Anger to Action / Change

Let’s Change Our Approach to Gifts

My three year old daughter has been invited to a birthday party on Saturday. It’s the first of the parties where the whole class has been invited and comes with all the usual quandaries: do parents drop off or stay with the kids, what do we wear, what do we bring?

Since my daughter spends all her days with the wee lad who’s party it is, I asked her yesterday what he might like for a birthday present. She said ‘I have an idea,’ walked to her room and emerged with two toys. A well-loved dolly she plays with a lot and a leopard teddy we bought at a jumble sale last autumn. She held them up to me and suggested we wrap them right now, with all the impatience of a toddler. Cue a difficult explanation about how people normally like new things as presents. As the words tumbled messily out of my mouth and were met with the clear eyed stare only a three year old can give, I felt so silly. Must we put another new toy in the world, just because of social norms?

Children are our future. Since my daughter and her little sister’s arrival I have been struggling with the climate emergency. Every nappy I change or wet wipe I use gets thrown aside with a mix of relief that it exists, a guilt about the environmental impact of it, and of raising children generally. There’s nothing like the innocence of a newborn, dozing with little lips making a sucking motion in her sleep, to bring on a bout of climate anxiety. Chances are she will spend the best part of the next century on this planet. How will it look for her if and when she decides to bring her own newborn into the world? Or when I am long gone and her body is starting to fail her. I’ve never felt more ready to start taking action towards leaving a positive environmental legacy for my children.

So here’s an idea. It’s tiny. Can we let three year olds be three year olds? I love the generosity that came with my daughter’s desire to give away much loved toys (of which, incidentally, she has duplicates) and lose the pressure to stick to social norms. 

I am fortunate to live in Sweden, a very wealthy country. There’s money in my account to pay for a new toy and any number of beautiful toys in the shops, but when I look into the my daughter’s room, overflowing with toys, books and gifts*, I fear for the future. If every child had this, there will be no space left.

There’s much to be read and said about how we can make positive changes and I’ve been inspired by my friend Claire Marshall’s action in Sydney, Australia.  Claire and I have children of around the same age. I don’t need to tell you what is happening in Australia.  Every day I am grateful that I can walk my daughter to nursery in the morning and take big gulps of smoke-less air, counting my lucky stars that I don’t have to add face masks to my daughter’s already complex clothing arrangement. It’s time to stop thanking my lucky stars and do something and Claire has started 2020 by vowing to turn anger into action. Here’s my contribution, however small.

Let’s make it a game. Whenever faced with a situation where a gift is appropriate try to do one of the following.

  1. Find something ‘pre-loved’ that can have another life. A book you loved, a little played with toy, an item of clothing that you no longer wear.
  2. Gift an experience: cinema, theatre, meal out, or just a go for a walk or share a cup of tea with them.
  3. Make something.
  4. If it must be a thing, try to buy as local and environmentally responsible as possible.  

I’m going to try to stick to these rules in 2020, are you in?

*All gifts we have received from friends and family near and far, have been very much appreciated. This piece is not a rejection of the gifts, or the idea of giving, which I love, just trying to find a way to do it that is sustainable.


Claire’s campaign on turning Anger into Action can be found on her Facebook and LinkedIn

Read George Monbiot’s thought’s on gifts.