Much unlike many a magazine editor who recommends you buy all sorts of crap that they most likely got for free, your Jezebel staff doesn't get jack shit (other than books, unsolicited). And that's how it should be. But on our own time, in our personal lives, we still buy stuff. So this is Worth It, our recommendation of random things that we've actually spent our own money on. These are the things we buy regularly or really like, things we'd actually tell our friends about. And now we're telling you.
So it's the holidays: the season when we express our love for our nearest and dearest by buying them stuff they don't need and may not even want. Americans say they're spending an average of $704 each on holiday gifts this year — more than the citizens of any other nation, except Luxembourg.
I understand retail spending is important, that consumption feeds economic recovery, that advertising helps create the conditions that support my work as a writer, and that consumerism is not in and of itself the force for evil I imagined it to be when I was 16 and 17 and spending a lot of my time at anti-globalization protests. Yes, I write about fashion for a living — perhaps the ultimate consumer industry — and yes, I've written my share of gift guides and shopping round-ups. I am not against people spending money on things they love, for themselves or people they love. And this website happily provides honest, uncompensated product reviews for when those shopping opportunities arise.
But I also know that the true unemployment rate is 17%, that one in five of those lucky enough to have full-time jobs are working for wages that put them below the poverty level, and that consumer debt (not counting mortgage debt) in the U.S. topped $2.4 trillion last year. I also know that most Americans own way too much stuff, and that our patterns of production and consumption are not environmentally or socially sustainable. The notion that it's totally normal for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. to spend $700 on holiday gifts is ludicrous and frankly a little scary. Normalizing that kind of spending just ups the pressure on people to buy things they truly can't afford, because 'tis the season, and because the Joneses. The average American family remains in debt from December holiday shopping through the month of May.
My parents are visiting me from Minnesota for the holidays — a trip they are lucky, in the current economic climate, to be able to afford — and I was talking about presents with my mother the other morning. The thing is, I really don't want any. While I love thoughtful gifts, and while I am certainly not wealthy (in fact, as a freelance writer, I'm part of that one-in-five), I don't really need anything. I have a roof over my head, I have all the clothes I can use, and I have food: I'm already doing much better than the vast majority of the world's population. And getting stuff just isn't that much fun. There's almost no holiday downer like the downer of receiving a gift you can't use from someone who bought it for you less out of affection than out of seasonal obligation.
The best presents are spontaneous — things someone saw and felt moved to give. When I think of the things that brought me the most pleasure to receive, it's really nothing that came in a box or a plastic wrapper. A friend's mother gave me some earrings she no longer wore, which I had admired: that was a lovely surprise. My father started an IRA and showed me how to invest: that was touching and useful.
So this year, while I'm giving a few things to close friends and family — my mother will be getting a scarf I found for her in Mexico earlier this year, a design writer friend who finished an assignment on Dieter Rams will be getting an old Braun Electric Contour lighter I picked up on eBay — most of my presents will be gifts of time. Going to a free concert. Visiting a park. Making someone a drink or a meal. Homemade fudge or banana bread. A scarf I knitted. All that hippie crap. And when my mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I found myself telling her that all I really want, should she wish to spend money at all after flying to see me in the first place, is a donation to a nonprofit I believe in. At this time of year, it's worth it to remember that those kinds of gifts, too, have value.
Nothing, $0, available everywhere.
Worth It only features things we paid for ourselves and actually like. Don't send us stuff.