We’ve looked back at our Christmas decluttering strategies; now it’s time to look forward at Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day has been frequently criticized as a “Hallmark holiday” – a holiday basically invented by greeting card companies to sell cards, trinkets, etc. But its origins are in religious history. Back in the 3rd century AD, the Roman Empire was drafting unmarried men for the army, so St. Valentine purportedly performed (illegal) Christian weddings. Some people also claim that St. Valentine made little paper hearts out of parchment to give to the couples he married, which would at least explain why kids make those paper hearts in school.
In the 1400s or so, the first Valentine’s Day card was sent – from a king to his wife. Boxes of chocolates wouldn’t come around until the late 1800s, because they hadn’t really been invented yet. The exchanging of bouquets of roses dates back to the 1800s as well. And of course we tacked on the heavy marketing of diamonds for Valentine’s Day in the 1980s. Basically, we’ve gone from little paper hearts maybe being handed out to a not-uncommon expectation of spending thousands of dollars.
It might be obvious, but before the last century or so the only people who could actually afford extravagant stuff for Valentine’s Day (or Christmas, or any time of the year) were people that had a lot of money. The average family did much, much less. If you remember Little House On The Prairie, an extravagant Christmas involved each child getting their own tin cup, a stick of peppermint candy, what amounts to a Little Debbie snack cake, and a shiny penny. The average reader of this blog could go to Dollar Tree, spend $15, and get gifts like that for a dozen kids.
But as society’s disposable income have gone up, the standard question from marketers has been, “how can we get our hands on more of that money?”
That’s where we got the “tradition” of giving diamonds and such for Valentine’s Day. If some people have money to do it, all you have to do is get those people on board – then everybody else will typically want to be like those people. People with less money have wanted to be like people with more money since basically the dawn of time, so it’s easy for marketers to leverage. This is why now we have jewelry stores offering Valentine’s Day sales, complete with layaway, credit cards, and other financing options so you can “afford” these “timeless expressions of love for Valentine’s Day” that have only really been “timeless expressions of love” since the late 1940s (diamonds) and “for Valentine’s Day” since the 1980s.
The thing is, none of this stuff is timeless. Sure, a diamond will last longer than roses. It’ll definitely last longer than a box of chocolates. But the signifying item – the diamond, the flowers, the chocolate – only signifies the value of the relationship as long as the relationship remains. And therein lies one of the biggest misconceptions of our modern society – we conflate “stuff” with “feeling”.
Gift givers get this confused, and buy extravagant gifts thinking that “bigger gift = more love”. And that’s not true. Gift receivers don’t help matters, because they think the same thing – and pressure the gift givers to “keep up with the Joneses” and spend ever-increasing piles of money. But no matter how much the marketers tell you to the contrary, the feelings aren’t contained in the stuff. And if the relationship ends, this becomes obvious very quickly as piles and piles of “treasures” get donated or otherwise disposed of.
It’s a recipe for clutter & debt, with no real end in sight. So how do we step off the Valentine’s Day treadmill?
Consider the long-term impact of your gift. If your loved one likes flowers, there’s no reason not to get them – but maybe skip the upsells of the other stuff that frequently goes with them (little bears, etc.). Same with chocolates. Chocolates, almost by definition, don’t turn into long-term clutter. But huge teddy bears turn into clutter really quickly. And having to finance expensive jewelry will leave you in debt for a long time, which might prevent you from doing other things you want to do. Consider how this gift will impact both you and your loved one in the future. After all, if you’re with them in the future, it will affect you too!
Consider making memories, rather than gifting stuff. No amount of stuff will replace good memories created with a loved one. Look for a new restaurant that you’d both enjoy, or and event you could attend. Consider attending a class together – cooking, painting, or something else entirely. Even if you go to a painting class and each make something to take home, that “something” will have the benefit of having several hours of memories associated with it, rather than the few minutes of surprise when a gift was opened. “Look what we did together” is always more meaningful than “look what you bought me that year”.
Always be appreciative. Even if your loved one isn’t completely on board, make sure they know you appreciate the time and thought that went into whatever happens on Valentine’s Day – whether that’s a gift, an experience, or just a night ordering takeout. The holiday is about the relationship, not the stuff. Don’t lose sight of that!
And of course if your loved one is constantly complaining about all the junk they need to get rid of, there might not be a better gift in the world than “I’ll help you get this junk out of the house“. We’re happy to help, and even our “full trailer load” prices are less than the price of lot of diamond jewelry. We definitely guarantee it’ll make a bigger long-term impact.
No mater what you do this coming Valentine’s Day, make it about the other person. Make it special. And enjoy the relationship – not the stuff!