Some of the best things in life are free. Others are reasonably priced, while still others can be bartered. If you don’t want to be a cog in the same giant commercial machine that employs exploited Chinese labourers at one end, and spits out overpriced, plastic crap for ill-considered purchasers at the other, read on.
Valentine’s has been heavily hijacked by the cult of consumption, but you don’t need to be sucked in. Remember, your love may last forever, but so will the litter from that mass-produced garbage every store is selling, and Hallmark et al have enough money already. So here are a few options to get you outside of that ultra-consumerist mindset North Americans are so well-known for. It’s not just a political choice: I’m fairly certain it will result in a better Valentine’s for you and yours.
1) Go homemade: This can take such a wide variety of forms, anyone can come up with something. You can make your own card, knit something, fold an origami, grow a plant, or make a “mix tape” (or a CD, or even an electronic playlist). You don’t need a special skill for many of the things you might choose to make, though if you do have a special skill, by all means, use it.
2) Go vintage: Remember when things were built to last, out of strong fibers, wood, and metal? Well, you don’t have to remember, because you can see for yourself. Want to get a toy, keepsake, or clothing item that wasn’t shipped across the world to be sold for a ten-thousand percent mark-up? Want something unique, fashioned by hands in the days before the phrase “mass-produced” was a cliché? Want to support a local business owner instead of a massive conglomerate? Go vintage.
3) Go crafty: As ubiquitous as they’ve become, plastic products have been around little more than half a century. Before globalization brought together sweat shop labor and the technology of plastic machine mouldings, items were made of local materials by local artisans. Some still practice this, at farmers’ markets, festivals and in local stores. If you’re somewhere cold this February, go online and search for local jewellery-makers, crafters, et cetera, instead. Bonus points if you buy something made only from sustainable materials. Extra bonus points if you cut down on the clutter and pick something that will get used up, like soap or food (artisanal cheese and chocolates are nice). Somewhat ironically, consumable items are pretty anti-consumption.
4) Go wordy: Ideas belong to everyone, say supporters of the Open Source movement, though international copyright laws might disagree with the universality of that statement. Legally, there are thousands, or perhaps even millions of works of all kinds that exist in the public domain. Immerse yourself in some love poetry and find something to recite. More in tune with prose? That works, too. There’s a lovely passage about courtly love in T.H.White’s Arthurian saga. It’s all about when Lancelot and Guinevere are old and grey but still devoted to each other. (Leave aside the whole adultery bit. Political marriages and all that. They were difficult, fictional times for love.)
5) Go yummy: I’m a bit of a foodie. Let’s just get that out of the way. Cooking at home is great, but special occasions are, for me, very often a dining-out affair. But it’s not a treat if the food isn’t good, which means the Valentine’s special at any major chain restaurant is not at all a tempting option for me. If you live in a city with a diverse, thriving restaurant scene, why go for the freeze-dried desserts and bland, inoffensive menu items of insert-franchise-name-here?
Skip the homogenized, amorphous blob of corporate eating. Support small business and spoil your taste buds. Go for some locally-grown produce or fresh-caught fish prepared by a chef who had such a passion, such a culinary vision, there was no choice but to start a restaurant in order to realize it. And if you’re particularly mindful of what goes into your body and want organic/gluten-free/grass-fed/fresh-never-frozen or anything of the like, you likely won’t find it in a cookie-cutter national chain. So go local, since the alternative ultimately boils down to a high school kid who works as a cook on weekends and hopefully remembers to wash his hands. That’s industrial eating.
6) Go verb instead of noun: That is, perform an action instead of presenting a thing. This is perhaps the easiest way to get a gift for someone without getting sucked up into consumerism. Redecorate a room in your shared living space, if applicable. Plant a beautiful garden. Plan a day or night together — I mean really plan it out, with an itinerary and everything, and let every item on it be a surprise.
Ideas? Attend a free show, tour an art gallery and try your hands at interpreting, take a long walk amidst beautiful scenery. No one else will give that special someone the exact same plan, nor can anyone else provide the same company that you provide, which makes this gift totally unique.
That’s what I’ve got. Now sound off in the comments — I’m always looking for new ideas.
Photo credit: Chrys Omori