The 12 Days of Uselessness

I've been becoming minimalist for many years, and yet I still acquire useless stuff.

Whether it's unsolicited mail, a gift from someone who doesn't know me very well, or something I buy myself because it looks interesting or useful when I see it in the store, I just can't seem to stop adding useless stuff to my life.  It almost seems unavoidable in our culture.

Most of what I own is stuff I really need or is something I enjoy having, but I'd estimate that even after all of these years of living with less I could probably part with at least one-quarter of what I own and never miss it.  I guess these items felt essential when I acquired them, but they turned out to be the opposite.  As I get older, that 25% unneeded inventory will grow and grow until the day I die, at which point 100% of my stuff will be useless, since I won't be taking it with me.  What I will do is leave my children with a few more things that are probably useless to them.

It turns out even COVID-19 couldn't stop us getting our stuff.  It didn't matter that the stores were closed, we just had it all delivered to our doors.  In fact, we hailed delivery people as heroes, even if they were often delivering things we didn't need (that wasn't their fault).  The stuff kept on coming until we started to wonder what we would do with everything we didn't have room for anymore.  The Salvation Army, and Goodwill, and all of the other places that usually received our castoffs were closed.  The dumps were closed.  We couldn't have a yard sale.  The horror!  We couldn't get rid of the old stuff to make room for the new.  Good thing the storage companies are one of the fastest-growing industries around – we could put our stuff there!

Yes, we're so overloaded with stuff that we actually pay people to store it for us.

When every conceivable need and want has been met (at least among those who have disposable income), our economy's growth depends on selling us the utterly useless.

Can I make a plea this Christmas season for a bit less insanity?  Can each of us do something to reduce the stuck-in-storage factor of the gifts we give?

Like lords-a-leaping and drummers drumming and all the rest, the piles of gifts we exchange with others quickly becomes overwhelming and unnecessary.  In researching her film The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard discovered that, of all the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale.  Even goods we might have expected to hang onto for a while become worthless to us through either planned obsolescence (wearing out or breaking quickly) or perceived obsolescence (going out of style).

This statistic sounds impossible until you see sponsored Christmas gift lists that recommend: 

  • massage guns 
  • the latest Keurig "smart coffee maker" with BrewID technology 
  • electric wine openers 
  • Welly brand bandages (they're cute, but they don't stay on) 
  • a shape-shifting puzzle box with multiple different rare earth magnets (there has to be a better use for these elements)
  • a rose quartz face roller (to deal with that pesky facial edema)
  • the Brümate high tech beer can cooler
  • beaded lanyards to "dress" your phone
  • ugly Crocs for everyone
  • and dozens of tech gadgets.

Even reusable shopping bags become extraneous junk when there are so many cute "styles and designs we're guessing it will be hard to choose just one."  Apparently you need to "head to Baggu to find a bag that speaks to you."

I'm not making this stuff up.

Instead, you could 

  • bake them a cake
  • have them over for dinner
  • offer free babysitting


  • arrange for them to have a massage
  • take them to a play or other event 
  • buy them membership at the zoo or a museum (with free entrance and lots of perks for a whole year)

If you must buy something for the kids,

  • put together a box of art and craft supplies 
  • raid your closet and shop the thrift store to create a dress-up kit
  • buy a game or two you can all play together (paid links)  

For older kids, consider

  • books
  • movie tickets and some of their favorite snacks
  • a gift card for their preferred clothing or sporting goods store

Let's all stop buying armloads of gifts that people just stick in a closet or give to Goodwill, and try to give more of those little surprises that people may actually enjoy receiving.  When we focus on consumables and experiences, we might just manage to give gifts that people remember with happiness.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash


  1. I have told my kids for years consumable only. Wine of course, soap, candles. Plenty to choose from.


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