what solution is there but to pitch it?

Amazon, Influencers, and Knickknacks

I’ll spare you further examples, as Kirn has already provided many with appropriately dark humor. And I’m sure every reader living in a lavish postmodern consumer culture has his own long list of examples.

We all suffer under the madness, but why hasn’t anyone reined it in? Take Amazon, for starters. Anyone who has spent a weekday at home in the suburbs will see a parade of Amazon delivery trucks carting boxes of junk to American homes on a daily basis.

Another factor is undoubtedly what can be termed broadly as “influencer culture.” Starting in early childhood, internet personalities supply an endless stream of “unboxing” videos. In these odes to unrestrained materialism, content creators — some of them small children — remove the packaging from brand-new, straight-off-the-shipping-container merchandise to show viewers their “haul.” Notably, there are rarely if ever follow-up videos demonstrating how these items held up to daily wear and tear. There is just the video of something shiny and new, which viewers can, of course, usually purchase using an Amazon affiliate link.

In addition to the miscellany of life that is so easily broken and unusable, there is a steady stream of cheaply manufactured T-shirts, plastic toys, water bottles, seasonal décor, and infuriating knickknacks that make their way into the average household.

Minimalism, or the End of Heirlooms?

Is it any wonder that minimalism is such a craze among Millennials? The idea of ridding our homes of all the flotsam and jetsam of poorly made products that are not built to last seems like the only path out. Kirn quotes from William Morris, the father of the Arts and Crafts movement, who advised sagely, “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” This is a favorite quote among certain minimalists, people who subscribe to a philosophy of ridding their personal environment and lives of superfluous content and focusing on what they value most.

There does seem to be a downside to minimalism. Older generations speak sadly of the heirloom China that none of the grandkids want. An older woman working at a thrift store brought a bundle of household items to work with her every day as a donation because her children had made it known they did not want any of her things when she died. It’s grim and, to some extent, understandable.

This Christmas, Gift the Old, Forgo the New

There’s one caveat the younger generations should seriously consider. The one item Kirn mentions that hasn’t broken irrevocably? A 70-year-old juicer in perfect working order. If you don’t want your grandmother’s China, that might be forgivable. But her cast iron pans? Those are family heirlooms worth holding onto!

As is so often repeated with increasing layers of meaning, “They don’t make things like they used to.” Your grandfather’s tools may have been rusting in someone’s garage for decades, but do not throw them out! You can clean good tools, and they will continue to function long after all the latest purchases from Amazon crumple into a sad monument to greed, cheap labor, and abject materialism.

If you must exchange Christmas gifts this year, let it be something old and sturdy, homemade, or the gift of an experience. Let’s give the landfills a break.


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